On Collecting Time, a new collection exhibition held at the Nam June Paik Art Center until June 25, 2023, shows the mission and identity of the museum. The exhibition presents 11 works collected over two years at the museum between 2020 and 2021.
An art museum’s collection is one of the best indicators of what artistic narratives the institution pursues. In that sense, the new collection exhibition On Collecting Time, on view at the Nam June Paik Art Center through June 25, 2023, is an exhibition that exemplifies the mission and identity of the museum.
The exhibition presents eleven works collected over two years at the museum between 2020 and 2021. The works of nine artists and groups, including Sung Hwan Kim, Kim Heecheon, Jinah Roh, Sunmin Park, Seungwon Park, Ahn Kyuchul, Unmake Lab, eobchae x Ryu Sungsil, and Shiu Jin, span a variety of genres, including video, installation, drawing, performance, robot, and artificial intelligence. Through these works, the exhibition reflects the time between man and machine.
As reflected in the museum’s name, the Nam June Paik Art Center was established to honor the artistic achievements of the media artist Nam June Paik (1932–2006). Paik was an artist who worked at the intersection of art, installation, music, performance, and technology and was one of the pioneers of video art. He was known for creating massive installations using televisions, performing the first international satellite installation, and creating semi-operative robot works.
Since Paik studied in Japan after the outbreak of the Korean War and subsequently worked in Germany and the United States, his name was not widely known in Korea until the mid-1980s. Nonetheless, he was undoubtedly an artist who contributed significantly to the Korean contemporary art world. For example, Paik donated $300 million to bring the 1993 Whitney Biennial to Seoul in the same year of the biennial. The exhibition brought a fresh, shocking, and new artistic perspective to the Korean art world since most of the South Korean audience and the art world had few opportunities to experience international contemporary art at that time.
In 2002, the Nam June Paik Art Center was established to honor Paik’s achievements and the legacy he left on the Korean contemporary art scene. However, the museum goes beyond this and connects Nam June Paik’s artistic imagination with more diverse forms of media art. To share media art on a wider level, the museum aims to support the experimental activities of the next generation of media artists and foster various creative studies. In that sense, the current new collection exhibition is held to reflect this museum’s goal.
Lee Chae-Young, Chief Curator at the Nam June Paik Art Center, curated On Collecting Time to broaden the understanding of time-based art that constantly moves and changes. The eleven media artworks by Korean artists newly added to the museum’s collection were acquired when the whole world was forced to close its doors and limit human interaction due to the pandemic.
The new collections in the exhibition “were collected during a specific period, and these artworks contain various questions and symptoms raised by that strange and interesting time.” While the exhibition “reflects on a specific historical time, it deals with the poetic beauty of a nonconclusive and accidental time.” The exhibition examines how the participating contemporary artists unravel temporality in their artworks and envision the new collections as organically evolving and expanding.
New York-based Korean artist Sung Hwan Kim (b. 1975) reflects cultural differences or his experience of different places through paintings, videos, installations, performances, radio plays, and books. A video installation work Drawing Video (2008, 2021) is a record of three performances held in 2007. The work is one of the artist’s earliest video works, exhibited for the first time in Korea. The installation consists of three drawings and two videos in which three artists from different cultural backgrounds talk and play about the music and culture they have experienced, along with Sung Hwan Kim’s drawing performance.
Kim Heecheon (b. 1989) recently won the Hermes Foundation’s Missulsang, and his Deep in the Forking Tank (2019) is now in the Nam June Paik Art Center’s collection. Kim is an artist who creates media works that tell the story of the contemporary world through various digital devices and interfaces commonly used in daily life.
The video work Deep in the Forking Tank “extremely expands the body in a situation where the senses are deprived” by showing the simulation process of the sensory deprivation tank. He connects this situation with similar elements found in the training log of the deceased female diver Song Yeoreum, K-pop choreography, and a cult group in Mexico.
Jinah Roh (b. 1975) creates interactive robots by combining traditional sculptural techniques with new media. Through the work of machines infused with emotions, the artist aims to highlight the relationship between humans and non-human mechanical beings. Roh imagines a future society in which the concepts of life and non-life take on a new meaning.
An Evolving GAIA (2017) refers to the ability of Mother Earth to control nature. The half-human and half-tree mechanical doll, GAIA, longs for a life similar to that of Mother Earth. GAIA, who learns through conversations with the audience, gradually develops its skills and gives complex and philosophical answers to simple questions. Through this work, the artist argues that the relationship between humans and machines, originals and copies, is closer to co-evolution than to competition.
Through photography, video, installation, stage design, and publication, Sunmin Park (b. 1971) explores the relationship between dichotomous variables such as language and image, life and nature, and sense and reason. Park microscopically observes natural phenomena that are easily overlooked through the lens of a camera, or she macroscopically deciphers the precariously fragmented life in the city through the lens of a telescope.
An exhibition piece, Architecture of Mushroom (2019), combines a slow, low-angle video of mushrooms growing in a Jeju forest for a year from 2017 and includes narration about architecture by 13 Korean and foreign architects. By juxtaposing the structure of a mushroom created by nature with a man-made structure, the artist provides an opportunity to think about collapse, extinction, and creation and to reimagine the relationship between nature and humans.
Seungwon Park (b. 1980) deals with the subject matter of the human body through video and performance. By placing the body in a bizarre situation, the artist reveals the unstable situation we face in today’s world, which pursues rationality. Through his work, the artist attempts to redefine what life is and to overcome anxiety through illogical, instinctive, and primitive actions.
The Ordinary Day (2020), inspired by one of Nam June Paik’s performance video works, is a two-channel video installation with a video of a head shaking from side to side on one side and a video of two lifted legs on the other. By showing the confined body trying to escape the monitor frame, the artist attempts to demonstrate the body’s senses and further implies that recognizing the body on the border between life and death is the most ordinary practice of life.
Artist Ahn Kyuchul (b. 1955) has worked on conceptual works since 1992. By carefully observing trivial daily life and seemingly insignificant objects, the artist wittily expresses the conflicts individuals experience in society.
Nocturne No. 20 / Counterpoint (2013/2020) in the exhibition takes out one piano key after each performance of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20. This work explores the time of coincidences and indeterminate time and attempts to show the inescapable ephemerality of life that moves toward nothingness.
Unmake Lab (Sooyon Song, Binna Choi) is a duo of artists and researchers who unravel the relationship between humans, technology, nature, and society through exhibitions, research, education, and publication. They employ irony, fables, and humor to reveal contemporary society’s obsession with algorithms.
Utopian Extraction (2020) is a media installation consisting of three videos and one installation piece. The work contains video records of reclaimed land, such as the enormous sand mountain created by the Four Major Rivers Project and Saemangeum Haechang Stone Mountain, which was dug to obtain soil for land reclamation, the data regarding these reclaimed lands, and the real-time video of the artificial intelligence on this subject. Through this, the duo demonstrates the potential of artificial intelligence to create new stories outside of the human cognitive system.
CHERRY-GO-ROUND (2019) is a collaborative project between eobchae and Ryu Sungsil. Since 2017, eobchae (Nahee Kim, Cheon-seok Oh, Hwi Hwang) has been working as a three-person audiovisual collective that projects today’s audiovisual media phenomena as critical yet intriguing art projects. Ryu Sungsil (b. 1993) is an artist whose installation, performance, and video works express the contemporary consumption phenomenon through black comedy.
The exhibited video work, divided into three parts, shows two fictional characters, “Cherry Jang” and “Balhaein 1.” Through the characters, the work projects a society intertwined with various social issues, such as climate change and environmental issues, digital surveillance, authoritarian politics, and a polarized economy and labor market. In this way, the work explicitly reveals the vulgar and self-congratulatory aspects of contemporary media consumption.
Artist Shiu Jin (1975–2019) critically reflected on today’s society of gentrification, inequality, civic life, and redevelopment of urban spaces through photography, drawing, installation, and video. He also worked on addressing concerns about art and its essence in various ways.
A total of three of Jin’s works are exhibited in On Collecting Time. One of them, an installation titled Something That Might Not Exist between the Restored and the Transformed – A Conversation with K (2016), is a work comprised of a single-channel video and an object. The video shows the text of a conversation between the artist and a visitor named K, who persuades the artist to restore the damaged artwork. Through the conversation, the work reveals the process of acquiring a new meaning and the result of an artwork.