“Teum: Single-Channel Video”

Artsonje Center

Teum” has multiple meanings in Korean—interval, crevice, opening, leisure, estrangement, opportunity—and as part of the exhibition’s title, it suggests a certain ambivalence toward the prevalent use of video by Korean artists. “Teum” showcased three young artists working in single-channel video—Hwa-Young Park, Hyun-Suk Seo, and Sung-Min Hong—and presented both individual works as well as a joint project made specifically for the Artsonje Center.

The collaborative video installation was titled Ppachida, Ppachida, Ppachida (Fall, fall, fall), 1998. In a large, darkened room, three monitors simultaneously projected three different videos (one made by each artist) onto three separate screens. Viewers were invited to sit on one of the five chairs facing each screen and to listen on headphones (provided by an attendant) to a narrative that varied depending on which screen one faced.

Each video explored the relationships among three college students entangled in a messy love triangle and the predictable concomitant feelings of love, jealousy, deceit, loneliness, and despair. Each artist offered an interpretation of the basic plot in his or her own seven-minute, single-channel video and provided an accompanying narrative recorded in his or her own deadpan voice. Seo’s contribution was The Story of “I,” in which a first-person narrative voice tells a disconnected story of failed love. Park’s The Others’ Story revolves around a protagonist (represented here by a roach) who views the goings-on of other people’s lives as “tragic comedies” only to fall into a toilet and meet his own tragicomic end. Hong’s video Our Story is about a male subject who can only relate to his friends via video phone. This gadget, through which he can see without being seen, projects a mediated image of the world and signals a lapse of normal social behavior among friends. Hong filmed the action as it unfolded on the small video-phone screen, an interesting framing device that presented a frame within a frame.

In Ppachida, the artists did not provide an easy reading or a consistent narrative. And the difficulties were due not only to the disjunctive editing of each video sequence but to the design of the viewing experience itself. While each artist’s well-crafted, dense script was captivating, one was constantly distracted by the sound of the other narratives. And one’s efforts to watch any single video—each of which required a certain degree of concentration to interpret the ambiguities of the imagery—were frustrated by the two other projections that impinged on one’s peripheral vision. Consequently, the viewer experienced a complex overlapping of the three stories, and the viewing space itself became charged with the layering of narrations and the tripling of images.

The resulting complex interplay of text and imagery offers a challenging alternative to the more traditional video art that has prevailed in Korea. Because Park, Seo, and Hong’s work is textually based and largely untranslatable, it points to the limits of transcultural appreciation of language-based art. In contrast, Nam June Paik was able to rise to international prominence in part because his use of video is linguistic, visual, formal, and performative.

These younger artists in Korea are beginning to question the treatment of video as the hardware components of video sculpture, the video monitor as a picture surface, and the projected image as a kind of surrogate painting. The artists in “Teum” are exploring the nature of video-recorded imagery that testifies to the presence of the image in real time with work that affirms that video is a medium deeply rooted in writing.

Jae-Ryung Roe