A History of Migration Written as a Speculative Fiction
| ‘IMA Picks - Porosity Valley’
Ilmin Museum of Art
Feb. 23 – Apr. 29, 2018
interview by Kim Ayoung × Kimg Geumyoung l edited by Lee Jiyoon l materials provided by the artist, Ilmin Museum of Art
In the main exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015, ‘All the World’s Futures’, Kim Ayoung's work Zepheth, Whale Oil from the Hanging Gardens to You. Shell 3 presented a variety of voices echoing like a word or a song. In this work, in which the voices of actors lead the narratives and a chorus of voice performers rise in a musical composition, the artist delved deep into a crack in this world through the bitumen, the re-illuminated energy source in the modern era, and its related incidents. In her exhibition, ‘Porosity Valley’, Kim approaches another crack through her work, Porosity Valley, Portable Holes.
Kim Geumyoung: Porosity Valley is the main background to the work. It can be intimated from the impression of the valley, which is not perfect or without flaws but is porous and precarious, that the story is about cracks.
Kim Ayoung: Focusing on cracks is natural in some ways. The existence of a human being is not a logical or well-established actuality. If we look over the history of humankind, we can find traces of many tragedies and a lot of cracks stem from these ruptures. Zepheth, Whale Oil from the Hanging Gardens to You. Shell 3 (hereinafter Zepheth) also explores the point of the crack. From the look of it, it seems the worldwide demand for bitumen has brought wealth to the Middle East. However, the bitumen-related business has carried to an extreme rent-a-capitalist situation, which laid all other industries to waste, and has led to progression as well as inhibition in the Middle East. All the loopholes and cracks that exist on the other side of perfection form a portrait of ourselves.
Kim Geumyoung: You interpreted the story of the crack from the source of energy, bitumen, in Zepheth. What story forms the crack in ‘Porosity Valley’?
Kim Ayoung: It is the history of migration. When I was invited to the Melbourne Art Festival in 2017, I was asked to address issues related to Australia. I researched Australia, including its history, nature and geology. Of these elements, the immigration policy was the most impressive. For more than a decade, the Australian government has not received any international refugees who have crossed the sea. Instead, they built a detention camp on Manus Island, now closed, and settled them indefinitely. The hoped for place of their dreams rejected the refugees, and a crack broke out. Self-harm, suicide, and assault occurred in the miserable surroundings of the camp. This line of action was not limited to Australia. The large and small migrations of individuals is continuously linked from past to present, creating cracks. I have also travelled the world, including throughout Korea and France. I have also suffered obstacles when trying to obtain a residence permit, and I know the anxiety about when I will be asked to leave a country. Not only human beings but also animals and resources have experienced the history of migration. In Zepheth, I could also see the effect of the bitumen flow, that is, the impact of bitumen’s movement in the world economy. In this exhibition, Petra Genetrix (hereinafter Petra) appears, who lived in Porosity Valley and visits the migration centre.
Kim Geumyoung: But, Petra Genetrix is not a human. It looks like a part of a rock that has cracked little by little. The overlapping voices of multiple layers are also extraordinary. Who is Petra Genetrix?
Kim Ayoung: It is an imaginative underground mineral set up as a mythical entity existing in Porosity Valley. The ancient Persian religion, Mithraism, is its origin. The stone of fertility under which the sun god Mithra was born is Petra. The Mithraism, which was practiced in Persia in the 3rd century B. C., disappeared with the rise of Christianity and was later accepted by the Roman Empire. It can be said that migration succeeded. In my work, Petra falls out of Porosity Valley because of an unknown explosion and visits the migration centre to find a new home. Petra, a divine being comprised of people’s aspirations and information for all eternity, has no gender and is transcendent, representing the collective intelligence.
Kim Geumyoung: What is Porosity Valley?
Kim Ayoung: Porosity Valley is set up to embody people’s thoughts like a sponge, with holes that absorb water. I was curious about how to extract the bitumen deep in the ground when I was working on Zepheth. People use sound to extract the bitumen. People set up some explosive devices and microphones at the ground level, and when the bombs explode in each hole they calculate the time the sound takes to return to the ground to figure out the depth and location of the bitumen pooled deep inside the rocks. After extracting the bitumen, they introduce water into the empty space instead. I thought, ‘when I saw it from above, the earth looked very hard, but there are a lot of holes in it’. In this exhibition, I simulated data drawn from actual Melbourne strata in Australia and made them into a 3D animation. Land is an indispensable part of the issues facing immigration. People eventually move from the ground to the ground. My interest in geology and migration came together to create a space called Porosity Valley.
Kim Geumyoung: The dialogue between Petra and the gatekeeper of the Migration Centre at the front of Porosity Valley is unique. In addition to talking about the general migration, there are also professional terms in the IT industry.
Kim Ayoung: A description of porosity is also needed. The porosity in this exhibition has three aspects. There is physical porosity that occurs below the surface when digging up petroleum resources, and the porosity of the plot that deliberately makes loopholes in the narrative structure and allows for imaginary intervention there. Finally, the porosity of data storage. In the digital age, not only human physical migration but also invisible data migration is accelerating. Even the most advanced data management systems currently do not retain data permanently. The invisible minute data is deleted, which is called bit rot. It is the porosity of the data. This bit rot cannot be prevented, so every year many companies repeat the process of backing up, copying and moving data to new storage media. Human beings in the 21st century face two major immigration problems: the physical migration of humankind, and the migration of data that human continually filter as data producers. To cover both stories, the dialogue between Petra and the gatekeeper was created by combining the terms used in actual immigration checkpoints, migration centres and the IT industry.
Kim Geumyoung: While Petra and the gatekeeper talk each other, there is an advertisement that encourages migration: ‘Planning your epic journey from platform A to B? It’s important to keep yourself protected! Plan and protect’ The exaggerated expression of the advertising model presents a sense of difference.
Kim Ayoung: The scene in which a model wearing yellow clothes promoting migration products, the scene that Petra in which consulted and migrates, and the scene presenting the stratum of Porosity Valley made with 3D animation, which suddenly pops out without any explanation, are repeated throughout the movie. I wanted to make a puzzle in the plot prompting the audience to imagine, rather than simply showing a complete narrative without loopholes from beginning to end. The exaggerated expression and action of the model are to emphasise a dramatic catastrophe. I wanted to present suspense, because that is the nature of our life.
Kim Geumyoung: You said that you wrote this story about immigration in Porosity Valley as a speculative novel. I heard that it was a special challenge for you to write a novel.
Kim Ayoung: Speculative fiction is a genre that allows us to imagine a reality that cannot yet exist in the real world. It is broader than SF novels, which are restricted by scientific and technological propositions. Afro-futurism and the unfolding of that imagination is one of the foremost contemporary examples. Blacks who were racially discriminated against in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States insisted, ‘we were astronauts who were already on the other side of the moon before Neil Armstrong arrived on the surface of the Moon’. It goes one step further from criticising and pinching reality, recognizing the unreasonable qualities of reality with an extraordinary imagination. The speculative novel allows us to critically view the stories we have regarded as natural and to place distance between reality and the future with greater objectivity. This presents a cognitive estrangement by which we paradoxically realise how weird our lived reality is. I was attracted to this prospect and this was my first attempt. In particular, I did not just fall upon my imagination while focusing on the imaginary narrative structure, but I took care to include very real issues.
Kim Geumyoung: Petra, who seems to have successfully migrated, is shocked to face the same existence as itself at the end of the video. And these two spend time together in Purgatory. Has Petra reached a happy ending, accepting of all the situations faced?
Kim Ayoung: Purgatory is a space with room for the imagination. In the process of moving the data, another copy of Petra is created by mistake in the migration centre. In this case, it is a common practice to merge them or to delete duplicates. On the screen, the two Petras have been blended. You can understand that they have disappeared together, or they have become one and accepted each other. Both are right, and you can interpret this as an alternative ending. It is the essential thing in my work to look at reality through speculative narratives, and not to end with ‘it’s good, that’s bad’, and therefore continue by leading to another thought. I wonder how people see Petra’s journey and how it will change their perspective of real-world migration problems.
Kim Geumyoung: Will we see Petra again in the future?
Kim Ayoung: The story of the two Petras at the end of the video is what I hope to work with more in the future. As technology advances, the idea of the post-human is an area that attracts people’s attention through data migration. The post-human, which is beyond human physical limitations as well as mental capacity, is being discussed from various terms and concepts such as artificial intelligence, cyborgs, and clones. Humans have the desire to be an individual being in the world. However, what if you have your clone linked to your mind as well as your body? Maybe you would feel affection for the entity that looks just like you, and you will want to exclude each other and desire another at the same time. What other cracks are there? As long as we continue to focus on our reality, this story is likely to unravel someday.
Kim Ayoung participated in the 2017 Melbourne Festival, which is a performing and interdisciplinary arts festival, and held the solo exhibition, ‘In this Vessel We Shall Be Kept’, at the Palais de Tokyo in 2016. From 2015 to 2016, she worked at Pavilion Neuflize OBC in Palais de Tokyo and presented her performance, In this Vessel We Shall Be Kept with the Paris Opera Choreographer at the Paris Opera Theater. The artist also participated in the exhibition, All the World’s Futures, at the 56th International Exhibition of the Venice Biennale in 2015 and won the Young Artist Prize of the Korean Ministry of Culture in the same year. In 2010, Kim was awarded the British Institution Award from the Royal Academy of Arts in the UK.