Changhoon Lee: Outside and Inside
Curator of ISCP, Rachel Cook
In considering notions and concepts of space we should bear in mind how it is framed, through language or physically in the world. Moreover, the precise language we use to describe physical space, through the words “inside” and “outside” reveal a clear directional separation. These two words immediately draw a boundary that illustrates a division within the physical world. What is included or excluded from the interior or exterior of a space determines its boundaries, both on this page and the view from the window in the room we are sitting in. The “frame” determines how we perceive the idea of space and place. Additionally when further examined space and place can be connected to more complex ideas of ideological spatial boundaries that have become contested spiritual and political concepts. The international border has become a huge point of contention and becomes the frame for how we speak about various people and cultures. Every society creates space and has ways of organizing it within a city. Neighborhoods are laid-out according to certain methodologies, the location of important places and landmarks reveal the intricacies of power in any given geographic location, and certain boundaries affect inhabitant’s mobility, all of which are connected to society’s construction of space.
We can also think of space from a phenomenological point of view; how we carry with us the notion of the spatial unconscious; how we organize our lives; how we arrange our home. Our public and private spaces are divided, and designate a boundary of control through which we allow access—physically and emotionally—at any given point in time. The domestic space of a house can be described as the lived experience of space, and its physical layout and structure can affect our emotional state. Space can also be thought of as an abstract notion of time, where something is “here” or “there,” positioning it spatially and temporally. Either of which can be described as conceptual ideas of locations or events, or when referring to where an object is placed in a room.
Korean artist Changhoon Lee explores notions of space in his work through a series of still and moving images, conceptual objects, and performative interventions that examine how we construct these notions of space, place, inside, outside, and the alienation that exists between them. For example in Lost One’s Way–Sweet Story (2011) Lee appropriates a large street sign pointing in four different directions Jongno being one, which is the oldest major east-west thoroughfare in Seoul. The work takes the sign as a literal symbol for finding directions on a road. The sign is placed on the back of a truck and driven to a beach where it is firmly planted in the sand. This performative gesture allows our ideas of place and space to be conflated and re-imagined. The huge highway sign is out of place on a sandy beach, however it functions as a representation of the alienation individuals experience when traveling to unfamiliar surroundings or experiencing a different landscape, city, or place. Additionally the sign points to a particular cultural and economic breakdown of the city of Seoul. Jongno is a significant financial and cultural district that connects Sejongno, the diplomatic area, to Dongdaemun, the cultural historic area. While Lee’s work points to a more abstract and conceptual understanding of these two geographic locations, the specific details allow us to better understand how a city itself is constructed through a series of historical and cultural events that affect its spatial-financial breakdown.
Lee’s work lifts or removes the details from maps and street signs in order to reemphasize our cultural and conceptual notion of space and place in the world. Just as Gaston Bachelard considers the house a “privileged entity for a phenomenological study of the intimate values of inside space”1> Lee transforms an image of the exterior of a house by removing all windows and doors looking in or out of it. Lee’s images, Babelstreet (2008) and Island (2007), appear hauntingly banal until the viewer realizes the absence of the framing device separating the interior and exterior of the domestic structure. Lee has rendered these homes as objects and removed all notions of how people inhabit them while allowing ideas of being or belonging to come into focus. By stripping away detailed information, Lee’s work heightens the viewer’s attention to hone in on the structure or object in question–maps, road signs, or houses. In Lost the Way—sea, wood, desert (2011) Lee renders a single colored sign into an abstract color field painting of these landscape locations. These three road signs not only become visual indicators for each landscape, but also operate as a phenomenological understanding of each place (sea, woods, or desert).
These investigations speak to the disconnectedness between the individual and the inner ideological workings of a society. The human-ness of how global spaces are constructed and laid out is directly connected to how we organize our most intimate places. Lee’s work creates a framing device that throws into question how these systems and mechanisms of organizing space are thought through. If these structuresmaps, road signs, or housesreveal an intimate human organizing system in how we think about society than what does it reveal if we reexamine them without the detailed information; as “forms” unto themselves? Herein lies the crux of Lee’s investigation, is there a universal system to understanding society’s notion and construction of space? Lee’s use of formal and conceptual representations of our understanding of space, place, inside, outside, and alienation prod us to question how we create or dismantle borders and boundaries between cultures.
1> Bachelard, Gaston, “The Poetics of Space,” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 3.