Either Very Long or Short? Sweet Life?
By Sungjin Son, Curator of Seoul Olympic Museum of Art
What meaning do true artists have in contemporary society? How should we understand and judge their extremely irrational, illogical perspectives? – when seeing them from the viewpoint of a capitalistic market economy. How can we ultimately define their identity and status in society? These questions present clues to Changhoon Lee’s work prior to describing his art. I’d like to share an interest in knowing our curiosity, and what living and thinking as an artist is like through Lee’s work.
What will happen if we peep into and foretell the thoughts of many we meet in our daily lives? It is thrilling to look into artists’ ways of thinking, which are really unpredictable. Lee’s work makes me smile through its processes of ingenious motifs and creative production – from his taking his motif, working process, and finished work renditions. In Lee’s work these process of work-making show the hallmark of his work, indicating that conceptual art is very interesting. From now on, I would like to introduce his works produced through a mixture of consistent themes with diverse subject matter and his own distinctive way of thinking.
The first work I would like to introduce herewith is a video-work with the long title, 1 Frame-Life and Death, Life Is Beautiful, Still Life, The Meaning of Life, Life with Father, My Life in Pink, The Puppetmaster, Life, The Life of Oharu, displaying nine films from nine countries that address the theme of life. The presentation is made in an artistic way, not an ordinary manner. It is known that approximately 29 frames are used for one second of a film; and over 156,000 frames in total are required for a film with a running time of 90-95 minutes. In this work however, we are able to sense an extremely minute movement in dim motion pictures.
A film is often likened to a life. What does the artist want to say by condensing nine films into nine video scenes? I think this work may be a metaphor that says truth and falsehood, joy and sorrow, success and frustration in life are without huge difference. As the title indicates, this work probably mentions an ordinary truth: that life can be either long or short. In this work, Lee works with subject matter to which his senses respond, making diverse attempts to communicate with individuals and society through mediums of great diversity.
The second work I want to introduce is the sound work Either Very Long or Short. Each side of an LP can play for around 25-30 minutes. This work has an LP of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 play for one day (24 hours). What’s the intent here, of extending about 30 minutes to 24 hours? Perhaps to represent his empathy toward the work mentioned above? One who underwent a moment felt over a tremendously long period may sympathize with this. The third work is Lost One’s Way-Sweet Story whose subject matter is a road sign common to roads in Korea. The work-setting this strange object is used for, indicating direction in a museum, is a metaphor for an individual drifting in society, confrontations of social and individual values and norms, and the future of an unclear life between reality and ideal.
In the fourth work a LED signboard reading “PARADISE” is set on the rooftop of the museum. “PARADISE” can be clearly read during the day, but the signboard is read as “PARA S” at night as “DIE” is invisible. When considering that paradise is an ideal world beyond reality, this work is symbolic of the fact that countless days and nights form a whole life, the gap between reality and ideal, and something invaluable like a mirage appearing during daytime, that disappears at night, and the double-sidedness and ambiguity of life. The last work is CV, an abbreviation of curriculum vitae. In this work the artist describes his artistic career with an overlapped single line. As the initial part is years, they are vaguely visible, but the middle part appears black as numerous career descriptions overlap. The only information viewers can recognize is the last part indicating the artist held an exhibition in an unknown city in Germany.
Like his career descriptions appearing black in one long line, our lives are probably a continuation of dark tunnels. Although living in a more enhanced world than past society, dominated by black-and-white issues during the Cold War Era, we feel deep sympathy with his posting of problems on contemporary society, where any distinction between absolute good and evil is meaningless and double-sidedness and ambiguity govern. We’d like to support his efforts and ways to communicate as an alienated individual in society and as an artist. We cannot know when efforts may produce an engine without stopping the train running through the dark tunnels of human extinction, like in the glacial epoch in Snowpiercer, a Korean sci-fi thriller film.