Difference between construction and deconstruction of existence

 Lee Sun-young (Art Critic)


Im Suniy’s work, starting from a topographic map that is produced based on quantitative measurements of nature and artificial objects, involves reference to empirical data compiled by scientists and a considerable amount of ‘reasonable’ labor in realizing it. However, the resulting work is different from copying and reproducing the original form of nature. The method of accumulating layers of maps can be found in the technique of building a construction mockup and, furthermore, may serve as the foundation for three-dimensional printing technology. Nonetheless, the gap grows wider in that Im uses paper, an analogue object, as the main material, which is not easy to maneuver with machines including computers. This is not just about difference in materials, but about a style of difference and repetition in her work. This makes Im distinguished from other artists and, more fundamentally, difference between art and science is based on it. In Difference and Repetition, philosopher Gilles Deleuze discussed difference between art and science. According to him, the language of science is dominated by the symbol of equality.

Each term can be replaced by other terms here. By contrast, terms are not replaceable in the language of art, but only repeatable. Repetition poses a question to laws. From the logic in Difference and Repetition that persistent repetition overturns the general law of science, Im’s piles of topographic maps are artistic reality that cannot be turned into science. Furthermore, they show that 'all identities are the effects of difference and one is declared through all.' (Deleuze) Concrete true identity like a mountain is declared through something that remains different while determining difference (Deleuze). For this reason, her work appears to be illusionary, quite different from its solid beginning and process. In her works showcased in the exhibition 'Evolving City-Changing Landscape_SUSPECT' held in gallery zandari early this year, the phases of infinite time were engulfed and released repeatedly by the slow flow of power, also with the help of ice and fog. The difference presented by the delicate wrinkles forms an existence, immersed in pleasure of revealing and hiding.

The strata of time are placed in the dynamics of power that creates them and eventually makes them vanish. The fine sections naturalize artificial structures as well. While her earlier works were dominated by red lines, her recent works take on a blue tinge. The blue-tinted works have a chilling feel as if hinting the advent of a second glacial period. It may be a short interglacial period now if we place civilization in the cycle of the Great Nature. There is a trace that people lived but there is no human presence, which is like the image of a future apocalyptic ending at present. This draws near gradually like an omen. It is slowly coming to an end as glaciers in the North Pole are melting by a further 1mm and sea surface temperature is rising by 0.5 degrees Celsius, rather than a sudden catastrophe like atomic bombing. Landscape containing several artificial components is potentially fragile like a sandcastle. The structure built by stacking hundreds of cut-out topographic maps horizontally looks very solid but not really.

It has a sense of volume visualized by weight, density and complex curved planes, but the simply stacked structure leaning against each other without gluing between papers will be shattered even by a little push. In order to pursue the sophisticated layers created by the sharp lines of the cut planes, it is refrained from holding multiple exhibitions at different places. It would be great to do so if possible, but the papers in tatters from repeated exhibitions are far from the artist's intention. That is because there is a possibility of repetition in a mechanical and representational way rather than repetition towards difference. Paper is a natural material and a great fit for natural form. However, Im does not produce an old object-like ambience with hundreds of papers stacked in a unit of 5 or 6. Each sheet of the papers that form curved lines of byzantine complexity is so sharp to get a paper cut. She shows temporality accumulated over the course of work in a coarse manner, rather than imitating old objects outwardly. Her work, even appealing as a laid-back scenery, demonstrates that transformation in quality was made to the point where such sharpness looks soft.

If there is no innovative pinning device, this does not meet the requirements for an ‘everlasting’ artwork. Or you may insist that it is conceptual art because anyone can stack them up according to the artist’s manual and instruction as each sheet is numbered. In this regard, Im sees the exhibition a one-off event, not a representational activity that involves relocation of artworks. Exhibited together with installation, the photograph shows the subtle aspect of the delicate structure the artist built but still contains temporality. The photographic series ‘Towards the Ultimate’ (112x150 or 150x112cm) feels like moving. The cross sections made of lines in moving fog were captured from different angles, indicating that the artist is interested in creation and extinction, rather than a synchronic structure. This series, as if differentiation and integration have been realized in a formative manner, illustrates that the deconstruction of the structure is imminent. Like playing a domino game, she takes steady steps according to the game rules. Still, the climax of the game is to knock down the dominos so that another game can begin.

The greater joy of art would be expectations for starting over after finishing than appreciating brilliant ideas and hard work. Such a fresh, light-hearted start can be made in art, which is different from platitudes in daily life and the burden of life. If there was no death, accumulated labor and tension would be only painful. In production-oriented society, rational thinking often beautifies this pain. The cool air hovering around the photographs and installation works foretells a phase of deconstruction. The air-tight nature-artificial structure will be gradually submerged and loosened. On one hand a landscape painting veiled in fog springs up. On the other hand, its negative form creates a vertiginous gorge. Though it is not a big scale, her work has a monumental structure and produces a literally carved-out landscape. The positive and negative forms of the mountain look into one subject in various aspects. The negative form allows for observation from multiple perspectives as if it was cut into pieces with a big knife.

It is somewhat surprising that the resulting strange scenery is the representation of Mt. Nam at the center of Seoul. Compared to the positive form ‘Even Division,’ the negative form ‘Construction of Tension’ has an air of tension as the title indicates. Unlike the form risen above the surface, the below is reminiscent of a domain of dark unconsciousness. The other pair – the negative form emphasizes dissimilarity of consciousness itself rather than dissimilarity of unconsciousness. The side shows how abnormal or wild the surface is. From a different point of view, reason gives birth to a monster. By contrast, unconsciousness follows the laws of nature. The negative section in her work has larger ruptures and gaps. It shows the utopian sceneries. With a closer look, however, the traces of houses and roads around Mt. Nam can be found as it is the map based on measurements after all. Sometimes, houses located at the food of the mountain appear that the mountain was dug out. Likewise, we can come across absurd sceneries, which make it hard to imagine that nature huddles civilizations, when we live in a densely populated city.

Like Mt. Inwang, Im has not actually climbed the mountains she worked on. This means that the sceneries she often expresses are not necessarily great and worth a visit. What attracted her attention was the fact that Mt. Nam is the symbol of Seoul and surrounded by many artificial constructions. By including both geographical and planimetric elements, the artist elevated the landscape including civilization beyond eternal time, apart from humans. The landscape looks clean as if humans, who have become an enemy to nature though they were born from nature, seem to have been swept away. As Antonin Artaud, known for his ‘Theater of Cruelty’ idea, praised the plague that emptied the city, ‘intense’ art refusing representation has a cruel side. Realizing that material things and power omnipresent in nature reach the stage of humans equally apart from the external situation leads to tragedy and aloofness at the same time. The image like a historic site ‘in trance’ in her work resembles a naturalized civilization.

The Namsan Tower, made of stainless steel, has been frozen by a cooling machine blowing cold air. Like its title, the monumental structure soaring into the sky in ‘Silence’ is frozen solid in silence. The refrigerant that neutralizes the metal monument acts as fog encroaching onto the mountain and gorge. The cold air slowly approaching toward the familiar nature and civilization will widen the already cracking gaps. The process of piling up the flat paper sheets cut out of the contour maps without gluing implies the unstable foundation. The dominating rules in human society appear to be the laws of nature, but they are just a cut section or moment of freezing. Red or blue outlines of the white cut papers indicate a limit or boundary of the given section. However, according to Deleuze, the limit or boundary does not bind an object to any law, puts an end to or divides it. On the contrary, it is a starting point where the object can unfold itself and reaches its full potential.

In her work presenting boundaries towards the ultimate, difference makes wrinkles. “Difference is behind everything but behind difference there is nothing behind.” (Deleuze) Im Suniy’s accumulated structure of topographic maps, as a result of the repetition of differences in order, is characterized by absence and illusion, and the fog and ice are mere tools to stress the work in process. Deleuze saw a question around the interpretation of differentiation lies in ‘whether the infinitesimal value is real or fake.’ The same question can be posed for Im’s work that shows the accumulation of the cut units. Her work featuring the ultimate sophisticated touch illustrates the fragility and relativity of the rules and the delicateness and aggressiveness of lost history. In particular, the strata of civilization containing a number of artificial structures are the case. All solid things become shaky and blurry here. This may be because of her perception that she has reached by weathering adversities, big or small, as in her confession “I work hard and get obsessed once I get absorbed in my work,” unlike her characteristic personality.