By Byeon Jongphil
“Running away from loneliness, you drop your chance at solitude on the way: of that sublime condition in which one can ‘gather thoughts’, ponder, reflect, create – and so on, in the last account, give meaning and substance to communication. But then, having never savored its taste, you may never know what you have forfeited, dropped and lost.”1)
An isolated situation in which one (or many) is alone due to physical restriction as well as a solitary situation in which one feels lonely as if they are alone psychologically even though they are with someone, has been familiar to us since 2020 when our common daily life was shattered because of COVID-19. Isolation, however, is temporary rather than eternal. Even if one is isolated, they can escape this if they can interact with someone. Solitude is not like this. One cannot be lonely even if they are isolated in the middle of the desert or on an island. Isolation is incurred unwillingly while solitude is caused willingly. Solitude becomes something most powerfully touched when one feels there is no object of communication. Loneliness doubles when one realizes they are thoroughly isolated and alone. No matter how hard one tries to dispel loneliness by talking to oneself, the void in which there is no answer makes them poignantly recognize the fact that they are alone. Solitude and isolation one cannot feel when sharing common values with others as well as solitude and isolation one identifies and realizes when staying alone is a way of perceiving ‘existence.’
Solitude does not change by any height and length of silence. It grows with time from the moment one isolates themselves. Solitude dies down when one begins to figure out some object (situation, scene) or something unfamiliar is turned into something familiar over time. If you discover yourself in an unfamiliar situation, this is the moment you find your existence in a new place. That’s probably because artists have frequently adopted the theme of solitude. Like the solitude and isolation Kim Jeong-hui underwent after his exile to Jeju helped him conceive his masterworks like Sehando (Winter Scene), solitude is often regarded as one of the prerequisites for every artist. Albert Camus is quoted as saying, “What teaches us how the universe is vast is only immense solitude. Solitude is indispensible for creation.” An artist’s isolation for creation is neither a foppishness nor a luxury. If an artist is to be creative, he or she must suffer. The artist gets over the torment of creation in solitude both physically and spiritually.
The Local Network Exchange Exhibition titled Fascination of Emptiness: Correlation between Isolation and Solitude in 2021 takes note of the isolation and solitude people experienced due to the spread of COVID-19 in this same context. The correlation between isolation and solitude attained by Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK is thought of as being set the moment they selected Jeju as their working location.
Every human being lives a selective life. They lead an individual life even under the dominance of their coercive, oppressive surroundings. Just as people have different experiences, they face the world with different emotions and reason. One is bound to give up something at the moment they choose something. Many more options disappear when you choose. The more apathetic you are about the things you give up, the more you lose important things before you realize it. Like this, every artist confronts a matter of choice when they create.
Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK kept researching all around Jeju, selecting or giving up specific places for their work. They sometimes found it hard to satisfactorily capture natural objects they had selected, but such a failure was an opportunity to better understand nature. Since their works are the results and products of their patience and endurance, we must pay attention to the objects and aesthetic attitudes they have chosen.
Object 1: Saryony Forest
Jeju has a host of thick groves. As Gotjawal forests symbolic of Jeju’s own groves are distributed all over Jeju, the forest on Jeju is a living environment. Every forest is composed predominantly of a large number of trees. Each lonely tree gathers to form a forest.
Rêve, a video set in a special gallery features the Saryoni Forest (redwood forest) representative of Jeju. The Saryeoni (also called ‘Solani’ or ‘Salani’) Forest is a site replete with the aura of ‘a sacred (divine) forest trail.’ This aura filters deep into the whole body when one’s loneliness becomes intense due to staying in a forest alone. Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK have constructed a video, feeling the aura the Saryoni Forest emanates as a whole. They represented a forest scene in their own unique cloud point technique after shooting scenes with a drone and using a laser 3D scanner. They intended to bring about an optical illusion or the illusion that the viewer is in a forest through video mapping. This video gives the sensation that the viewer’s eye presides over this forest. This video work provides a new point of view the viewer didn’t have in daily life. The conversational narrations in the middle alongside a visually immersive nature reveal this work’s intention.
“Hello. How are you?”
The first voice (narration) we hear at the beginning of the video leads to questions and answers that make the viewer pay attention to every scene. Asking after each other comes to mean a lot, associated with the currently on-going COVID-19 situation. This detailed video representing the emotion of the times is absorbing, transcending any exhibition limitations. Strictly speaking, this is made possible by the power of nature.
Object 2: Marado
“Another symbol of solitude is the island. Islanders usually have a sensation that they are locked on an island because they could only see their footprints even if looking all round their surroundings. This makes us shudder but is also what we have strenuously sought.”2)
As Marado is an island in southernmost South Korea, any image of solitude or isolation is quite natural to this island. Jeju’s natural environment with islands around it served as an opportunity to reflect on the relation between nature and human beings, the definition of solitude and isolation, and the significance of its existence. A chance discovery of a dead tree root (named Mara 73 by the artists) resulted in an accomplishment in Marado. The artists paid attention to its transformation from its arrival at the seaside of Marado eight years ago to the present. Three days during which those artists were locked up in Marado was a time to reinforce the meaning of Mara 73. Isolated in the island, they underwent sleepless nights while crossing the boundaries of belief and disbelief. After all, a state of isolation served to decide to carry this tree root in the gallery. This object selected in this way was placed in the gallery after going through a rite of passage (cleaning, disinfection, cutting). This eventually gave rise to Fatigue: Missing pieces.
Mara 73 was carried in after overcoming a difficult process. This leads us to the reason why they adopted this object for their work and the meaning they lent to this. The artists impart artistic meaning to this object but its interpretation and completion depend upon spectators. Some spectators say a variety of images that are precisely mapped seem to be breathed into with life while others allude that this is just marvelous and exquisite. If a work of art provides sympathy for someone and leads them to a novel experience and a new discovery, their practice is not a failure.
Object 3: Jeongbang Waterfall
Ascension covering fully over one wall of the gallery with a high ceiling in the background of Fatigue: Missing pieces which is a representation of the Jeongbang Waterfall slowly descending. The waterfall is 23 meters high, 8 meters wide, and 5 meters deep and is well-known as the only fall in Asia where water falls directly into the sea. Its magnificent sight brings about an illusion that water seems to fall from the sky depending on the optical angles and is enough to captivate the viewer’s heart. The waterfall is also known to be a location fraught with scars caused by the Jeju uprising rather than merely a tourist attraction. No visitors speak about its sad history (In fact, not many visitors know this.) The fall lets its water flow into islands (Soopseom, Moonseom, Saeseom, Beomseom) standing lonely offshore, hiding its historical pain. Only sound made by the falling of streams of water and time exist at the waterfall. The artists have us face an irreversible fact and reality that we cannot go back to the past despite its paradoxical title Ascension reminiscent of flowing against the current. The time of solitude scatters in all directions like water that dies away when it strikes a boulder.
Object 4: Light
Void or the primal emptiness is not absolute nothingness but refers to a space that can be filled or emptied. ‘Void is any sort of nothingness but if something exists in the void, that is reality (the concept of void in Buddhism). An object’s size, importance, and mass in void are decided depending on a perceiving subject’s mind and idea. The value of emptiness is thoroughly dependent upon what is filled in an empty space and what meaning of existence a filled object obtains. The world of light Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK contemplate matches this concept of emptiness. Even though the ‘fascination of emptiness’ is both the cardinal concept of their work and the premise of this art show, Aura Room approaches the concept ‘the correlation between solitude and isolation’ in a completely new fashion, adopting the space that light and line cut across. Laser light trapped in a display panel stands for ‘me confined to a space’ or one who is locked up in a specific frame. The exquisite technique applied to this exhibition (in collaboration with a technician) seems pervasive in the whole space of blackness while laser light repeats its movement of disappearing and appearing, trammeled to a certain square frame. The statement by four participating artists in four languages (Korean, English, French, and Japanese), ”a room within a room, an island within an island, a place where I am, here” makes us think that what each artist feels about solitude and isolation is different, regardless of nationality.
As reviewed above, their 2021 pieces such as Reve, Fatigue: Missing pieces, and Aura Room are organically connected to one another. There is a close affinity among them since these works were all produced, interpreting natural objects, based on the concept of the correlation of solitude and isolation. The documentary films like Their own ways and Drive displayed in the same space alongside those photographs document the artists’ viewpoint, interpretation, production motive, and process sufficiently enough to not require any further commentary. The artists seriously consider and select what objects appear in the videos. The videos’ scenes cover overly minute records such as the dances of young people they came across by chance, the moment one faces Mara 73 that is placed alone in a field, ideas they had afterwards, nights shared with anglers who are isolated in Marado, and the process of how they chose Mara 73 for their exhibit. These are records to suggest their aesthetic attitude of being absorbed in producing new pieces for a few months in Jeju.
Also noteworthy, there are photographs on display at this art show. These photographs are inextricably bound up with the videos mentioned above. They work as a medium to amplify the correlation between solitude and isolation as part of the most critical video scenes. Works by the French artist Ariane CARMIGNAC and the Japanese photographer Daiju SATO on show at this exhibition are included in this case. Images that thoroughly capture Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK’s point of view are of more particular interest than the real. These pictures are also a device to comprehend the purpose of curating this exhibition. This exhibition features pictures and videos produced both in the analog and digital mode. Photographs in the analog mode give prominence to subject matter’s absoluteness by temporarily stopping the stream of time or its movement from the decisive point of view. In contrast, videos in the digital mode forge respective narratives through the cardinal object’s repetitive images in accord with the background music, amplifying its intrinsic connotation. In the exhibition photographs and videos (photograph-video-photograph+video-photograph) are complementarily laid out through the juxtaposition of analog pictures and digital videos instead of highlighting just one mode of expression.
The two artists remind us in this exhibition that some truth might be distorted, concealed, or weakened in the process of defining and identifying it. They also warn of an aspect (a reality) we notice now might be a virtual or false image generated by a situation. They induce viewers to gaze objectively at a blurred boundary of distinction. Their works representing this aspect are photographs that are surrealistic portrayals of virtual and real images (the light from an isolated house, a big moon on the sea, a space probe on Baekrokdam). Jacques Derrida takes note of a border itself in which we perceive something as the object of aesthetics and thinks of the border of beauty as a fiction. He asserts that what we feel is beautiful or what becomes the object of aesthetics is the boundary between what is inside and outside art, and this boundary itself is the substance of beauty. As Derrida alludes, beauty is always on the border between the meaningful and meaningless. Everything in life is also on the border between meaning and meaninglessness. An affair is meaningful to one but meaningless to the other. Solitude and isolation are thought of as hardship in life for someone but work as the strength to maintain life for others.
Every relation has an invisible border; the border between nature and the city, the border between nature and human beings, the border between imagination (false images) and reality (true images), and the border between anxiety and peace, but it invades or crosses that border at some moment. Like a scene from Drive in which one drives down a road with the boundaries drawn by a yellow centerline, Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK stress that everyone may hand over each other’s territory while keeping their own territory in their relationships. Rules and regulations become something natural when everyone recognizes one another and respects their relations rather than blindly obeying them, like nature’s order and adaptation to nature.
What’s truly needed is a time of introspection in the era of confusion in which a host of concepts pertaining to relationships with others and social relations are shattered. Solitude is eventually a time of exploring and finding an individual. The solitude one feels in the infinitude of nature is a time of looking back on oneself and the process of growing up. This exhibition in which Siyeon KIM and Seoun PARK choose Jeju as their site for working and present Jeju’s nature couched in their own artistic idioms is also part of this process. Solitude and isolation become one and the same when one feels solitude in isolation and selects isolation for solitude. Solitude is an identification of one’s existence. The more one loves, the longer it survives.
1) Zygmunt Bauman, Letters from the Liquid Modern World, trans. OH Yun-sung, Dongnyeok, 2019, p.21.
2) Jean Grenier, Daily Life (La vie quotidienne), trans. KIM Yong-ki, Minumsa, 2012, p.183.
3) Youngwook Park, Derrida & Deleuze : On the Border between the Meaningful and Meaningless, Gimm-Young
Publishers, INC, 2014, p.96.