Seoul

Park Hyunki, Untitled, 1988/2021, monitors, stones, video (color, silent, 30 minutes 52 seconds). From the series “TV Stone Tower,” 1979–96. Installation view. Photo: Lee Young Min.

Park Hyunki, Untitled, 1988/2021, monitors, stones, video (color, silent, 30 minutes 52 seconds). From the series “TV Stone Tower,” 1979–96. Installation view. Photo: Lee Young Min.

Park Hyunki

GALLERY HYUNDAI

It is painful to imagine what Park Hyunki might have conjured in recent decades—as tools for making and showing video have proliferated—if the Osaka, Japan–born Korean artist had not died of cancer in 2000, at the age of only fifty-seven. Park, generally considered South Korea’s first video artist (Nam June Paik, ten years older, worked largely abroad), had by then produced an astonishing range of canny, profound work in that medium and beyond, as this concise exhibition, “I’m Not a Stone,” demonstrated. One suspects he had ideas to burn.

On Gallery Hyundai’s top floor, a reconstruction of a piece from 1988, the largest of Park’s famed “TV Stone Tower” series, 1979–96, had its own room. Four monitors were stacked on two large flat rocks, with another crowning the sets. The same close-up of a stone atop another looped on each of their screens, creating the satisfying sight of a stolid geological tower, both there and not there. Nearby, a quartet of “Mandala” works (three from 1997, one from 1998) offered the exact opposite experience. Frenetic videos flashed from the ceiling onto red round tray tables used in Thailand for dining. (When he originally showed them, Park had opted for antique platforms used in Buddhist rituals.) You had to get up close to make sense of the tightly collaged snippets of Buddha figures, mandalas, shamanistic texts about the creation of the world, and—whoa!—hard-core pornography presenting penetration (a quite literal display of creation).

The gallery’s lower two floors were devoted to sculptural works that tease out the philosophical and personal concerns undergirding Park’s video inventions. Smaller towers (conceived in 1978, remade in 2015)—with real rocks and handmade resin replicas glimmering amber and yellow—resembled otherworldly versions of doltap, or stone stacks that stand outside Korean villages, repelling bad luck. Park’s family moved to Korea in 1945, and he recalled fleeing their home during the Korean War in the 1950s, watching as refugees threw stones onto mounds at one point on their journey. He was drawn to that location, he said later, “as if a part of our spirits hide somewhere there. Perhaps the adults were wishing their hopes into those stones.” Park’s art is about how material things can carry history and ideas across time, via touch, traditions, and memory. TVs and resin stand in for age-old stones, and sacred ancient images and profane contemporary ones meld into a cohesive, bewitching vision: timeworn objects and practices making their way into the future in altered forms.

For the show’s centerpiece, Untitled, 1983/2015, scores of stones were spread across the floor, some encircling a low-hanging microphone. When Park first staged the installation, he plucked the weathered rocks from a river and played field recordings he’d taped while in a taxi riding through the city. That audio—a car honk here, a pop song there—blared through a speaker while the mic transmitted the room’s own sounds back into it to produce a disorienting intermixture of present and past. A digital screen provided photos of Park, naked amid the stones, at the work’s first outing, doing a private performance. He sits, crouches like a boulder, and looks around. He’s hunting for something, maybe. Scrawled on his back, in dark letters, were the words I’M NOT A STONE.

Perhaps people disappear, but rocks and artworks remain, awaiting new hands and eyes. Park’s cathode-ray tubes and spliced-together videos may look increasingly antiquated as the years pass, but no matter. This is art attuned to obsolesce. It knows how we fill in gaps, replacing one stone with another, hoping that some things endure.