People Roaming in Temporary Space-Time
‘“Overwhelming Memories of Transcendental Approach”’
Mar. 9 – May 12, 2018
interviewed by Koo Donghee × Kim Geumyoung | edited by Lee Jiyoon | materials provided by the artist, Perigee Gallery
In the exhibition ‘2014 Korea Artist Prize’, held at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), the artist Koo Donghee presented a vast yellow installation that continuously obstructed the smooth passage of its spectators, resembling a Moebius Strip. In this on-going artwork, she presents a video in which visitors consistently roam across various spaces. Where does the artist stand amidst a seemingly endless representation of time and space, and what message is she hoping to relay?
Kim Geumyoung (Kim): If you search for the ‘artist Koo Donghee’ online, the keywords that pop up most frequently are ‘unpredictable’, ‘vague’, and ‘difficult’. Are you aware of these responses?
Koo Donghee (Koo): I do not intentionally make my work difficult. I have come to accept the fact that people perceive my work in that way. I do not debate or rebut these views, because everybody is entitled to feel the way that they feel, but I do try to answer questions about my work as best as I can.
Kim: You are also referred to as an ‘artist of the everyday’. Your work may appear to be vague or difficult, but if you look closely, most of your work capture scenes or moods that are very common to everyday life, such as walking through the streets, eating food or taking a nap.
Koo: If I film everyday life without altering reality, it correlates with the story of people’s fundamental living
conditions (clothes, food, residence). This is why some people might see something familiar. However, some might find it difficult because there are no structured narratives nor are there explanations that state ‘this work implies this meaning’. The characters in my video are almost mute and are focused on delivering actions. My work might appear to be inhospitable. Nevertheless, I choose such methods because I believe that there is a clear difference between ‘artwork’ and ‘information’. Information can be defined as clear-cut details based on the 5W1H, but artwork appreciates one’s senses and individual experiences to open various possibilities in their interpretation. Because the art work is often inexplicable, people receive my work as both familiar and difficult. I am interested in this ambiguity.
Kim: I felt that vagueness and difficulty in the exhibition’s title; ‘“Overwhelming Memories of Transcendental Approach”’ seems to have a special meaning?
Koo: This verbose title was selected by a website that automatically generates names for artworks. Generally, there is a common process when preparing for an exhibition. The title has to be selected, advertisement images have to be developed, and panel discussions are to be held. The repetition of these processes is intertwined, like cultural packages that may become burdensome or uncomfortable. While the work itself is important, we might find ourselves leaning towards such formalities. Though I relied on a title generator, mainly because I was tired of coming up with one myself, the title also is an opportunity for satire. Today's art world is so immersed in having to appear flashy or of the moment that it is sometimes explained in incomprehensible phrasing. Some mock it as ‘artistic bullshit’. This is why I arranged the words for the title of the show in the lengthiest and hardest form possible to memorise or comprehend. Surprisingly, the title is a random arrangement of words that are most frequently used by the art community.
Kim: While the exhibition’s title is a satirical comment on the exaggerated role of art, you also mentioned that you drew a distinct line between information and art, and that you try to avoid explaining yourself from A to Z based on the 5W1H. Are you also against art that appears too easy?
Koo: It is up to the viewers to judge whether the work is difficult or easy to comprehend and appreciate. As an
artist, I only focus on presenting my work.
Kim: In contrast to the verbosity of the show’s title, the video reveals the quotidian patterns in the lives of the characters. There are locations that are shown repeatedly, such as a guesthouse, gallery, subway station, and cafe. Why did you select these locations?
Koo: This time I began to focus on space, especially on temporary space rather than permanent space. A guesthouse is a place where people temporarily stay and then depart. A gallery also repeats the cycle of being emptied and filled after an exhibit is finished. From this perspective, the title is not that separate from my work. It was randomly devised before my work was completed, and functioned as an ad hoc representative of my work until I was finished.
Kim: Something temporary is also unstable as its existence is bound to fade. Why are you interested in these transitory moments?
Koo: Isn’t life like that? Our lifestyle does not allow one tempo to be dragged along. Although we say that people began organising settlements with the start of agriculture, these days it is rare to see people stay in one place for very long. Vast swathes of the population are transient, including people who travel and people who often move from their places of residence. The concept of a ‘permanent residence’ has become quite bleak. From a distance, our life might appear to be one long linear line, but up close, we can see that it is a series of dots that mark our itinerant comings and goings. In my life I constantly move from place to place for exhibitions. I am sometimes engaged in interim projects or always on the move because I do not have a fixed studio. My life is a cycle of making short stops and leaving for another place.
Kim: The editing method in your projects also reveal how you try to link and connect a line from this field of dots. It is not one long episode, but numerous one-minute clips shown in series for a somewhat lengthy 30 minutes. It is hard to discern at what point the film starts and ends.
Koo: I did not use structured development as normally witnessed in conventional cinema. I did not try to deliver a message or a particular meaning, but rather focused on points that would be sensually received. I considered the overall rhythm while editing, trying to crop scenes in space or in the actions of the characters. Instead of making people passively watch this 30-minute film, I removed the need for continuity in the storyline so that people did not have to watch it from the start to know what’s going on, like a circling shuttle bus. People can stay and watch the whole 30 minutes, or just watch a minute or five minutes of the film. People feel a sense of deja vu when seeing the many scenes of everyday life compiled into one stream.
Kim: By looking at the edited cut, I assume that the filming took a considerable amount of time.
Koo: Along with the location, when to start filming was also an important matter. I focused on the period of time in which a space with temporary characteristics is transformed into a space with actual fixed functions. I got permission from an acquaintance, who was flipping a house into a guesthouse, to film the house before it was finished. In the case of the gallery, I filmed the dismantlement and installation of work before my show opened. The gap time in between pre- and post- change of space also holds temporary traits. The people who appear in such moments link the spaces before and after change.
Kim: Various people move around the gallery, cafe, and guesthouse. Most of their actions are related to sleeping. Is there any special meaning to this?
Koo: I did not intend to overly emphasise any meaning in this. In visual media, the flow of time is extremely important. In a video that captures time in a changing space, it seems that time is passing by very quickly.
Such a tempo tires people out. This is why I thought of adding diversions or pauses to allow people to catch their breath, and consequently, that is often expressed in sleep. It represents resting comfortably.
Kim: I think you use humour as a refresher. Because of the lengthy title of the work, I watched the video with an obsessive eye, attending closely to the actions of the people in the video and thinking about how they have some kind of special meaning. But in the scene with the surrealist phone call, I laughed because it felt like the video was telling me, ‘you thought wrong’.
Koo: People laugh at different points. I thought that there needed to be some intermittent humour to lift the mood, when things could get tedious. I put humourous elements here and there considering visual and situational factors, instead of basing them on literary scenarios. I did not want to make a highly produced narrative, so I included unscripted, impromptu moments. As a result, there were points where people could mistakenly think that there are causal relations instead of correlation in the actions that only have a slight correlation. I like unpredictable moments that make people think whether the moment was scripted or coincidental. I think I am a bit mischievous.
Kim: It is very ambiguous. How do you think people will think about this work, which is both difficult and not
Koo: Every time I prepare for a show, I do not want to tell people how or what to see and feel. I do not want them to be passive. When I teach students, I tell them not to believe 100% of the artists’ explanation of their work. Each person interprets work based on their experience and desires. It is strange to memorise that the mantra that ‘this artist’s work holds is this type based on art history’ or ‘this work delivers this kind of message’ because art is not a multiple choice test. Trying to understand art by obtaining information is not a beneficial attitude. I just hope people enjoy what they see and engage in a new visual experience.
Koo Donghee begins her work by taking an interest in things that happen in everyday life. She holds the processes of her work as significant, as she allows coincidental circumstances to flexibly intervene. Some of her major private exhibitions include CrossXpollination (Gallery Royal, 2016), Extra Stimuli (PKM Gallery, 2013), and Synthetic Experience (Atelier Hermès, 2008) She also participated in the 13th Sharjah Biennale (2017), the Korea Artist Prize (National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2014), the 7th Media City Biennale (Seoul Museum of Art, 2012), and the Hermès Foundation Missulsang (Atelier Hermès, 2012).