I was surprised how extensively people are exposed to the menacing eyes of the world.Just in order not to develop paranoia,they seem to delude themselves into thinking they are safe and secure.
— Baek Minseok, Cotton Field Bizarre Story
With the advent of color TV, our society entered the age of overproduction. And now, after more than three decades passed, images are transmitted not only through the color TV but also though the internet in real time so indiscriminately and massively that we can hardly bear the weight of them. Even what we do not want to see, not to mention what we want to, ceaselessly stimulates the retina. And without question, this indiscriminate transmission of images allows no time for responding to a stimulus. Images are only replaced with another and then, another with rapidity. Consequently, the eye has also no time to reach the inside of them, only to slide into the surface of another image offered successively. Since this enormous volume of images which provides optical stimulus with unbearable intensity focuses on attracting the eye with more sensational ones, rather than on conveying ‘reality’ as it is, their surface is apt to exceed their inside. Though exiting the sense of sight with excessive rhetoric, they are merely an ‘empty signifier’ with only the surface.
Those who are exposed to this situation in a defenseless state deal with all that intimidate human beings such as wars, terrors, accidents, disasters, and death(mutilations, dead bodies, suicides and so on) as a sort of fiction that can be enjoyed easily, taking only the surface. As he himself admitted, Kwon Kyunghwan is not free from it. This could be understood from the following two points of view: First, this kind of cognitive process is the perspective with which the generation after the disappearance of grand narratives looks at the world, agreeing that the unreal context built up by twisting the object is rather closer to reality. Second, for the same reason, the members of it cannot treat actual reality and thereby, distort and approach it only superficially. In this sense, one may regard Kwon’s attitude of image play as a childish trivial joke, for the artist turns his steps to another before realizing the weight of what he is working on. It is unlikely that Kwon could deny both accusations. This is both poison and medicine to him.
Jokes As Empty Signifiers Beyond
While at the graduate school, Kwon’s works frequently showed unfamiliar situations by twisting the common understanding of everyday objects. As in A Chair on Heat(2005) where a chair had one leg longer than the other three, though it is functional only with four legs of the equal size, Green Tress(2005) where a bunch of eight brooms were planted in a flowerpot, and A Gun for Writing (2005) where a gun was made from graphite with smooth surface, Kwon made a joke at the world by capturing the resemblance between things and displacing it with a different form. In terms of visual shape, this methodology is an extension of the works of Ahn Kyu-chul who aimed to find the truth behind the ordinary object(as in A Guilty Brush, Water in the Distance, Glasses and ect.) and Kim Beom who worked with the distinction between seeing and perceiving in the relation between image and reality by disguising (or camouflaging) the function of the object(as in Car Key, Immigration Office Building on the Border, A Radio-Shaped Iron, An Iron-Shaped Kettle, and A Kettle-Shaped Radio, Sleeping Roast Chicken, Swan, A Sunbathing Lady, and etc.). However, if Ahn and Kim’s humor started from the hardships of reality that conceals the truth, Kwon is fascinated by this very situation and enjoys it. For him, there are no sufferings in the world. What is solely important here is a ‘brilliant idea.’ In Booming(2003) where a booming scene turned into a hat, or Shall We Dance?(2006) which reminded you of the symbol of socialist ideology in the 20th century, or when he arranged plastic model-like soldiers everywhere on the walls by using the stencil technique, or when he embedded a heart symbol on a railroad track so that the symbol could be imprinted in the trace of the train, his only concern was a ‘brilliant idea.’ Kwon jokes with his ‘brilliant ideas’ which he found while moving from image to image breathlessly as if imitating the mode of image production of the media, that is, his friend, teacher, hero, and food. War, violence, socialism and the others appearing in his works at that time seemed to a device to maximize brilliance or novelty with empty signifiers.
It is from Untitled(drawing)(2006~2007) that Kwon ceased to show preference for ‘brilliant ideas’ but began to embody the sentiments of his own generation and pursue beyond them. In this work, he collected, combined, and transformed images which had stimulated eyes and kept his distance from their original meanings. White meets black, a cartoon character meets a missile and they explode, making a huge cloud, which is explained by a totally irrelevant sentence. He created thoroughly empty signifiers like overexposed images and made the pictorial composition much more sensational (or realistic). The images striking the retina were carefully represented on black paper with white color pencil. Wars, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and bombings got more delicate and the excessive symbol(heart), which had been used to maintain the unrealistic context, disappeared unlike the previous works. Now, by describing things in an elaborate and sophisticated manner, he is looking for the unreal context in images themselves. Wars experienced through the mass media and the computer monitor seem go too far that they are felt as fictions, evoking no feeling or emotion. An individual like Kwon, who has lived on overflowing images on the color TV and the internet, might find true to life the unreasonable situation which makes people fall into the delusion that they aim at the endodermis, though actually headed for the epidermis. Thus, he reserves value judgment on the object and stay away from it. He gets rid of what he has not experienced, or the ideas fixed in his mind as a result of learning, and transfers what he actually experienced to the canvas. This makes him to confront the unreal world, filled with the conspiracy theory that people “delude themselves into thinking they are safe and secure,” “just in order not to develop paranoia.”
Another Boring Day
From some time and in this very moment, there are countless deaths everywhere. Though being repeated constantly along with the human race, death (since the Middle Ages) has been always the object of both fear and taboo. Nevertheless, the image of death is conjured up before us over and over again. There are two reasons for this: First, people wanted to get a lesson, examine and look back on themselves by witnessing death and second, they satisfied their voyeuristic desire to see fear and taboo through dying images. Then, in this age when the development of technology makes it possible to see the disasters and deaths occurring all over the world wherever and whenever you are, what is the image of death? Needless to say, we are receiving various, many, spectacular images of death today more than any other period. But as mentioned earlier, we do not think about the pain of death. Toward the images we just feel a minimal compassion, which is based on the belief that they have no relation to us. Thus, modern society consumes death only as spectacle. Images unsettle the nerves more intensely, raise disturbance, and grow more conspicuous, irrespective of their moral (or political) attitude. We have no time for boredom navigating among these images. In this way, the spectacularization of image interrupts and even derides our attempt at thinking about the pain of others ―which we do not experience directly―, though through indirect experience.
Having recognized the discrepancy between represented reality and actual life since Untitled(drawing), Kwon deconstructs the structure of spectacular images overflowing around him in this exhibition, “Another Boring Day.” In other words, if he viewed the world by passively receiving spectacular images produced by the media, now, he intends to intervene in images actively and see them as they really are. After collecting dying images of wars, terrors, suicides, arsidents and so on, the artist standardizes them in the form of a simple line in his ruler-shaped Standard of Death (2009). Even though people lose their life through Standa arsidents and reasons,s them in the form coming near to us, in fact, has some vStaations within the she a a aategories standardized by the artist regardimpleof wardizeshas inside. These standardized m in tformats a rulepormd byr combined to create a new m in , in the same way that the mass media offer spectacular images of death to us. Repetition and combination transform dead bodies into people who are dancing, or standing in a line, or running and even into the shape of flower, which is no longer human. These are the images provided by the media in the age of flooding images, as well as those perceived by us, who skim over only the surface of them.
While Standard of Death erased the background of pictures and treated the bodies only as lines, the place where the very bodies ought to be is Ghost(2009). In this time, the artist leaves the background untouched and eliminates the bodies in the pictures which he likewise gathered in the internet. What is important in the photos where the bodies are effaced are the rest people (or landscape) and numbers scattered around. As Ghost shows, Kwon approaches the stories of dead bodies as if they belong not here but there, which is similar to the way that surplus images stimulated the retina of the artist. But he adds devices for controlling the speed of surface-oriented images: deletion of the cruelty of death and the numbers which the viewers can follow up one by one and draw according to them. If they proceed along the figures with pencils in various colors, they inevitably meet a body. Though the brutality of the dead may be concealed because it is made up only of lines, the peaceful looking landscape is destroyed. Using hands and eyes, he stops the image which you pass by, or see impassively, dazzled by its stimulativeness and make you face it. (However, this effect decreases in the works where the remaining background directly suggests death in such cases as soldiers point a gun or a mutilated body is placed.)
To be sure, it is impossible to give the full picture of the enormous violence to put an individual to death. So, in this exhibition, the artist intended to represent the death and violence that he witnessed himself. As the methodology for this, he expunged the every detail of the accident to death and standardized death. He displaced death with something that exists as well as can be produced both here and there, like the very image of death that you unexpectedly and suddenly encounter at every corner of life. This is a straightforward confession of Kwon who has lived in the age of overflowing images. And though as yet timidly, he requires us to face them. Human beings have been civilized in the history until now but they unabashedly transgress against the fundamental norms and act according to the rule of the survival of the fittest. In this way, the real life is filled with contradictions. Kwon tells us how he experienced and understood it, and then, how this experience and understanding influenced his view of the world. Now, he is taking the first step to penetrate contradictions and confront himself and reality.
Lee Daebeom (Art Critic)