“I imagine that there is a ball. I keep paving the paths that would allow the ball to bounce in any direction.” 1) This statement that lays out YOON Doohyun’s approach to his work served as a compass for me as I began to explore his works. However, this compass is different in that it is supposed to help me get lost instead of finding the right direction. To be more precise, this compass helps the viewers focus on their senses so that they do not become trapped by meaning or interpretation. It also allows images to dodge predetermined rules and order so that they can freely take up space. When used soundly, this compass will thus allow anyone to appreciate his work in each of their unique ways. Such a method of appreciation is no different from the process of taking in the ‘ambiguity’engraved in artist’ recent works. As our bodies rub and collide against the images, they come to naturally learn the movement, vibrations, and flow of the images. Therefore, this writing is a sort of a ‘product review’ on the compass that helped me pick up the things I discovered along the paths that the artist paved for the bouncing ball and a record of what such discoveries elicit.
The Landscape of Ambiguity
The origin of the artist’s works can be found in virtual spaces, like computers or smartphones. For example, Sierra (2018) was based on the default desktop background image installed in a MacOS system, and Paradise and Utopia (2017) was created using images of “utopia” (or paradise) found on the internet. The only thing problematic about this is that the resulting image not only looks completely different from the original but cannot be identified as any object, thereby rendering the viewer ‘dyslexic.’ His most recent work Mojave Day and Night (2019) is no exception. To create this piece, the artist’s downloaded the ‘Mojave’ background image series for Macs, which he then photographed again or edited with Photoshop before further adding formal elements. Despite such meticulous and complex processing, there are no images that the viewer can clearly identify and name. At best, there may be some things that look like mountains or water, but even that is hardly accurate. This is because as aforementioned, his work is opened and read outside the box of existing knowledge and reasoning. Due caution should be exercised to note that such ambiguity was not used as a means of introducing difficulty. In other words, the artist chose ambiguity to reach a ‘certain’ world that nobody has seen yet, a world beyond symbols and meaning. For him, ambiguity serves as the driving force of this endeavor.
Let us return to his works and examine that ambiguity more closely. From a distance, Mojave Day and Night appears to be composed horizontally. But a closer look reveals that there is a twist to the seemingly clean-cut trait. At a glance, the image appears to be a familiar shape or symbol, but a closer look reveals that it is either the number “3” that just fell short of becoming a full-fledged number, or a triangle that is missing enough line segments to be truly triangular (of course, this image changes with every look). What is noteworthy here is that these images void of context somehow connect and bond with each other. While the images that fill the exhibition walls exist individually, they also influence their surrounding images to create a sort of an ‘affiliation.’ There is a simple way to verify this: with your smartphone, take a photo of any part of the works, whether it is the center, the corner, or wherever. The images that happen to fall within the frame share a surprisingly large degree of shapes, patterns, angles, and pose. Here is an example of how such a scene would play out. Within the frame are two ‘somethings’ that resemble diagonally overlapping rectangles. To their left is another ‘something’ that resembles a smaller rectangle, which bears the ‘something’ that resembles the overlapping rectangles we just saw as well as another rectangle. Underneath the other ‘something’ that resembles a rectangle is yet another ‘something’ that fell out of the overlapping rectangles. This ‘something’ takes on the form of a curvy skeleton, ready to stretch out diagonally. As described, the images in artist’s works repeat these iterations of ‘something’ leading to another ‘something’ and yet another ‘something,’continuing to proliferate with no end in sight. This is almost like a firmly rolled skein being eternally pulled at. The images that appeared simple and clear at a glance suddenly become unfamiliar and eerie.
The Utopia Beyond Utopia
Such a phenomenon is closely related to the virtual reality that artist takes great interest in and uses as the source of his works. As widely known, virtuality and reality work like two cogwheels spinning against each other. Virtuality is built upon reality, while reality changes throughout its pursuit of the virtual. Thus, the important thing is not to emphasize the difference between virtuality and reality, but to gain a proper view on the relationship of the virtuality and reality currently in use. For example, entering the word “utopia” in a search engine yields hundreds of thousands of images of primitive nature undisturbed by civilization. Although such images may appear unrealistic at first, most turn out to be vacation resorts rented out to tourists. In that sense, the search results for utopia are more like embellished advertisements backed by capitalism, rather than true depictions of the idealistic dreamland. Strictly speaking, however, this is a ‘fact’ that everyone knows. However, despite full knowledge of the falsehood of the utopia images in search results, everyone simply goes along with this illusion or even craves it since it is much less tiresome to indulge in the nectar offered by capitalism instead of going against the dominance of capitalism. While the artist also feels helpless about such virtual reality, he neither concedes to nor accepts this state. In fact, he creates a ‘fracture’ in the utopia established by capitalism. There are largely two strategies the artist employs to this end. The first is to load the images of the ‘unknown’ discussed above, while the other is to visualize the ‘process’ of reaching a utopia that cannot be found in cyberspace. This is a refusal of the utopia that can be reached through a mere stroke of the enter key. Instead, it establishes a utopia that is activated only through trial-and-error and physical labor. Most people use the efficiency and accuracy afforded by the virtual space as the excuse to treat the body as something to be overcome, and try to avoid problems caused by the body. Ironically, however, the body that is stigmatized as something to be overcome is what opens the most creative spacetime amidst the inconvenience and limitations. We can find languages and movements we have never imagined there. An incoherent language can become an image and play out in colorful variations. In short, the unreal becomes real when it passes through the body. The artist uses his ‘entire body’ to select, fold, cut, and stitch together images to awaken the suppressed senses, dividing up ambiguity to further enhance its robustness. He then leaves this product of full-body toiling into the ‘something’ that cannot define utopia, the ‘something’ that cannot be bought by capitalism, and the ‘something’ that can be reached only through diligent rumination and self-reflection.
Journeying across such forked paths can be an alluring, albeit startling, experience. Within that space-time, we can newly acquire the specificity of existence (object). Although of course that becomes manifested as a ‘something’ that cannot be directed or bear any meaning, at least it does not easily vanish easily under external pressure. When that ‘something’ is moved from the studio to the exhibition hall, it immediately begins to resonate and select its own routes independent of the artist’s hands, demonstrating impressive proactivity. In that light, the ‘getting lost project’ mentioned in the opening paragraph is the activity of that ‘something’ as much as it is ‘my’ plan. Such activity refers to the recomposition of the virtual reality here today. The ‘something’ tirelessly moves its body to breakdown that outline, then attempts to combine with another ‘something’ to elevate the scope of virtuality, fully engrossed in the efforts to expand the domain of reality. Through this, the ‘something’ embraces all sorts of things ‘hat cannot be called upon,’ and protects ‘all’ things that arise from therein. This is the moment that ‘some’ world begins to flow in.
1)Quoted from the artist’s interview video for the exhibition Young Korean Artists 2019: Liquid Glass Sea (National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, 2019).
2)Actually, the work is indeed of a horizontal construction since the artist used a horizontal ruler to set it up. However, the gaps between each image are inconsistent,as are their lengths and widths. Thus, depending on the viewer’s angle or position, the horizontal line may appear bent. Here, the horizontal composition fulfills its role by maintaining the unfinished status.
3)First beginning in Paradise and Utopia, such fissures also made their way to Sierra and Mojave Day and Night.
LEE Bitna majored in art management and art studies, and is currently active as an art critic. Lee was selected the final winner of the New Vision Art Critics Award hosted by Art in Culture, and is also the recipient of the 2016 Gravity Effect Art Critic Award.