“I want to buy this.” There were a few objects with price tags in the open basement hall showing the solo exhibition of KIM Bangjoo (Don’t) Look at It (Project Space SARUBIA, Seoul, 2020). A piece of ceramic in the shape of an apple, a wrapping cloth printed with a food image, and an image piece fragmented on a frame basis. Just how many people would actually have asked the artist how to go about purchasing the pieces. What would be the audience’s reason for deciding to buy ‘it’. It was not for sale, and the information on the price tag and sale is revealed as a part of a fictional narrative. The ‘gesture of not selling’ objects that would trivially sell leads to speculation. That KIM Bangjoo understands art differently from the ‘GOODS’ of the manifesto. A trend that swept through the young artist generation in Seoul for a while. Now, art as ‘goods’ in Seoul is extremely unprofitable. Unable to act as a substantive source of livelihood for the artist, and more fundamentally it is revealed that to respond to the economic loss and bankruptcy of the conventional world, artists are working in new ways with one another. Although real money changes hands, it is actually bartering and the money is not distributed.
It is unclear as to how much KIM Bangjoo was aware of this ecology of the art world in Seoul, but the fictional economic presentation in his exhibition appears to have profound meaning. The artist himself, as a performer, acted the role of a docent and place keeper during the exhibition creating a visible representation of physical labor. The exhibition may appear as if it is a direct comment on ‘only’ art in that it visualized the theme of labor by artist and the laboring body a main theme of the gallery, but by not denying the capitalist system and through the gesture of rendering it useless, the exhibition provides a clue to escape from the art market or the closed system exclusive to artists. Alternatively, the labor of art is not treated as an exceptional case of labor, and by presenting an operating error of a conventional economic system, a form of confronting it paradoxically results.
This type of playful performance on a non-transactional gesture or convention of commodity trading has been featured continuously in past works. In Fill Out the Blank (2014) where the artist betrays the lending purpose of a parking lot and personally occupies the space or in A Gentle Struggle (2018) where the artist implanted an unnecessary error in an inventory system of a supermarket. By paying a cost rather than requesting monetary compensation for the labor in art, the artist reveals the infiltration of art in the current economy and a temporary vacuumed state rather than featuring the struggle of labor by artists. The vacuum state is harmless to the system to a comical degree and because it is ‘gentle’, it draws closer as perhaps a somewhat empty and light humor. That is, the exhibition takes on a different method from the strong declarations of radical activists. Still, the artist endlessly indicates an implication on some economic system.
This type of methodology clearly evokes Situationist International (SI). Even if it is not limited to Dérive Tour (2017) which directly mentions SI, ‘dérive’ which is the leading tactic of SI is shared ingeniously or antically. The eccentric artist used two chairs to travel without stepping on the ground from Stuttgart to Berlin in A Teleportation Through Two Chairs, I Don’t Have a Problem with Berlin Because I’m Not Late Also I Am Invited (2017). Further, the artist dribbled a basketball from southern Germany to northern Italy in For The Buzzer Beater (2018), and crawled across the cement floor of two exhibition halls as if rock climbing in To Move Horizontally in a Vertical Manner (2019).
Perhaps the strategy of city dérive for revolutionizing daily life has finally come to effect after failing half a century ago? Amid urban space where many contemporary artists have indiscriminately erased history by destruction and accumulation, the artist takes interest in discovering anachronistic time. KIM Bangjoo also appears as if he is roaming the city and performing a sort of psychogeographical performance. However, how would the audience watching the artist’s performance through video perceive the city? It will certainly be different from the impressions of the audience when looking back and the city through a group tour like Rimini Protokoll in Remote X or the sense incurred by experiencing an inner place as in the audio/video walk of CARDIFF and MILLER. Above all, most of KIM Banjoo’s works are self-performative, and even if the audience is on the scene, they do not participate. The people who happen to come across the artist’s performance in real-time are no more than a passerby that send busy glances rather than being audiences.
It is no different for people who watch the post-recording. Rather than the cultural meaning of the space which the artist dribbled on or crossed the floor with a crawling motion or the historical temporality, the act itself is focused upon. (Of course, there is no mention whatsoever in any of his long-distance moving performances of a social context with respect to the city or moving route. His workroom and exhibition hall are set as the starting point and arrival point as if trying to avoid such contextualization. Even when mentioning the dérive of SI ‘loss of sense of direction’ from a neurophysiological level is focused upon rather than from a cultural perspective of the city.) KIM Bangjoo appears as if he is participating in the retrieval of a personal city experience from the image of capitalism, a spectacle through artistic performance. The sense of uncertainty generated in people watching the performance appears intensified even more so than half a century ago. That is, the act of watching itself is more and more fascinated by the routinized spectacle. In addition, because the recording of such performances is conveniently filmed using a mobile phone camera and edited, and is somewhat similar to the product of a refined YouTube creator, it may have to be said that, the closed art system itself guarantees his artistic potential and overturning what was said previously about his showing of the potential in escaping the closed art system.
However, this gap, the presence of which encourages coming and going from different directions from another between art and outside of the art begs for consideration prior to coming to any hasty conclusions. In “Morale du joujou” (1853), Charles Pierre BAUDELAIRE (1821–1867) points out the foolishness of parents worrying about children breaking their toys, and writes that they were trying to cling on to the soul of the toy in vain while the children hurl, slice, and smash the toy. The toy is thus not just a simple subject of play but a ritualistic subject. In our treatment of art, if we were to take an infinitely careful approach to maintain its materialistic value as is the position of the parent, art would take part in the economic logic of commodities and then take its place in the commodities list of past trends. If fortunately art has not been transformed to a piece of junk stuck in storage after a young child has tired of playing with it, art may have a soul even while being smashed in the midst of a child’s innocent play.
The identity of the temperamental child is not just the audience of the consumer but the artist himself. The artist explores the space between the art and the outside through his body. The artist taking an interest in one’s body rather than all kinds of worldly materialistic substances is something that occurred more than half a century ago, but corporeal performance being a resistance to the convention of art creation and logic of capitalism has only existed for a short while. Provocative gesturing becoming tedious soon thereafter may be the fate of avant-garde, but because the body has strong symbolic meaning as a humanistic symbol, anachronistic to such a degree that an optical illusion may occur, avant-garde may become ‘classical’. A forever repeatable repertoire but the self-deceiving artist-body-performance is never-ending. KIM Bangjoo does not advocate for avant-garde, declare revolution, or attempt a direct intervention, but is in seclusion in a conspicuous place. As the title of his solo exhibition (Don’t) Look at It. What is it that we should look at or shouldn’t look at? If the act of the artist is directed towards someplace which surpasses the work or the dimensional form of the work, what would the gaze, which follows the artist, see and how?
KIM Junghyun is an art critic. KIM writes and organizes exhibitions with an interest in performative aspects of contemporary art and in forms and structures through which critique and creation intervene. Kim Curated CORPUS GESTUS VOX (researcher and curator of its archive room; 2021), This Event/Last Dinosaur (co-curated; 2020), Change Nothing (2016-2020), and Performance History (2017).