People / Critic

Two Kinds of Instabilities - YI Yunyi’s 〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉 and 〈Shine Hil〉

posted 09 Sep 2020

Videos we encounter at art museums often perplex viewers. Unlike movie theaters with their pleasant environments enabling audiences to focus on one movie at a time, art museums feature seats uncomfortable to sit in for more than ten minutes. The countless other artworks in the same building waiting to be viewed causes one to lose focus. Considering such conditions, ‘sculptural video’, in other words the video as moving image that is instantly graspable and doesn’t require watching for a long time, seems to be an appropriate form for the exhibition space, even if we were to set aside aesthetic significances. At the same time, there are video works requiring continuous viewing despite their poor environments (but usually failing to be responded to). Among the works exhibited in diverse projection methods, especially some single channel video pieces dream of being watched like movies, aren’t they? while still waiting to be reviewed in the history of ‘experimental film’, not as exhibition videos.

Exhibition view of 2018 Art Sonje_Project #3: Yi Yunyi - CLIENT_Art Sonje Project Space, Seoul_2018. Image Courtesy of Incheon Art Platform

Exhibition view of 《2018 Art Sonje_Project #3: Yi Yunyi - CLIENT》_Art Sonje Project Space, Seoul_2018. Image Courtesy of Incheon Art Platform

YI Yunyi’s solo exhibition 《2018 Art Sonje Project #3: YI Yunyi - Client》 (Art Sonje Project Space, 2018) is complex. The approximately twenty minutes long single channel video 〈Shine Hill〉(2018), which was screened in the black box space on the first floor of Art Sonje Center, certainly requires watching for a certain length of time. However, the structure installed in the lounge lit by natural sunlight prolongs the concept of the video and indicates that the work has not been completed as a single-channel video and that it can be extended and supplemented to any extent. Is Shine Hill a material to be constructed and completed in space for creating some visuality, not complete in itself? 〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉 and 〈Shine Hill〉(2016) which the artist had shown two years ago in the exhibition 《Push, Pull, Drag》(Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, 2016) also runs for approximately twenty minutes. This work was not accompanied by any other installation, so that viewers could focus solely on the video.

Why does the installation methods of 〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉 and 〈Shine Hill〉 differ? Are these ‘formally’ different works? So to speak, is the former an experimental film and the latter installation video? Even if we consider that each time a video may be installed differently and variously rearranged according to curating, can’t we regard the first exhibiting way of the work as holding an important clue to that work’s concept. (except for the case in which the artist refuses to accept the result as his/her own work because it’s unable to sufficiently realize the artist’s intention due to external factors.) To tell in advance, what is somewhat more interesting than revealing the work’s art historic context is to infer the grounds for formal differences from the complex aesthetic characteristics of the works. Generally, a theory on an artist seeks to build the artist’s singular identity by finding consistency in his/her interests, but here, let us focus on differences. Such differences could not be evaluated as progress or regression. The reason is that at least 3 units are needed to mark a certain inflection point, but here are just two for comparison. This essay merely makes YI Yunyi’s thoughts traverse two years back and forth, and hovers at the corner of the time that will slowly pass by.

〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉 (2016)
〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉 reminds one of the sentimental aspect of monologue. According to the credits, two people appear in the work, but the piece almost seems like a monopolylogue. It is because the other character(s) except for the one played by a woman with bobbed hair, who is supposed to be the heroine, appears with her face hidden or in voice only. Thus, although the explanatory and the poetic are mixed in the narration of this dream-like video, which begins with the backside of mountain-climbing heroine and wanders around mountain and the ocean, they sounds like a monologue. Among the words sparsely flowing between the silently running images are conversations other than monologue. The subject of the conversation in the cut where three newborn kittens are staggering and cuddling up is parents the characters saw in their dreams. One person (the artist) mostly leads the conversation, but the other two who share similar dream experiences continue to agree with one another. Although the voices of the two characters besides the heroine are played in the recording of actual conversation, this does not interfere with the work’s dream-like atmosphere or structure of illusory representation. It is because such voices become the echoes of the heroine in the mountain at the video’s beginning, as represented in the text in the latter part of the video: “Echoes, we are echoes. we’re echoes and we reach the far end.”

In 〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉, the indoor spaces are used in specific meanings. The performance is done around the stairs of multi-story indoor space with the figure covered or half-covered with a semi-transparent sparkling curtain. It harmonizes with the quite solemn poetry reciting and sets the unnatural scene explicitly.

It is in the moment that the artist emphasizes that the work blurring the boundaries between documentaries and dramatic film while constantly shuttling between the real and illusions is the directly representational illusion. Meanwhile, someone’s room full of music albums, books or posters is a trace implying the presence of an actual person. In the recording studio, which is the background of the last scene, is held the internal engrossment of a woman who is playing an electric guitar while lying on the floor with her eyes closed. It appears that 〈Hearts Echo like Mercury seeks to depict an individual’s inner landscape but actually affirms the self-sufficient and closed-off inner structure that others cannot wholly approach. The individual’s sturdy mind forms more of a sentiment of sympathy than disconnection and uncertainty between the artist and object, and the subject and the other. “Where in the womb did she leave the original behind. She was first in mom’s belly, but now she’s the one chasing. We’re mirrors of each other, as sounds and lines pass through the lens.”

Hearts Echo like Mercury_19min 13sec_video, color, sound_2016. Image Courtesy of Incheon Art Platform

〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉_19min 13sec_video, color, sound_2016. Image Courtesy of Incheon Art Platform

〈Shine Hill〉 (2018)
YI Yunyi’s attempt to work out her interest in relationships within the subject’s peaceful coexistence or exclusive affinities rather than isolation or conflicts with others, is repeated in Shine Hill. This work is set against the backdrop of Shine Hill Golf Club run by the main character HUH SeungYeon’s family, and suburban houses. The two main characters, HUH SeungYeon and Bonhyang say they have become close to one another when realizing that they had met one another in their dreams before they did in real life. As their story is delivered in an interview format, it sounds like a somewhat more factual documentary despite being hardly believable. The two individuals, who accept their dreams as a kind of sign and act based on them, can be said to hold irrational beliefs. These very unreasonable beliefs seem to be what forms the basis of their relationship. HUH SeungYeon and Bonhyang’s friendship stems from transcendental, religious and superstitious beliefs outside the realm of logic.

How does YI Yunyi respond to such a relationship? In 〈Shine Hill〉, HUH SeungYeon is a figure traversing the three axes of capital (the family business of a driving range), religion (Buddhist) and art (art school graduate). The artist shares the art as the common denominator with HUH and is connected with her in a private intimacy. She appears to avoid criticizing or objectifying the main characters, rather choose to focus on how they resolve conflicts and maintain their relationship. Supposedly, such an attitude is close to an interest in how art can reconcile with capital and religion. Whereas contemporary art, capital and religion are usually considered to contain ironies or conflicts, will it be possible to overcome split of the artistic subject through worldly wisdom and religious fantasy?

In 〈Shine Hill〉 too, a contrived performance using small props implying a surreal transformation is inserted. The performance scene, which comes after the interviews introducing each character, looks like a friendly game between two. The video begins with a bird’s-eye-view of the driving range and ends with the scene two friends walking down the range’s hill that shines reflecting the light of apartment complex in the dark night. The artist says she paid attention to the driving range in the context that golf is a sport of social gathering and solicitude. However, the driving range is also a totemic space of Korean capitalism. Likewise, while Shine Hill seeks to capture a secret and private relationship, wouldn’t the conflict between the private and the public grow wider when it is edited for exhibition, unlike the moment it was filmed? As YI Yunyi confesses, there is the danger that the weakness of the two people’s relationship can be exposed and objectified easily by viewers in an exhibition. The exaggerated theatrical ending of 〈Shine Hill〉 seems to ease off such dangers by representing the characters’ relationship as a fantastic and illusory one. (While omitted from this essay which focuses on singlechannel video pieces, the installation at the exhibition CLIENT could be appreciated in this context too.) However, unlike the closed-off individual-subject in Hearts Echo like Mercury, it seems that the structure of exclusive relationship in Shine Hill inevitably involves conflicts the moment it is placed in the public space of the exhibition after transcending the networks of private relationship and edited as art. Could we not, though, at this point, see beyond the subject’s poetic impulses the artist’s video expresses? Couldn’t a video become a device showing us the internal and external facades of relationships, in addition to the individual’s mind? After 〈Hearts Echo like Mercury〉 and 〈Shine Hill〉, might YI Yunyi mark an inflection point implying which direction of instability she investigate further? Or, even if it were to be reciprocation, might its amplitude not grow even broader?

Shine Hill_2018 Art Sonje Project #3: Yi Yunyi - CLIENT_Art Sonje Project Space, Seoul_2018. Image Courtesy of Incheon Art Platform

〈Shine Hill〉_《2018 Art Sonje Project #3: Yi Yunyi - CLIENT》_Art Sonje Project Space, Seoul_2018. Image Courtesy of Incheon Art Platform

※ This content was first published in 『2018 Incheon Art Platform Residency Program Cataloge』, and re-published here with the consent of Incheon Art Platform

Kim Junghyun / art critic/independent curator

KIM JUNG HYUN is an art critic and independent curator. Kim writes and curates exhibitions with an interest in the forms and structures by which criticism and creation intervene in one another’s realms. She was awarded 2015 SeMA HANA Art Criticism Award and selected as a visual art curator for AYAF by the Arts Council Korea. She curated 《Walking Log》(co-work), and 《Change Nothing》(Seoul Art Space Mullae, 2016), 《Pirate Edition》(SeMA Nanji Residency, 2017) and 《Yeon Mal Yeon Si》(Insa Art Space, 2015), etc.

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