People / Critic

Jun Bokyung : About Questions Which Are Still Valid

posted 24 July 2020

Jun Bokyung's work starts with ‘status-quo’ questions. Who is an artist? Can labor be art? What is the accepted boundary of art? With these questions, she tries to redefine art. However, instead of posing the old question of whether this is art or not, the artist refuses to establish a dichotomous boundary between art and non-art and instead takes an active approach to and from the two and looks at art from the outside. Under the circumstances she has built, movements produced through the body of the so-called 'non-artist' consist of the process of instructing or questioning by Jun. The strategy that she takes to deal with the subject is to be willing to take the role of a 'storyteller' as she has illustrated before, and this is done mainly through the process of oral speech. The world of others she tells us is delivered through the 'body' in which it is embodied. And, at last, as soon as it reveals its real self, the story begins, breaking the long gap of silence.

It was her solo show 《Dialogue between Cones: counterpoint 》 (2015) at Gallery Chosun when she started bodies for her work more actively. In her work, the artist names an abstract organ that used to exist in the human body but degenerated a ‘cone’ and visualized a 3D figure in a way through individuals understand the world. Each of the three dancers in a video installation 〈Three Lines and a Parallel Orbit〉 (2015) showed their own interpretation of the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines that form the shape of the cones. Therefore their movements do not start from a state of mutual agreement, but instead, they improvise the movement of the lines that each body remembers differently. They are different from the learned movements. These dancers reappeared in the performance at the opening of the exhibition. When their bodies became real in the exhibition space, their movements began to work as a language to linguisticize abstraction. Through the performers' gestures, the cones became a figure in the world that they understood.

Jun creates new movements alongside the memory absorbed in the body. The diverse characters in 〈Lapis Philosophorum〉 (2017) series include a tailor, the fourth generation running peanut store as a family business, someone who has been making a traditional snack for 45 years, and the fifth-generation running a barbershop as a family business. 〈Even if Reeds are Shaken by the Wind〉 (2016) shows a manual worker to tint car windows, and 〈Without Eyes, See; Without Tongue, Talk〉 (2019) shows a puppetry master. Rather than providing realistic portrayals of the lives of those who belong to the occupational clusters that are gradually disappearing in the neo-liberalist society today, the artist let them actively intervene in the arts. 'To produce something' means to take a subject out of a context and place it in a different context, in other words, changing it existentially. It is to separate the subject from a negative context (the world in which it should not be) and place it in a positive context (the world in which it should be).1) The act of instructing the subject unfamiliar moves means to break it from the world in which it belongs to by making it present in the new world. Although the disconnect is temporary, it can look at itself independently. And this act is more like a re-recognition of the existing world through the process of discovering the other world, rather than denying the world in which it belongs to.

The artist records the story while keeping a distance from the subject while intentionally representing it in a realistic way and rejecting the narrating style of documentaries. And at the center of the story – which is the result of her listening and intense conversations about ordinary lives, agonies, and complicated family history of those whom she met in person – there is the 'body'.

〈Without eyes, See; Without tongue, Talk, 2019, two-channel video, 6min. 57sec

Jun Bokyung, 〈Without eyes, See; Without tongue, Talk, 2019, two-channel video, 6min. 57sec

The body in Jun's work removes the movement of labor for survival which is already engraved in it and starts operating entirely differently. The body in which their world is embodied expanded externally and becomes a language itself that is able to speak itself. Their bodies now suggest the newly produced aesthetic movement. The movements of 'non-artists', which was shifted into an artistic language by the artist, are not just to display their lives and labor. Their private stories produced into a new gesture is a series of records that encourage us to re-read how a person exists in the relationship with other people or in society. Also, when listening to these stories carefully, it is quite noticeable that they are not very different from the survival of artists or art professionals today. We all know that there is a tough reality behind their intentionally 'beautified' gestures. Perhaps it is why the artist cannot pass by their stories.

The experiences she had with local people in various places have become important assets for her recent work. She stays in cities including Daejeon, Yokohama, Incheon, and Taipei as an artist-in-residence and continues her work that is only possible in specific places. Perhaps this is not enough reason to call it 'site-specific', but her work intervenes in places actively through a history of a person and redefines the places. These days artists can experience residency in a variety of cities without restrictions of mobility. The physical boundaries are disappearing and the sense of belonging to a place is declining, and it may be futile to obsess with the meaning of place. It is because deterritorialization can be seen as freeing us from the fixed identity of a physical place. However, in reality where it is harder to survive as an artist despite more suggested opportunities, the nomad-like life of Jun is probably one of the key elements to understand the structure of her work. If the place is a history that the body remembers, the individual can become the subject that occupies the place and define its identity. The structure of her work triggers a new phenomenon in the subject in the sense that an individual can free themselves from the system that used to suppress them by specifying the place.

Without doubting the possibility of art, we often hastily prioritize what needs to be dealt with in art first due to some urgent realistic issues. However, isn't the most essential question about contemporary art to ask whether it is possible to physicalize the world with a language of art? Perhaps Jun also constantly poses questions with her own language and attempts to represent the world that she sees in order to find the answer. The movements she creates through the process will be enough to change the subject fundamentally. And they will remind us that there are still things we need to question, listen and talk about.

1)Vilem Flusser, 『Gestures 』, trans. Kyuchul Ahn (Seoul: Workroom Press, 2018), p. 59.

※ 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

Seonok Kim

Curator of Art Space Pool

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