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.