The English Kills Project (site)
The parameters of art have greatly expanded in the last decade, so that projects like this “socially engaged, bio-art project in the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek” felt very much at home during the 2015 Bushwick Open Studios. The project draws attention to the extensive waterway that is an integral part of the neighborhood, and highlights the current state of the creek, which is highly polluted and largely inaccessible to the public. The waterway has been consciously hidden and transformed through the years, leaving it all but invisible. The English Kills Project organized a few tables on Johnson Avenue beside the fenced-off parking lot that is the waterway’s man-made terminus. Joining the group for their discussion on the sidewalk immediately demonstrated how inhospitable the site has become. The noise of cars whizzing by on Johnson Avenue made conversation tough, we often had to be careful of the dust and dirt that was being kicked up by passing vehicles, and the impromptu picnic was enough to make you angry when you realized that a once bucolic setting was paved over and sectioned off for corporate use (currently Exxon-Mobil, Amaco, Getty Oil, Texaco, and other major companies have locations on the creek). The artists and activists who were there were interested in not only finding a way to raise awareness about the issue, but also finding ways to change their relationship with the environment through their art. In the midst of the studio-focused celebration, it was a nice reminder about the importance of pubic space. —Hrag Vartanian
Nothing But A Symphony is a four-minute-and-twenty-second-long single channel video. The video sees the world as vibrating melodies in unison. The Korean top cellist Jungran Lee plays an invisible cello in concert with jellyfishes, and primary colors, creating a rhythmical harmony of Nature: the cellist, the jellyfishes, and the primary colors appear and re-appear respectively on the timeline of the video, creating a cadence. This arrangement between human and non-human performances levels the subject-object relationship through a non-anthropocentric point of view.
by Dr. Denise Carvalho
JaeWook Lee’s video, Nightmare (2011), focuses on a fictional persona, Nightmare, who shares the duality of having served in the US Army in South Korea. Based on the nightmares about the Korean War experienced by the artist in his youth, the work deals with the paradox of events, the duality of the meaning of words and situations. For this piece, the artist built a projector-gun, which shoots at the screen, but is also part of the screen, interplaying the two meanings of shooting, as a projector shoots images and a gun shoots bullets. The two screens, one inside the other, refers to the frame inside the frame referred by Jean Genet in relation to the work of Alberto Giacometti. In Lee’s work, the larger frame shows a train passing in front of the machine gun. In the smaller frame (inside the larger frame), one can see the bombardments conducted by the U.S. Army during the Korean War, while the projector-gun keeps shooting at the train. As the artist states in the interview with himself, which is part of the work, “The paradox here is that the U.S. Army destroyed Korea in order to protect Korea.” The sociopolitical critique of this piece parallels the artist’s self-discovery and the continuous unfolding of what art is. As he states, “I try to constantly re-position myself as someone who incessantly displaces himself from social forms as they begin to congeal and cohere. The socio-political subjects of my art practice might come out of this attitude toward society as a whole. In the art history, Duchamp is one of the artists of this kind.”
As Lee’s work suggests, we are entering the world of relative contingency, and we are moving from the outside to the inside, searching for some ground in new forms of subjectivity and imaginary exchange. This is a shift in perception.
JaeWook Lee is an artist who is interested in repurposing information found as documentation of the past, to comment on modern socio-political issues such as global capitalism, warfare and power relations. His personal experience of being haunted by the Korean War has contributed not only to the project that he is showing in Prolonged Exposure, but his work as a whole. After studying art at the Korea National University of Arts in Seoul, Lee has continued a rich artistic practice here in the United States. Lee has been a resident at places such as the Wassaic Project, and the and has shown internationally in Asia, Europe and North America.
For Prolonged Exposure, we are showing a video work by JaeWook Lee which is part of his ‘gun-projector’ project. As I am an artist who is personally interested in projection and antagonism, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why I was excited to interview JaeWook Lee about his artwork. Here is a correspondence between myself and JaeWook Lee…
Q- I’ve been looking at your artwork that you are showing in Prolonged Exposure, and i think that it’s really interesting. The video is called‘The memory of Korean War Train,’ but it’s a part of a larger series called ‘Nightmare,’ where you built a projector gun, correct? Can you tell me a bit about this project including explaining what some of the imagery that you are projecting is?
A- I actually changed the title from ‘The memory of Korean War’ to ‘Nightmare’ because the word ‘Nightmare’ is more poetic beyond the signification of language. At the same time, the title ‘Nightmare’ is from my own nightmares about the Korean war that I had when I was young.
I created a device called ‘gun-projector‘ where I combined a gun and a projector together. We say ‘shoot’ when we use a gun. We also say ‘shoot’ when we project images. So I was playing with the double meaning of the word ‘shoot.’ I ‘shot‘ the images of the Korean war on moving trains and smoke. The images are bombardments by the U.S. Army during the Korean war. The paradox here is that the U.S. Army destroyed Korea in order to protect Korea. So, I tried to create the postulate of reversibility of what it means to ‘shoot’.
Q- With your gun-projector, you’ve projected onto moving, or amorphous material such as smoke. How does projecting specifically onto a moving train contribute to your concept of memories of the Korean War?
A- Yes. I chose ‘smoke’ and ‘moving trains’ due to their very nature of ephemerality in relation to the concept of memory. A memory is an event of the past, but the memory stays around one’s mind even though it is not out there anymore. Sometimes big social memories like wars stay in people’s minds from generation to another generation, and they affect human behaviors. For me, I was born in 1984 which was almost 30 years after the Korean War. Since two Koreas are still divided, the trauma of the war still exists. I used to dream about this war once a year when I was a teenager, which was scary enough to wake me up during my sleep.
Q- How has this work been received by Korean audiences, and how does that contrast to how Americans perceive this artwork?
A- The U.S. Army’s involvement in the Korean war was a major part of a war that was concealed by the Vietnam war. I came to the States last year, and I met some the U.S. Army veterans who came to Korea during the war. My displacement from Korea to the States and meeting with the elderly veterans re-evokes the social memory of the Korean war. I have never shown this work to Korean audiences. So, it is a meeting between a Korean artist and American audiences. It is also a meeting between the two countries in the video by projecting the images of the Korean War on the American landscape. I am more interested in the third ‘potentiality’ coming out of this meeting of heterogeneous elements.
Q- Most of your work seems very concerned with socio-political subjects. What do you think that your main concerns are as an artist?
A- It is about how I position myself as an artist in the larger sense of society. For me, it is still questionable. In other words, I try to constantly re-position myself as someone who incessantly displaces himself from social forms as they begin to congeal and cohere. The socio-political subjects of my art practice might come out of this attitude toward society as a whole. In the art history, Duchamp is one of the artists of this kind.
Q- How do you feel as though this artwork fits into the concept of Prolonged Exposure?
Exposure can be seen as the bringing-forth of oneself into presence. So, Prolonged Exposure can be seen as the self expanded and suspended in time. In other words, it is not bringing something into appearance, but it is staying in appearance without going back. So, staying in appearance for me is being tortured, slaved, and finally paralyzed which reminds our contemporary social life. The stream of war images in news media today does not really get people’s attention enough. The Occupy Wall st does not change our society fundamentally. So my art practice is a struggling to find a new mode of way of seeing what it means to live in the era of prolonged exposure.
All images are courtesy of JaeWook Lee.
Jun, Se Young (Curator, PYO gallery)
JaeWook Lee's works are based on a hidden reality and history, and a beautiful inner side of the city, which are shown as a twofold connection. He overlaps images of a misfortune within the glamour of the city and images of destroyed or unbeautiful elements to a present image of the city. The city, which is now much fancier and bigger than before, brings out paradoxical senses.
This exhibition 'Big Seoul 1971' was inspired by a poet Kwang Seop Kim, who wrote 'Big Seoul' in 1971. The works send out a message to recollect our Seoul. Now that Seoul is turning into a materialistic and visual place day by day after the rapid change from 1950 to 1960, the city has lost a true meaning of existence.
JaeWook Lee produces film-stickers of ordinary sceneries with Han River as the center. A beautiful night view and wealthiness of the present city project memories and history of Seoul. These works are actually an extension of former series 'Beautiful'. The last series has shown truths that are on a knife edge by visualizing many incidents and informations.
Images of ladies doing laundry with laundry bats, a water carrier with water pitcher, children skating and sleighing on a surface of frozen river, and old sceneries of Han River are pinned on a highway road. These two different images wander voidly between the past and the present and they flutter lightly inside our memories like a thin transparent film.
The refugees' lives with Han River as the center after the war became the center fo culture and life in 1950s. The new 'Seoul' that JaeWook Lee combinates with the others remind us of the fading memories and pain that are hidden under the glamourousness of the present city.
By Kim Mi-jin, Exhibition Director of Seoul Arts Center Hangaram Art Museum & Associate Professor of Hongik University Graduate School
This exhibition aims to shed light on both the interior and exterior scenes of a city that we face in our daily lives through works of two artists, Kim Hong-shik and JaeWook Lee. They both work using different mediums, but address the same subject. After making film stickers with disaster scenes from news found in cyberspace, JaeWook Lee cuts them out and puts them up real windows, finally taking photographs of the resulting day and night scenes. The stickers are put up and photographed, but soon removed from the window and again compiled with a new set of photographs. Lee contrasts popular news images made of thin, transparent stickers with the unified, coercive, yet convenient and beautiful view of the cityscape.
In contrast, Kim Hong-shik prints common street scenes, signs, and monumental buildings on stainless steel plates in an achromatic gray tone. Stainless steel, a medium symbolic of the present age, and fleeting, lighthearted scenes reflect the senselessness of cotemporary people’s everyday life. Kim makes these photographic films on stainless steel using a method of photo etching and completes the work by grinding or through silk-screening.
The two artists have something in common in that they both work with digital photographs of cities or daily living spaces that they have experienced in person and appropriated. With the commencement of human civilization, cities have been constructed and have played a crucial role in bringing about social values and power structures. The city produces the myriad of the aspects of our lives such as labor, commodities, the masses, transportation, medicine, and architecture, offering us hope, delightfulness, sumptuousness, and convenience, and on the other hand, alienation, unfairness, ostentation, barbarity, and violence. In today’s digital era, a modern city incessantly produces, circulates, and consumes new symbols and signs. Within luxurious downtown areas, new slums are created and the city outwardly expands to create other urban spaces like the so-called ‘new towns’ or ‘new cities.’
The film Metropolis, produced in 1927, addressed the confrontation between the elite and the working class and their contrasting work and living spaces, making a bold prediction about the future. The mass media today produces a huge amount of information about violence, crime, and traffic accidents each and every moment, making us believe that our cities are no longer safe. Kim Hong-shik expresses the various aspects of a city with his technique using lenticular lenses. The spaces he presents are quite sensual with their flamboyant colors and dueling images. Prohibition signs in the city scenes convey the paradox that something that can be so pervasive in our daily life can also be banned or illegal.
JaeWook Lee intends to represent materially abundant and happy daily life with sumptuous icons and star-like images over the background of the beautiful light of the Han River. The motive of each image, however, is appropriated from disaster scenes from digitalized cyberspace. We embrace daily disaster news and scenes as part of our everyday life, often considering them as trivial. Lee’s Beautiful seems like disposable, lighthearted, and pleasant, but also carries a subversive message. This seductive fantasy was created at the cost of the devastation of nature, inner self, and spirit. Lee builds up both real and imaginary spaces with these images of disasters and accidents. Like matter and the soul, the relationship between the beauty of a city and its natural disasters seen through his work urges the viewers to take a closer look at our daily lives.
Deconstructed images appear as dead birds and flowers which are not flying freely but look like gloomy plastic lumps. Networking the combination and deconstruction of space and time, Lee expects them to be communicable like freely flying birds. Through this exhibition, Kim Hong-shik and JaeWook Lee depict the city surrounding them by experimenting with new mediums and watch disquieting truths of our time with the acute eyes.
By Jeong Yong-do, Art Critic
While society demands we live without our own specific symbols, art marks out the distinct qualities of social existence through symbols to present man as an aesthetic being. Many such symbols in the outside of the art scene can be compare with one-dimensional situations, where an act responds directly to an entity, in relations and mechanical self-sameness revealing attempts that define situations.
Lee aims to define technology through beauty and crisis, which for him are synonymous. But wherever the two concepts share meaning, beauty remains aloof from it. In a similar dialectic, the visible in reconstructed images of a city in his work The Highest Place in Asia, is the idea that evolution is equivalent to the qualitative conditions of existence. The reconstructed images arouse illusions in this work.
But these too are dissimilar for Lee, who states, “The appearance of a city is the world we are conscious of.” Through conscious awareness, will to attain structure, and behavior generating meaning, the reality of mind stands out. We feel completely restless, when faced with nature, destroyed by urban development and construction.
The true nature of a city appears fictitious, to which Lee’s urban images are photographic reconstructions and re-compositions. He also uses stickers to present urban images that reveal objective attributes of objects, seen in the skyscrapers in a city. It is like an act of viewing a city and its modified images, through stickers with site-specific attributes. However, this concept of place is not enough to explain Lee’s work, since a sticker or photograph is not a record of work, but a work of art itself.
Lee’s work is, basically, site-specific but virtually site-generated, which for him is an artistic condition rather than a change to the site. It refuses the logical absoluteness of a situation, in that it presupposes the existence of nature beneath an urban site, like the abyss of our unconsciousness.
The process of developing artistic concepts depends on one’s response to ontological conditions. An act of exploring concepts through visual thought can be justified in works of art. To do this, sameness between physical ways and artistic intent is fundamentally significant, but in terms of interpretation it relates to the domain of truth.
If Lee’s work considers nothing but a super-high-speed development in Asian society through the depiction of high-rising buildings being constructed in a city here and there, it is a mere one-dimensional illusion relying on visual simplicity. Although Lee’s conceptualization of this subject matter is not clear yet, his work involves an ontological sphere, space for thought secure by his work’s relativity. Lee’s work mainly addresses such concepts as the limit of the conscious, unconscious enlightenment, destruction of nature due to the expansion of cities, extinction of an organic world caused by urban waste, and importance of a non-material world responding to a physical world.
In consequence, for Lee, social symbols equate to the truth that we reflect on and concretize in works of art. Uncertainty, both spiritually and physically, exists in every field of human existence. Art raises our awareness, defined by such uncertainty, to the level of unconscious, organic truth. The truth itself is, of course, not absolute, but we have to consider seriously the appearance of social symbols, whether we are attracted to them or feel indifferent.
We have to organize projects of life to consider what we have been unable to perceive or at least forgotten organic awareness due to modernist rationality, or recover aesthetic dimensions hidden by physical logic, asserted by a modern, consumerist world. In this sense, the recordings of artistic activities in JaeWook Lee’s work are significant.