The Politics of Decisions and Presentation
A decision is something that has already been decided upon. However, the process involved in making the decision is not readily apparent in the decision itself. The decision can be fully known only at the moment in which the decision is made. Decision, therefore is presentation. SONG Mingyu’s work is a work of deciding what has already been decided upon, i.e. the presentation of the presented. In other words, his work is the revelation of the already structured whole. Of his own works, the artist said “drawings produced on regular basis are categorized by time, place, situation, standards, language, and number, until they are combined when transferred onto flat surface work” (From the artist’ interview with Incheon Munhwa Tongsin 3.0, hereafter referred to as the “nterview”). What is important here are the words ‘categorize’ and ‘combine.’ ‘Categorization’ is a work of the decided or presented, whereas ‘ombination’ is a work of deciding and presenting.
Baruch Spinoza first offered his thoughts on the deciding of decided-ness. His theory of truth implies that a decision is already decided. Spinoza said that a single truth can be manifested in different aspects. A simple example can be found in how the same person is seen as the nurturer to their children, an employee at the workplace, a child to their parents, or a friend among their peers. This means that the singular entity exists as the collective whole of many aspects. It also means that the cognitive subject can ‘categorize’ (distinguish) different aspects in a single whole. When the artist said that he “[categorizes] by time, place, situation, standards, language, and number,” this meant that he distinguished different aspects of a single true entity. In fact, the singular whole is all of these aspects (time, place, situation, standards, language, and number) that have not been distinguished apart from each other. In other words, the singular entity is in a ‘state of conjuncture’ wherein various different aspects converge. In a place, time continues to flow, and situations occur endlessly. The segmentations of such time, place, and situation create standards (though this is not the case for infinite time, place, and situations, as the infinite nature of those makes it impossible to distinguish any points of segmentation), and can, in turn, be transcribed into language or number. Simply put, the ‘status’ of the singular whole cannot be determined; such ‘status’can be determined only for each aspect. This begs the question of how to ‘categorize’ such diverse range of aspects, shedding lights on the significance of the artist’s meaning of ‘categorization.’
‘Categorization’ becomes possible only under the pretense of a ‘preliminary formal discipline’ that can prescribe an appropriate ideology for what such category really is. It is in this domain that the concept of a decision can be forged: “distinguishing the layers of social components [such as political, aesthetic, and economic elements] serves as the premise for the very act of comprising the decision concept” (Alain Badiou, Le (re)commencemenl du materialismedialectique). Therefore, categorization precedes decisions. However, as the decision presentation is made at the moment of such categorization, there is hardly any temporal gap between decision presentation and categorization. In addition, as the mechanism of this moment is imperceptible in the real world, i.e. since the already-decided exists only as an idea, decisions are always delayed (the decision process cannot be seen). By segmenting such delayed decision presentation, he materializes (visualizes) the decision. This is the artist’s “drawing (graphic) resulting from the combination of several languages or numbers.” Of note, his drawing, i.e. the materialization of decision presentation is a layered process. The artist’s decision is overlapped within a structured system.
How to Withstand the Time of Lost Coordinates
Structured systems are important to the artist. What is interesting is that the artist systemizes objects that cannot be systemized. In 2016, he designed the SFD (Science Fiction Drawing) Trilogy exhibition—including Part 1: The Atlantic at the Edge of a Swimming Pool (2016), Part 2: Brighter than the Day (2017), and Part 3: Combination of Metal and Sugar (2018). In 2018, he even completed the spin-off exhibition to the trilogy, Code: Black Bay. His later works include The Mass of Moonlight (2019), Other Synthesizing (2019), and The Day When the Saw Tooth Stopped (2019)—in which he visualized ‘learning to swim’ (The Atlantic at the Edge of a Swimming Pool), ‘absurd society’ (Brighter than the Day), and ‘deconstruction of narrative and meaning’ (Combination of Metal and Sugar). In the spin-off exhibition, he visualized ‘night sky with moonlight, the city in memory’ (Code: Black Bay). However, as can be inferred from the titles of the trilogy exhibitions, the objects that the artist seeks to systemize are immaterial states of emotion that do not seem compatible with systemization at all. How could one ever systemize things like learning to swim, social absurdity, non-narrative, non-meaning, moonlight, the night sky, and cities in memory? What method would one use to do so? However, as implied in his statement that “to me, my works are the continuation of repeated failure,” (the Interview) he braves the systemization in full knowledge that he may fail.
Then why does artist choose to pursue systemization that is destined to fail? he says that “due to realistic issues like frequent relocation of the studio and changes in life attitude, I’m focusing even more on creating production manuals that provide guidance for efficiency, standards arising from modulization, and the associated economic value” (the Interview). Bluntly put, he admits to the fact that realistic issues like ‘relocation’ and ‘change’ spurred on the need for ‘systemization.’ If that is the case, perhaps the artist’s systemization arises from the anxiety over, or perhaps the boredom from, post-modernism that yielded living conditions more akin to those of the homeless or refugees (despite the preferred euphemism, ‘nomad’)? Explicitly criticizing the violent mechanism and fictional traits
of the standard-setter (truth, idea), post-modernism quickly occupied the territories previously governed by modernism. This relativist world view that triumphed over structuralist rationalism, an idea it discredits as antiquated, has cut the mooring rope of a ship anchored on differences and diversity. Although the ship sailed freely at first, it now appears to be aimlessly adrift, having lost its coordinates. With the elimination of the common standard, everything became relative and everyone was ‘relatively’ happy at first. However, such relative happiness soon soured into unhappiness fettered by the very same relativity. Now everyone suffers from relative deprivation. While there is no golden standard for happiness, there are no standards for unhappiness either. The artist’s behavior evokes an image of a sailor solemnly casting the curtailed mooring rope with the torch of austerity of modernism in one hand, shedding the loose shroud of post-modernism to withstand this time of lost coordinates. Casting the rope that has already lost its anchor is a lost cause, destined for failure.
The Materialization of Overdetermined Decision
Granted, this is not to say that the artist’s systemization has been derived solely from social conditions (the realistic issues of ‘relocation’ and ‘change’). Personal tendencies likely had a significant impact. This is where the issue of ‘categorization’ and ‘decision’ comes to play. Such an issue, in turn, becomes overlapped through the process of ‘adaptation’ and ‘combination.’ It is here that we can discover the aesthetics of ‘overdetermination’ present in his works.
SONG Mingyu begins his work by ‘categorizing’ the potential aspects born by the singular whole. At the very moment of such categorization, the respective aspect is ‘decided’ (presentation). An adaptation of that decision leads to the ‘second decision.’ which is then combined to yield the ‘third decision.’ Bringing that combination onto the screen then leads to the ‘fourth decision.’ For example, the artist recently took a stroll at the Incheon Jayu Park to get a good view of the Bay of Incheon. There, he made drawings of the ambiance as he watched the sea, and made recordings of the sound. The visually systemized product of this effort was Other Synthesizing (2019). In the process of creating this work, he took a potential aspect of an actual location in realtime (reality), i.e. the park, and recorded it according to his own ‘preliminary formal discipline’ (drawing and audio recording), thereby engaging in the primary level of categorization. The artist then adapted this product into digital data (second categorization), combined the adapted elements (third categorization), and finally transferred the result by hand onto the screen to complete the work (fourth categorization). This process extracts (categorizes or distinguishes) one of many possibilities (potential aspects) at each stage to materialize the four-layered (at least) decision. “It is through [such] steps that inspiration-reliant attitude is minimized and a refined painting” (the Interview) reaches completion. Therefore, this multi-layered decision-making process acts as a quadruple lock system that aims to ensure a refined work process, and this is precisely how he practices his aesthetic aspirations.
The artist’s methodology renders multiple avenues of expanding thought. In particular, his digital adaptation and the way he withstands the time with lost coordinates are reminiscent of Neoplatonism (expanded Platonism). The way he uses digital media that operate based on mathematical systems draws parallels to Plato’s philosophy of trying to identify the world of idea through mathematical reasoning. For now, the artist’s systemization is a torch that illuminates only his immediate surroundings. However, such behavior opens the possibility for the wanderer sailing aimlessly to take the initiative once again. As we all sail adrift aimlessly today, perhaps we must all raise each of our own torches and keep casting the anchoring rope to bear through this time.
Lev AAN studied printmaking and Korean literature at Hongik University and IT culture policy at Seoul National University of Science and Technology. He began his career in art criticism in 2015 by winning the Prize in Art Criticism at the Annual Spring Literary Contest of the Chosun Ilbo, and currently serves as the chair of the art policy subcommittee of the Korean Art Critics Association. He is author of many books including Burning Utopia (2020), Korean Contemporary Prints 1981-1996 (2019), and Conditions of Criticism (Co-author, 2019).