The Tail Disclosed Here Now
Seung Oh Shin (Director of Perigee Gallery)
Changhoon Lee has made constant efforts to determine the fluid, immaterial border of our lives and touch on the nature and value given to the time and space we inhabit. He has taken special note of what can be seen from the shift and change of residential spaces in the city where many people live. His work is anchored in his own reflective inquiry vis-à-vis how to interpret the layers of the broad spectrum of meaning that exists in the space before his eyes at a given point in time. The title of this exhibition is The Tail. Lee has adopted this title in regards to how an invisible beginning and end become visible when a never-ending cycle is cut or severed. We cannot grasp the entirety of the tide of change in space-time in which the same rhythms are repeated without problems. However, if an event like an artist’s involvement can cause a rupture in the solid passage of time, its sequence can be visualized. This exhibit title demonstrates what Lee thinks is important in a space where he examines his involvement in the sequential passage of time. This perspective is not something that suddenly appears in this exhibition, however. Lee has displayed works such as Calendar—Heterochronie, 2015 Burnt in 2014, and The Line Cutting a Circle in which the passage of time is created in a state of error by reconstructing instruments like a calendar that tell time and blending flowing time. Lee seems to suggest that, unlike our familiarity, the source of our erroneous perception of space lies in such an instrumentalized temporal fabric. Looking at his work from this perspective, we come to realize how the temporal instruments that represent linear repetitive time, such as a clock or a calendar, cause our lives to resemble a theatrical space in which a program is carried out. No matter how much we perceive nonlinear time, however, we still exist in time that flows linearly. Similarly, present-day urban spaces still preserve the linear value of moving forward toward the future based on progress and improvements that have been made since the industrial and capitalist eras, scattering their traces in our surroundings. Lee brings into question what is preserved and left behind in arbitrarily set, sequential space-time and whether or not our view still believes in the environment with the system of social norms, deeds, and beliefs that has been established thus far. He tries to share with viewers what he has gathered from the space of life through his works.
As we already know, the passage of time naturally brings forth a form of residue which eventually fills spaces. The artist has experienced both the visible and the invisible as well as the material and the immaterial together in a space. Involved in the space of reality, he tries to uncover something innate in space. Let us now examine the instruments he uses to unmask the nature of the spaces he has experienced. His work starts by making a moisture-collecting device that has been repurposed from a dehumidifier and installing it in a space he has observed with great interest. Spaces he has chosen include one that is located in a redevelopment district he is interested in and whose occupant has already left, the place where his mother resides, and a space of nature that anyone is free to explore. Receptacles and molds shaped like viewing stones are used to freeze water acquired in the process of collecting the water in the three spaces. His work on show at the venue consists of a three-channel video featuring the spaces mentioned above, an installation in which ice frozen from collected water melts and is captured again in a receptacle, and a display of diversely shaped lumps of ice in a freezer. Deeply associated with people’s lives in that place, water collected in this way can represent either the physical situation of space itself that has nothing to do with people or time amassed regardless of all of these elements. The antithetical spaces, spaces that people have already disappeared from, and spaces that people still inhabit seem to be in a mirror state as each one has the possibility of turning into the other at any time. No people appear in his video so each space remains empty. This suggests he is trying to explore narratives inherent in a space itself instead of trying to interpret the space from the perspective of a human being as a user of the space. Thus, he resolves to describe a circumstance that is seen from his point of view as concretely as possible. Accordingly, space in his video is not meant for eye-catching speculative objects but for common, blatant things, and he shows them in a slow, fixed frame. It is hard to exactly gauge the passage of time even though we can roughly guess the time of day when the sun is up. The artist suggests a slow appreciation of space and time in this way. At the same time, he aims to convey olfactory and tactile sensations such as warmth, darkness, moistness, and windiness, save for visual sensations. The process of melting ice and freezing water is repetitively carried out in the installation work on display alongside the video. The sound water makes as it drips is naturally involved in the flow of the video images, demonstrating the cycle in which water generated from melting ice returns to its own receptacle. Both water and ice is acquired from the space of the video but they retain their own temporality. He also showcases the limits of transformation in the process in which solid ice reverts back to liquid water and liquid water again turns into solid ice. While this state in which the same matter alters into things with different properties elementally seems to reveal the cyclic structure of time, we cannot interpret it as a whole at the venue. We are able to view just a fragment of a momentary situation that takes place in present space and time. Everything stays temporarily fixed like the ice he has made. The lumps of ice made from collected water and then displayed in a freezer showcase multilateral ways of perceiving space-time and their coexistence. They exist in a form similar to that of a viewing stone due to the use of molds, a form of being contained in a readymade vessel, and a form that belongs nowhere like ice which overspread the frame. All of these forms are “tails” that will die out at some point in time while they repeat this process of freezing and melting, undergoing acts of collection and transformation by the artist.
As reviewed above, even though the fabric of this exhibition appears simple at a glance, the spaces and times he has observed and experienced as well as the things he has felt and viewed are intricately entangled with one another in three dimensions. This structure provides us with a three-dimensional view that relates space to time from multiple perspectives as opposed to only his own. While exploring spaces, he gets rid of specific situations of different aspects, and carries out a practice or performance through which he can forge the foundation for a new perception through connection, collection, and combination. The important thing here is a meditational situation by which one can move to a state of transformation. Mediation is not revealed but is concealed, as a thing that appears and disappears in a moment. As in his previous work Unfinished Project-Dumulmeori, his practice of mediation stops playing an intermediary role due to external influences (civil complaints raised by the residents) against his will. What matters in his work is to bring forward some mediation in space-time rather than drawing out a specific outcome. In summary, his video and installation are a showcase of present-day space-time, cutting across sequential time through his performative demeanor. These of course have to derive from our memory and value of places based on our own experiences. All the same, what he tries to convey to us is not a generalized narrative retained by a physical space for a long time. That’s not to say that it means a non-place where nothing is fixed and is variably fleeting. He just holds that we perceive a sense of distance, not any specific space-time, when we encounter mundane spaces from the cycle of time that is already familiar to us. Therefore, he lays the foundations for capturing space-time as a concrete object by bringing together the layers of diverse spatial, temporal aspects in which things cross with humans. And, he experiments with the process of visualizing this. After all, we gaze at space in his work, following his eyes. The value of the space-time he intends to mediate lies in the fact that we and some space gaze at each other and this enables us to feel a wide variety of sensations at the same time in three dimensions. As we have already learned, “humans” are constantly on the move from actual space to virtual space. That is to say, we are seen as potential residents from the perspective of space. So every value we have is dispersed and diffused, instead of being concentrated on just one focus. And we have to discover that “tails” for this. Lee does not assume a posture to topple or overthrow everything. He just aggressively suggests an attitude to perceive constantly moving and changing things in the spaces associated with our lives by merging and rearranging them, that is, to read space for the purpose of exploring those “tails”.
As he shows in The Tail, the space of our lives is inextricably bound up with us and seems to be continuous and infinite, but it constantly moves irrespective of us. Also, we cannot perceive where this space begins, how it is divided, or how it is regenerated. Rather than creating and occupying a space and turning it into a specific kind of place, it is important for us to perceive how we exist in a limited space and how we interpret space that moves in an endless cycle. Lee holds that we can witness the nature of our lives through such a reflective attitude. His works are thought to chronicle our present-day spaces in his own distinctive manner in order to forge a medium by which we can better understand the nature of our space and time. In addition, he wishes his works can act as the medium of a “tail” in viewers’ lives.