Gomyomsom _ Hanbum Lee
I would prefer not to
…I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do….
Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation,
when without moving from his privacy,
Bartleby, in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied,
“I would prefer not to.”
-Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener
Gomjumsum was born in 2011. During just less than one year of his racing activities, he ran in 11 races and has never reached within 5th place of winning. Without having demonstrated particularly any outstanding skills, this dark brown horse lived a very short life of just four years, dedicated to racing, and died in 2015. While most racing horses are given names that give them an impression of power and speed like ‘Scamper’, “Hail Rocket’, ”Ray of Light’ or ‘Fever’, the name ‘Gomyomsom’ is not only boring in comparison, it doesn’t really go well with the concept of speed in competition. Perhaps it’s because of the ‘sum’ in the name (which means ‘island’ in Korean), it conjures up the image of an uninhabited island faintly visible from a quiet dockside. The name Gomjumsum doesn’t add nor takes away the function of the racing horse; it merely serves its function as the proper noun of ‘a horse’. Gomyomsom, the title of Jihyun Jung’s solo exhibition, is similar in system in terms of its relationship with the exhibition. Gomyomsom merely functions as the proper noun for an exhibition taking place at Doosan Gallery from June 1st to July 2nd, 2016, and it doesn’t explicitly magnify its subject or form, nor provide a narrative context or assert any discourse. However, it amplifies the exhibition in a different way, which is the very operation method of this proper noun. This intentional use of proper noun reads as an assertive and passionate declaration to give up the narrative in order to remove the language which endows meaning to sculptural form (and the very conventional process of understanding through which the narrative duly reaches meaning). In addition, countless ‘mechanisms’ are scattered throughout the gallery, so the narratives which ‘I’ as the audience can imagine is produced in different ways, and the places where such narratives are projected change arbitrarily. In other words, because the exhibition space has a meaning and remains in a type of ‘a state of dormant possibility’, the following questions must be asked with utmost importance in the exhibition: How were the mechanisms of Gomyomsom constructed, and in turn, what do they construct?
Gomyomsom looks like a ruin. Precisely speaking, it looks like a ruin from a total immediate collapse. It’s not like an old relic that’s covered in moss and weathered down during a long period of time; it’s a complete breakdown and blast. Jung used the walls from the exhibition Unswallowable (April 13 – May 21, 2016), which preceded Gomyomsom in Doosan Gallery, leaving them in place and tearing them apart instead of taking them down. He cut out the walls, piled the pieces on the floor or leaned them against the walls, and exposed the thick wooden structures used as the support fixture. In the jagged ruptured planes which the artist must’ve cut out himself by hand, one can see how he endured the manual labor corresponding to the weight of the ruin. It mustn’t have been a pleasing experience to handle the cold feelings of the neutral-colored architectural debris and the cheap piercing cold lumber in the dark exhibition space. This artificially constructed sight is interspersed with countless objects the artist produced himself. They aren’t incompatible with the ruin, but intermingle perfectly with the scene of the ruin to the degree that they’re not easily spotted even if one referred to the outlines of the objects drawn on the exhibition leaflet. Thus all compositions converge into one strong image of a scene in the exhibition, and the experience of exhibition is like browsing through a type of imaginary ruin.
However, upon close observation of the artist’s previous works and exhibitions, one realizes that a very important characteristic as well as the paradox of this exhibition lies in the fact that Gomyomsom is perceived as a ruin. A rare aesthetic trait of Jung’s work would be the crudeness that comes from the bizarre assemblage of things found from here and there, or the mechanisms that make them move subtly in simple and awkward ways. Young-gle Kim, Jung’s colleague, asserted the following in a review abut Jung’s work:
“Jung breaks down then combines objects he happens to collect — from castaway animal jaw bones, frames and broken instruments discarded in alleyways, or pendulums fallen from striking clocks — and transforms them into riddling objects. He applies the algorithm in his own way to endow unexpected movement. Then the object loses its original term and transforms into something which can be described in a noun. Elements of order and disorder, coincidence and necessity, and reality and fantasy are artfully combined in his work.”
Jung’s works have always been imbued with a sense of instability, because he uses discarded objects as his material and applies a method of artmaking that’s far from being exquisite or delicate. But they were never read as a state of despair, depression or cynicism because there was always a background narrative which the artist himself proposed in his work or exhibition. These works are like fragments of the world the artist observes as a subject of the world, and a form of actual visual manifestation of such observances. For instance, in Night Walker (2013), a searchlight installed on a moving electronic wheelchair flickers and writes text in mid-air following the entered information. According to the artist, this work took a few meaningless phrases from the radio news which he heard in the background noise, then transformed them into imperceptible message. In the same manner, what functions as an important element in Thames (2012) — a drawing series which lines of different textures fill the surface — is the narrative background that the artist went to the Thames river every day to draw the surface of the water and boats passing by. Thames demonstrates a crucial principle in Jung’s work so far: that a type of narrative which directs the work from a distance lies in the manual response, or transcription, to the world as measured by an individual. ‘Narrative’, endowed upon form, has the ability to change the power of the form. While the visual manifestation process — translating the perception of the world into various forms of painting, sculpture, and mechanism-objects through the medium of the hands — is an important aspect in Jung’s work, the narratives function as a conveyor which stirs the understanding of his work.
What’s evident in this exhibition is the artist’s efforts to obliterate the narrative he’s always habitually amplified. The first example of this can be found in the traces of labor executed to break down the walls, and other examples can also be found throughout the exhibition space. Besides the artist’s new works, his previous works are placed throughout the gallery. Most of them are not in the spotlight nor supplied with electricity, so they’re exhibited like ancient relics beyond the museum glass case. The wheelchair in Night Walker, mentioned above, also stands like this on the corner of the destroyed wall, no longer radiating light nor creating any text. It’s been stopped deliberately. Then what remains when the narrative has been erased? Is the ruin the only thing left which we can perceive? Does that mean that the narrative was the touch of richness which sustained the world? With slightly keener senses, it would be difficult to answer affirmatively to this question because Gomyomsom weaves out an even more complex situation in the space where narrative has been removed.
There’s a strange sense of time in the gallery. (Several) strange indescribable sounds can be heard in (a few) indefinite places that are difficult to locate. These sounds are created by mechanism-objects located throughout the exhibition space. The hand-sized device on Display has thin copper wires drooped down like the legs of a grasshopper, and these legs rise up in a fixed interval of time, then drop down. The vibration of a small motor the size of a finger which seems to have come out of a children’s toy, and the friction sound of metal are heard also on a fixed interval. In Where Concrete Stones Count, metal scaffold is cut into shorter pieces and tangled up, and concrete lumps slightly larger than fist are randomly scattered around it. A plastic scale capable of counting up to 6 digit numbers on their own is embedded into each of the concrete lumps like rock barnacles, all connected with electric wires. The scales, over ten in quantity, are all gathered in one place and produce the same sound, but each scale produces in its own rhythm and duration. Observing all the numbers expressed in 6 digits and discovering the common law of the numbers in a group is almost a humanly impossible task. Observing all the scales count up to all six digits would take 278 hours, given that the observer counts one number per second. But even then, the actual number counts slower than in seconds. The audience can only experience the time segmented by the scales and the overlapping of such segments of time.
Contrary to its title, the wind actually does blow in the work If Wind Doesn’t Blow. This wind isn’t constantly generated but, like other mechanism-objects, intermittently produces wind in set intervals. A dozen or so wires hang over the object and the silver sticker at the tip of the wires quiver with the wind. The shaky wires make contact with the copper rings that surround them, and whenever the contact is made, electricity is passed and the lightbulb on the wooden stick comes on. The interval of the wind blowing is regulated but the time the light remains on is very arbitrary. OOsun, a huge steel structure filled with completely useless material in terms of function, produces a few sounds on regular set of time. Short strange metallic sounds are generated every time a long piece of wire drawing circles makes a contact with the rolled-up steel plate on top of the structure right next to the wire. While this sound audibly seems regular, a very subtle and persistent difference is sensed in the cycle of the sound due to unknown external conditions. There is a small monitor affixed at the bottom of the structure, and in front of it is a mechanism which makes sounds on a fixed interval of time. This mechanism consists of a hydraulic motor and wood which makes a loud striking noise every 30 seconds. This interval, however, is also arbitrary: sometimes it takes 31 seconds, and sometimes it takes 28 seconds.
While the mechanisms mentioned above operated in such a subtle way that they were almost unrecognizable without paying a close attention, there were also loud and clear sounds in the exhibition which dominated the entire space of the gallery. Green Horn is a common bulk-sized detergent bottle coated with a thick layer of green urethane. At a glance, it seems to stand in space without any meaning, but it sounds a foghorn throughout the gallery roughly about every 20 minutes. In one corner of the gallery is Paper Drop Apparatus which creates the most spectacular scene in the exhibition. Each of the 12 paper dispersing devices drop sheets of white paper with the text “Let’s not forget the contract between light and gravity / _year_month_date_time” pressed into the paper, in an interval of time set to the sound of the melodeon installed underneath it. The mechanical device connected to the bulk compressor inserts air into the melodeon and presses its keys at a fixed interval of time, and the combination of the 9 pressers changes each time. It’s recorded that the interval of time in the sounding of this device was 8 minutes when the work was shown in PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art in 2014, but it increased to 13 minutes in Gomyomsom in Doosan Gallery. Together with Green Horn, the sound of the melodeon, activated with Paper Machine, clearly creates a new sense of time.
Gomyomsom creates different types of temporality through the repetitive sounds and movements of the devices. However, the important point lies not in the fact that many arbitrary units of time exist but the very way in which such arbitrary temporality operates in the exhibition. I visited the exhibition 8 times, and from the third visit I started to become interested in the sense of time created by several mechanisms. I also measured time through various ways: one day using a watch with a second hand, another day with a stopwatch in digital clock, and in many times, I tried to read the interval of time through my instincts, using my physical body such as my footsteps. And my final conclusion was that the time in this space ‘can never be gauged’. The reason I had to come to the exhibition so many times was not because I wanted to transform every experience into information and arrive at a more complete conclusion as if to put pieces of a puzzle together; it was because the show was clearly ‘different’ every single time. This doesn’t signify the irreversibility of linear time, nor does it conclude to mean that it is a performative work which is differently perceived through the ‘present’ perception of the audience. Gomyomsom deals with a very delicate thickness of time which is very difficult to perceive; therefore, a fictional world that’s always renewed is conditioned in the exhibition.
The narrative is obliterated and only the operations of all sorts of handmade mechanisms and objects are visible. In order to take this as a preliminary to fiction, it must be juxtaposed with the concept of the virtual. Held in the same space in Doosan Gallery after Gomyomsom, the exhibition Putting up Tree Branches transformed the entire exhibition space into a park. The woods unfold upon opening the doors of the gallery. Pieces of wood, as opposed to soil, are placed in a thick layer on the floor of the gallery, and this clearly declares that the space of reality and world of the woods are distinctly separated. The audience walks along the artificially staged path, and can even take a rest on the chairs and beds that are awkwardly positioned throughout the exhibition. However, this world immediately disappears the very moment the viewer turns around and takes a step outside of the gallery. The physical fake world, made to mimic reality through constructed environment, mediates like a commodity, and functions merely as a type of fetish. If ‘virtual’ was an already-given completion, then should the ‘fictional’ be regarded as something that is produced? In this sense, the very conditions through which the ‘fictional’ is produced must be considered an imperative factor.
Contrary to how today’s technological civilization and industrial society has fervently progressed to reach perfection in all fields even to the non-visible and non-perceptive dimensions, Jung’s devices are evidently rough and clumsy. This special quality, however, is what produces the strange thickness of time in Gomyomsom. Even though they operate according to the input information, each of the devices demonstrates definite errors. The time of movement and sound is not strictly steady, and its interval of repetition also varies slightly. Such is the result of physical inevitability which comes from old materials being put together not in the most precise way, and these devices also demand themselves to continue the deterioration. This is what causes the thickness of eternally unstable time, or the dynamism of perpetually quivering time. And the fact that a continuation is unstable gives rise to our unrest towards the system to which it belongs.
Zorn’s Lemma is one of the most representative works by Hollis Frampton, a forefather of American Structural Films. This film, with a running time close to one hour, is largely divided into three parts. The middle part — which is the longest part at approximately 45 minutes — follows the rules for the most part, but according to the arbitrary order of the alphabet, it shows images related to the applicable alphabet. For example, for ‘d’, it shows a board with the word ‘delight’ on it. This process is repeated, but as if a particular regulation is decided (this cannot be apprehended in the film, however), the alphabets suddenly start to be replaced one by one by completely irrelevant images, and in the end, all alphabets are replaced by different images. All the shots used by Frampton are short but they are moving images that last for the duration of 1 second, which are made of a continuation of frames. Putting aside all other issues of argument about this work, the perception of the shot which lasts for the very short period of 1 second is very similar to the time, or the perceptive experience of movement in Gomyomsom. This is because the clear unit of 1 second actually has a different thickness in a very subtle dimension. At the beginning of a long interview with Peter Gidal, Frampton asserts that this film in a way “deals with the element of time”, and continues to say that “while all shots are 1 second, they are actually not 1 second.” This means that each of the 12 images that construct this video consists of 23 frames per second, and the other 24 images each consists of 25 frames per second. According to Frampton, this state, which demonstrates ‘elastic interval’ in the unit of 1 second, is an inevitable “mistake” or “error” in the system.
Such errors were possible in Zorn’s Lemma because the film, consisting of a series of frames, was used as the basic elements of the work. In the same way, such errors are possible in Gomyomsom because all moving mechanisms were made unstable, directly through the ‘hands’. If the imprecise boundary is a type of error, it in turn demonstrates the scope of firm and stable system. In this perspective, it’s evident that Gomyomsom is not only just about filling the space where narrative has been removed with operations of devices that continue malfunctions. There are a few elements that remain as questions, and one of them would be that images with almost no information are put into the exhibition space. Upon closer inspection of The Big, in which two long scaffolds are connected like a stand with its legs open, it’s covered with kitschy stickers of cliché illustrations of sunset ocean views and 3D modeling of automobiles. This is a part of the image in the work Quarrel, in which small rectangular mirrors, imprecisely cut by hand, are plastered (with irregular gaps) onto the mirror ball. On the rectangular mirrors in Quarrel, countless images are cut accordingly in size and meticulously glued to each mirror. Other than the kitschy images mentioned above, there are also unidentifiable images captured by surveillance cameras and images of emoticons (made by the artist himself) used in smartphone messages. Although the same types were used many times, it’s difficult to tell what rules they follow, and they hover in their own directions without any standards. There is a loop on one vertex of the mirror ball, and it’s connected to a small motor which makes it move periodically. While it’s supposed to move in a circle, the plank on which the motor is affixed disturbs this movement and makes it move slightly to left and right. The indistinctive images with unknown sources move here and there (literally) on top of the mirror ball in a very microscopic dimension.
In the vacuum-like state without a single narrative, the artist-made mechanisms and completely ambiguous objects (and images) stir up a feeling of unrest in the viewer, which isn’t like a psychological anxiety nor unstable physical sensation of riding an amusement park ride. Then what is this feeling of unrest or uncanniness? There is too much information in the exhibition to be singularly perceived or described. Besides the elements mentioned above, it’s difficult to describe the sense of beauty in the woodcut up in all directions, steel structures that are complexly grafted together, and the piles of electric lines that are tangled up for no apparent reason. To apprehend everything in the exhibition, this place would demand an almost infinite amount of time. Therefore, the proper name ‘Gomyomsom’ can only be arbitrarily fixed as ‘this and that’. However, what characterizes Gomyomsom is that the unselected is not removed and remains undoubtedly as ‘something there’. Something which undoubtedly exists can remain and be recognized as a possible world, probably because the simple, plain and sealed virtual world, which the narrative introduces, has been broken down. In other words, all sorts of things without hierarchy fill Gomyomsom, and if there were to be a hierarchy, it would only be imposed upon by the viewer. Ultimately, anxiety might be another term for the pressure to make completely independent decisions in a place where all possibilities are conditioned to be displayed in full at once. More precisely, however, the uncanniness is a result of the incarnation of things that still remain visible (without disappearing) even after the decision. The sensation of the sound and movement being repetitive — which are actually reverberating unstably in very subtle dimension and thus include countless perpetuation — is related to this feelings of unrest in the sense that they are never converged into one system. Because the pressure for decision given to the audience is quite strong in Gomyomsom (the audience also has the right to not decide on anything in the exhibition), it does not impose one singular reflection upon the audience. I think that all processes themselves in Gomyomsom are one metaphor, and what it alludes to is not fiction but the very way in which such fiction is created.
This exhibition doesn’t illustrate that the artist’s attitude towards the perception of reality and world has changed. Rather, it looks like a site of experimentation of artistic methodologies that are different from before and the artist’s reflections on how he can intervene in the world as an artist. In looking back on the full account of how Gomyomsom functioned, it arouses contemplations on the dialectic effect of the infinite and the finite. Roughly speaking, it’d be a question on how and what reconstructs the infinite. If the narrative was a way of unifying the infinite, this would, to a degree, mirror Hannah Arendt’s idea of the “holes of oblivion”. On the other hand, even if it accompanies pressure, the fragment of narrative selected in the dormant state of possibility clearly leaves open the possibility for other existence even if it is reduced to a single meaning. The former might seem triumphant because it always seems successful, but the latter always has no other choice but to admit failure. The difference between the two is simple: where has the surplus of the finite gone? This also relates to the question as to how history can be reconfigured, and thus it’s a very important question for us now. When narrative depresses history, what surplus does it generate? Going on further, one might even question how history should be constructed and what fiction it demands. And naturally, history here also includes right here and right now.