Same but Different Landscape _ Jihyun Jung
Same but Different Landscape
Written by Jihyun Jung
Translated by Diana Seo Hyung Lee
‘1:53 pm, One ship moving east at 15 knots’
Recording the route of a ship that passes by daily could appear to be an extremely tedious task. However, if one were to pursue it for over a year, every day for eight hours, to consciously register feelings of enjoyment or boredom would be quite taxing. The reason for this is that as one gets used to doing something, the sensations caused by the task begin to dull. That characterizes my life in 2005. I was at the point where recognizing small matters such as “today the rice is slightly sticky; today it is dry” in the midst of habitual activity as eating rice differentiated yesterday from today— each day’s meaning derived from these minute details. The journal I was recording through the radar during that time had to be exceptionally accurate and objective, and periodically, it was turned over to the communication office, but I had no idea how it was being used there. My job was merely to record the passing ships in legible handwriting, and then to deliver the journal to the office upon completion. I could only speculate that a certain person of high rank used it to observe the situation out at sea; but other than that, my work was of the sort that no one deemed significant enough to be mindful of, nor found necessary to take into account. I once wrongly recorded a flowing log as a ship passing by, but besides that incident, nothing happened that stood out even the slightest bit during those days. Each day at dawn, the ships left for the sea, and in the evening, they returned. As ripples caused by the ships subsided and the water returned to its form before the movement, I too went back to the same place when it was time.
According to recent rumors, that area has been substituted by unmanned technological systems that eliminated any need for human presence. April 2012, I decided to pursue a similar project. Every day for at least 30 minutes, I would stand by the Thames River and record the movement of boats as well as the flow of the water. In actuality however, this act of “recording” the flow of water using pencil on paper was perhaps more of a superficial portrayal or description, or even more so than a portrayal, it was like meditation. This meditation involved the menial labor of filling paper with small lines, or put in another way, the paper served as pathetic evidence to prove how much time had passed. Following the movement of the water, shapes, and boats with my eyes was easy, but since my hands move slower than the speed at which my eyes see, the marks I was making at times seemed arbitrary and meaningless. In the midst of this endlessly changing scenery, I simultaneously experienced powerlessness and freedom, as it felt like I were attempting to capture a fleeting moment, or gain assurance over an uncertain situation.
While making lines, I was able to observe the flowing water, various floating matter, and the minute changes taking place in the surroundings. This was completely different from recording through observing the radar as I did in the past. I was able to feel the weight of reality, and the marks on paper looked almost identical but still different each day. Same applied to the record of the ships. If a ship caused any disturbance in the water, I would record it diligently—the time the ship had passed, its direction, speed, etc. It was a similar sort of report as I had created before, but this one did not have any intended purpose. It was simply a written record of what I observed, and I considered it meaningful enough to repeat. It was not a conscious thought, but somehow intuitively, I felt better off doing it than not. What I have realized is that the value of constantly looking at one’s everyday landscape from a singular location is not determined by private or public experience, but rather by how much one remembers and thinks about that moment. Ultimately, since I believe that consistency is crucial for accomplishing anything worthwhile, I was able to suspend judgment and continue working.
The hundreds of pieces of papers that are filled with pencil lines appear meaningless. However, doing this was somehow a great method of liberating myself from the inevitable and the teleological. As a result, this accumulation of uselessness did not ultimately seem trivial. Though it looked brief and even unconsidered, I could place them in any location easily, and it seemed to have arbitrary yet inherent value. What’s more, through this project, I was able to set aside a time for silence, which is very important to me. Physical labor became closely tied to the psychological, emotional, and the inner realm, and I was able to make that time entirely mine. Like a shadow becoming indistinct, this landscape seemed steady but transformed little by little, and most times I felt as if the scene could be easily lost if only for a moment I did not pay attention. Furthermore, that time served for my life, as a comma would for a sentence, a pause for me to take a breather from worldly cares. Following the flowing water and making lines served to heal and sort out my brokenness; the hard work and diligence that the project demanded afforded me an opportunity to detach from myself. Putting behind the mindset of doing something for the sake of reward or return, but rather, having time set aside for no thoughts in particular made me think of the project as a way to redeem life of its vacuity, a way in which to somehow take hold of and grasp empty time.
It was very windy by the river today. The floating devices above the river are tangling and separating, but all the while, uniformly together, moving and flowing towards the same direction. The record of the river and related events also flow, parallel to the river, interacting and colliding with it. Just as I am getting used to the slow yet constant changes, even the sheet of paper from that day feels a bit heavier than the last.