The Reality of Using Historically Related Artwork to Define Contemporary Identity

Jang Jintaeg, Independent Curator




    Today’s generation seems to have a lot to say about the rapidly unfolding trend of digitalization and definitions of contemporary identity. Yet friction and clashes always come from the formation of the relationships between all things. The problem stems from the attempt to advance ideas while keeping those aspects isolated. The concept of difference as a representation of the distance between two things is immediately invoked as part of this formulation process. What I mean to say here is that we find ourselves once again relying on an attempt to incorporate several sequences of what comes before or after—in other words, our conventional instinct to spatially distinguish things between those toward the center and others out on the periphery. If we are unable to properly illuminate the new structural definitions that digitalization has brought about in the society, the distinctions of identity that those trends seek to reorder, and the new subjects triggering this overall process and the formation of our aim, it may put everyone into the direction of greater misunderstanding. Thus, we must recognize how truly complex and multifarious the present situation is, as calls for redefinitions have been witnessed in regard to nearly everything under the current conditions of digitalization. It is fortunate at least that there have been ongoing efforts by certain actors to provide an identity that is uniquely redefined for the era. Changes in the physical environment underpinning the societal systems have called for the necessary re-establishment of the zeitgeist of the generation predominating that era, which we can see from our experiences. The confusion of today’s multilayered structures—brought about by simultaneous deconstruction and construction—is taken as something more or less preordained. But understanding the difficulties that arise in a process of reciprocal change does not mean that the level or scope of such reorganizations can be adjusted and made into something mutually acceptable.

    As a result, extreme confrontations and collisions inevitably create spaces and times that are in between; certain distances serve as buffer zones that allow phenomena to occur within reason and prevent the spontaneous combustion that might otherwise occur. Artist Kwanwoo Park seems to situate his work within this special category that we might refer to as the “spacetime in between.” Taking as his chief aesthetic medium and theme the sense of self-perception within the performativity of the body, Park reaches for a particular stage of consciousness that combines the conflicting perspectives of “subject” and “other.” The act of accessing the fundamental self-consciousness or other consciousness possessed by humans offers proof that the artist harbors doubts about the very distinction between these two concepts. Can “I” or “you” be capable of distinguishing “me” or “you”—in other words, ourselves? If so, can we be sure that the selves we distinguish are truly what we call “me” or “you?” The artist’s primordial self-doubt toward our systems of perception has led him to survey the times and spaces of the past, present, and future, while organically connecting each in some way or another. The fact that the chief objective of Park’s work lies in examining the part of human identity that seeks to discover a suitable “self” rests upon a historical moment that demands the redefinition of identity—or the contemporary zeitgeist that has given rise to such situation. By projecting dual mirror structures that cause one to reflect on oneself, or by creating special situations that mix the position of the “other” with that of the “self,” the artist forces the viewer to confront their identity in a rather direct way. This is Park’s trademark staging, allowing “you” and “I” to access the consciousness of a human who is both the object and the subject of perception, as Park deliberately subverts or reconfigures the existing systems through which human beings structure things. His aesthetic practice has broadened into subjects and objects within the concept of the post-human that has emerged with the transcendence of the categories of physical human bodies and metaphysical interior lives: here, he tries to construct various forms of relationships among the individual members of society who will occupy spaces and times that have not yet existed.

    Among Park’s works are Familiar Stranger (2019), in which he uses a webcam and a projector to blur the positions of the camera and the viewing subject; Tomorrow (2014), which similarly draws on filming and projection to transpose first- and third-person perspectives; and Stranger (2017), which mixes the active and passive subject according to the principle of the viewing periscope. These works share the common theme of the self-becoming the object of a gaze while also being the viewer. This recursive structure of visual representation evokes one’s own ordinary perception of identity. The instant we are confronted unexpectedly with our own image, Park’s work suddenly blurs the boundary in our perception between the subjective “self” who is viewing and the objectified “other” self who is being viewed. While the aforementioned works either cause viewers to visually experience the self as an “other” or lead them to indirectly imagine themselves as seen by another, other works by Park—namely his Tell me that I’m here series (2019) and Do Androids ‘feel’ like dancing? (2019)—can be seen as overlaying the vector contemporaneity inherent to the digitalization process upon the artist’s aim of defining identity. In both of these works, the artist actively incorporates perceptions achievable through cutting-edge devices such as drones and virtual reality into the preparatory process for reformulation of identity, which is arrived at through a pathway of recursive self-examination. Characteristically, the artworks posit the changes in perceptual systems brought about by our current technology-based media environment as being an obvious truth. The final axis to be found in Park’s body of work is exemplified by Human Conversation 1 (2018). Whereas other works by Park adopt methods of deduction to demonstrate identity, Human Conversation 1 uses inductive methods to reach expansive conclusions from individual facts (works). The conversation, performed by two actors, is based on a script derived from a dialogue between AI chatbots designed to make it impossible to distinguish which of the sentences are artificial and which of them are human. In addition to raising issues of identity within the single category of “humanity,” this work is distinct from Park’s other works in the sense that he does not limit himself to focus on the particular time and space of the “here and now”: instead, the “before” and “after” of a situation are synchronized to the present.

    With artwork that chases the concept of “identity,” Park seems to seek something clear. However, perhaps it is not so much about finding something clear as it is about finding his own clear standard with which to answer the question, “What might be unclear?” What the artist intends through his process is closer to preparing some kind of groundwork. As transformations have resulted in complex entanglements in processes of structural subversion and the construction of systems across society, discussions about the existence of humanity as both the most important subject and object in society have become relatively upended and blurred. In this difficult situation of redefinition—one that must encompass a variety of groups and relationships among innumerable individuals—Park is clearly attempting to exercise his right in a determinant way as a member of the subjective generation. However, he does so not do this through division and separation; instead, he proceeds under the premise that it is possible to create a relation among different eras and generations.