People / Critic

Hoyeon Kang : Things That You Know

posted 01 July 2020

Hoyeon Kang has been creating works that expand the sensitization and experience of art, which had been mainly oriented in a visual sense, by interpreting the emotional and functional properties of everyday objects in intuitive ways. With 〈Encyclopedia〉, a long-term project that has been commenced with his solo exhibition at Insa Art Space in December 2017, the artist started establishing a point from which his work would transform. This essay examines the recent changes in the artist’s work and their relationship with the subject that perceives the world, focusing on three solo exhibitions by the artists - 《planet 72.82㎡》 (Insa Art Space, 2017), 《Encyclopedia》 (Kumho Museum of Art, 2018), and 《About Ground, Water, Light and Air》 (out_sight, 2019).

First of all, one can ask why the artist established his long-term project as 〈Encyclopedia〉 while he had been presenting new perceptions and experiences of objects through everyday objects and simple scientific principles, such as a phantasmagoric presentation of a bonfire using a desk lamp and a humidifier. The encyclopedia is often considered as a symbol of the modern knowledge system that comprehends and defines the world through human-centered ways, resulting in the presentation of explicit words and images. Here, the modern knowledge system indicates a world sustained by a ‘thinking subject’ or ‘perception of a thinking subject’ that originates in the Cartesian cogito. The ‘thinking self’ was a great invention of the modern period, which brought about substantial changes not only in philosophy but also the society in general, encompassing art, science, and religion. However, the ‘thinking self,’ which has been sustaining modernity, arrived at a point where its self-centered perception of the external world dictates its own logic that the world finally comes into existence by its perception. It even considered the world as an object to which it could control and threaten, leaving cases of malfunction at its extreme end of thinking - such as wars and colonialism.

Hoyeon Kang’s 〈Encyclopedia〉 project presents an attempt to practice a critical reflection on the encyclopedia as a symbol of the modern knowledge system and reconstruct it in a new way. One can infer that the project expands the artist’s previous works that focused on the intuitive perceptual actions toward everyday objects and things that one knows. The artist often explains the process of expanding his practice as an equivalent of a baby perceiving toys – in particular, a baby seeing a mobile. Here, even without borrowing Benjamin’s thoughts on a child’s toys and Agamben’s ideas on childhood, one can understand that the artist is developing his practice by imaginarily assuming a child’s perceptual process and interpreting everyday objects as subjects which different contexts are condensed in and transferred to. In other words, the artist reconstructs an encyclopedia in his own way to “develop an odyssey of sensations that encompasses the reality, humanity, myth, and universe” (quoted from the artist’s note). The project is to suppose the perception of surrounding objects in a state that is not fixated but changeable. It is also to accept one’s surroundings as they are not completely understood, moving on as one experiences such uncertainty. Here, the ‘self’ that is assumed as a kind of an end to connect the inside and outside is not the one and only absolute being. Rather, it is a sort of medium that reveals the world through different senses and accept similarities and differences of different ‘selves.’ In such a way, it reveals critical thoughts on the notion of encyclopedia within the modern knowledge system.

In 〈Encyclopedia〉, a project to establish new relations with what one already knows, language by itself exists as an intuitive and personalized tool to convert and leap over the existing thoughts. In most cases, as in the words and sentences in an encyclopedia, language delivers particular ideas, assumptions, thoughts, and logic. However, language, although it possesses information and often dominates one’s thoughts, is a subject that can always be manipulated and recontextualized in an arbitrary manner in Kang’s work. In this way, language is perceived as a medium that can escape from the given domain and indicate a larger world. For example, in the presentation of Encyclopedia at Kumho Museum of Art, the artist associated the names of gods in Greek mythology with the names of planets in the solar system and everyday objects. Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, was presented as a titanium-coated frying pan made by Tefal. In 《planet 72.82㎡》, another solo exhibition that imagined the post-apocalypse of the Earth and materialized a new spacetime of senses in each floor of the exhibition space, the artist made the viewers sense similar yet disparate kinds of cultivation-culture by combining the verb ‘cultivate,’ and a Latin word ‘cultura’ that means culture, and the word ‘culture’ and building a greenhouse made of plastic, vinyl, and cardboard boxes. In 《About Ground, Water, Light and Air》 at out_sight, the artist conceived the idea of Kuiper Belt, a ‘site’ in an ‘outer’ ring of the solar system, from the name of the exhibition space (out_sight), staging the conditions of a planet where humans can survive through senses and experiences of the everyday. As such, language-words that have clear indications often derail from their own positions and head toward other places. They are also combined with other words and form a mutual habitat. In this way, the artist moves beyond the defined meanings and indicators to establish new relations, performing an ironic process of editing and rearranging the institutionalized encyclopedic language.

〈Project Encyclopedia〉, 2018

〈Project Encyclopedia〉, 2018

The aforementioned arbitrary reconstruction of language naturally unfolds, since Kang’s work depends on exceedingly personal actions of sensitization, which is also corporeal in a sense. The process of the project, where one constantly perceives the surrounding objects and the world to convert into new senses, necessarily accompanies a process of unclear and arbitrary interpretation – as in the process of reconstruction of language. In the end, the project reveals an unmissable subject that perceives the world. At the same time, it indicates that an act of sensing something always happens in the realm outside of the establishment. Thus, it can be recreated at any moment depending on different situations. In 《planet 72.82㎡》, the artist staged a dark and ominous space using a can of energy drink and a sound amplification application after detecting a sense of the destruction of the Earth from the physical reactions to caffeine overdose. In his solo exhibition at Kumho Museum of Art, Kang installed mobiles and presented photos, overlapping the light, sound, and temperature of everyday objects with the properties of planets in the solar system. In the exhibition at out_sight, the artist presented the senses of water from a shower, warm floor heating, and fluorescent lighting seen from a lying position as necessary conditions for surviving in the Kuiper Belt filled with the debris of stones and ice. In addition, the senses of color, wind, temperature, and vibration that fill the artist’s exhibition are undefined subjects that can be perceived differently by those who experience them, invoking disparate perceptions in different viewers. Hence, the viewers who saw 〈Bliss Blue〉, a fake sky installed on the second floor of Insa Art Space, could think of both the freshness of clear sky and a flat and coarse image on a screen at the same time. The very sense that Hoyeon Kang’s project materializes in the exhibition space is not the subject that is forcibly transferred and defined within an absolutely corresponding relationship but a compound of a transcendental language and an experience that emphasizes an action of uncontrolled sensation by itself.

In the end, 〈Encyclopedia〉 project can be understood as an attempt to express and share the immediate perception of subjects in an empirical state that one can experience. It critically reconsiders the knowledge, information, related senses and experiences that are institutionalized within the modern knowledge system, continuing the use of undefined language and the reconstruction of senses. The subject-artist that perceives his surroundings while refusing to exist as an unchangeable absolute being establishes a relationship with the present by not generating an absolute truth or information but an existential life that senses and is sensed. It tells that the world does not exist within the rule of control and domination but through an unrefusable relationship between experiences and senses.

※ This content was first published in 『2019 MMCA Residency Goyang: A Collection of Critical Reviews』, and re-published here with the consent of MMCA Goyang Residency

Hyukgue Kwon

Independent curator

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