Fine art, Too Late or Too Early

Youngwook Lee






The last 10 years or so of Minouk Lim's works (and her co-worker's) can be understood as inquiries, self-questionings and experiments on how the act of art can exist significantly, here and now. Most of her works, which feature omni-directional properties such as installation, video, performance, publication and education, transcend the boundaries of conventional art, and present doubts concerning the concepts, institutions and practices of art. In particular, they show a strong public orientation that understands creativity not as a characteristic of personal subjectivity, but as a product of a collective and cooperative dialogue structure.
For example, there are temporary and tentative installation works irrelevant to permanent objet, selections of group creations or joint works, works that thoroughly interrogate and even ridicule the practices of art museums and their exhibitions, performances or simply play outside of art museums in rejection of specialist elitism, and social education projects that use artistic means. Her series of video works, attempting to interrogate social memories of the community and bring back forgotten realities, do not seem unrelated to this context.
But it is not easy to interpret or evaluate these works in any way―not just because the works are so diverse, but also because they were not made just to add something new to art history. My preliminary questions and measures are as follows. What was her work strategy? Did it gain an appropriateness that penetrates the art and social context of here and now? And thus, did it acquire significant power to begin its motion? The answers are not going to be simple. There is nothing we can do but go ahead and relish the works.

Spectators are onlookers?
The work she first engaged in after returning from France in 1998 was the street installation Bus Stops(1998), for City and Image: Food, Clothing, Shelter at the Seoul Museum of Art. The work reflected the perceptions and areas of interest that had penetrated the majority of her works following her Paris years. The idea was that the visual environment produced by media in the modern consumer society has tamed and dominated our visual experiences, and that through stimulating and disturbing people's hardened physical senses, such conditions of domination may be revealed or overturned. Such perception or interest, which suggests influence from situationalism, is actively executed in Bus Stops. Lim notes the bus stop advertisement board that is empty due to the financial crisis, and places on it images designed by herself, instead of images with a commercial purpose. The intention is to present a certain "interval" or "difference" in the existing urban space, where messages overflow in indiscriminate competition. Thus the images created and placed, through consideration and analysis of the situations and conditions of bus stops, enable people to experience collisions with their existing, objectified visual experience methods.
The same methodology was used at the artist's solo exhibition Screen Drugs(1999) at alternative space In The Loop, the following year. The focus there was on the power of the image created particularly by computers―the image that confuses our senses about objects and existence, and subordinates the way we see objects to their method of reality transformation, or simulation―the virtual world. Artists place images printed on white paper so that they disappear into the white color of the wall, and expect people to confirm such power of images through experience.
This sort of orientation, which rejects the concept that spectators are onlookers and provokes their physical senses to lead them to active situation-experience, is also evident in Social Meat, installed in the Arko Art Center in 1999, and in Subjective Neighbors at Insa Art Space in 2000. But in the case of Social Meat, the focus moves from the visual environment to the exhibition space itself. In this case the exhibition space is revealed to be a certain administrative and institutional surveillance system, and spectators are led to confirm this fact through sensual and semiological overturn. For example, one component of the work, which consists of four mutually independent but also inter-related installations, is a round rabbit fence made of all sorts of administrative office supplies used in galleries. During the two-week exhibition period, two rabbits are raised inside the enclosure. The smell of the rabbits' excrement spreads over the enclosure, and the rabbits, which occasionally escape from captivity, are caught and put back in. The installation, which can also be read as an allegory of the relationship between an artist and institutions (the rabbit litters and creates odors in spite of surveillance and runs away again even after being captured), attempts to lead spectators remaining in the passive state of spectator-onlooker, to an awakening about art museums (art production structures).
Thus, her work continues to utilize the practice of invitation and exhibition on the part of museums as an opportunity of self-conscious resistance or provocative criticism. Other examples include The Story of the Steel Gallery Annex(2001), presented at the exhibition Lunch Time of Necktie Forces(2001) at Posco Museum, and Public Peeling(2005), submitted to Gallery Space*C. In the former, Lim publishes a photographic novel series in story-board form, depicting herself as “Little Red Riding Hood” (who confronts the wolf in the fairy tale) in the Posco employee newspaper published every week. “Little Red Riding Hood”, who is an incarnation of the artist experiencing inner conflict about entering the art museum, endlessly confirms the gap between reality and the act of art, in the process of contacting the art museum operated by this company, and in understanding the substance of the museum. Then she is eaten by the wolf. Public Peeling presents latex castings of skins of urban facilities such as manhole covers and street lamps. Applying the act of peeling, which is used to make people's skin beautiful, to public facilities of the city, and exhibiting the results at a gallery operated by a cosmetics company no doubt involves a certain humor or satire, but at the same time, presents an opportunity to think deeply about the relation between private and public.


Situations present situations
After living in France for about three years, Lim formed the Pidgin Collective in 2003. Minouk Lim and Frederic Michon had already been working together, but the Collective made them an official work team. The goal of the Pidgin Collective is “Not to be limited to the single domain of the art world, but to create new situations to disturb situations inside society.” Besides this goal, there are two major characteristics to be discovered in their concrete work. One is that cooperative work is strongly emphasized. So the Pidgin Collective generally participates as the planner for the work, but also serves as a member of the cooperation process. Moreover, the cooperative process itself is fluid and not planned in advance. Another characteristic is that the aspect of performance has become stronger, and the works mainly approach the non-artistic daily life. Everything is more temporary, more process-oriented, and focuses on the relationship or interaction itself. Only the documentation remains. In short, the emphasis is not on individual creativity, but on conversational creativity, and the primary objective is to promote not art, but life.
Lost?(2004), executed at the Maronnier Art center, is a typical Pidgin Collective work, which derives from an extremely simple, even futile, idea. Two empty containers are set in an empty space beside the art museum. Resembling the field office of a construction site, the containers serve as a rest area for people related to the exhibition, the homeless, or ordinary citizens. Sudden and spontaneous events are held, rather than rigid, fixed programs or clear objectives. Sometimes they take place and sometimes nothing happens. The work follows the rhythm of spontaneous activity of daily life itself, being carried out while exposing the inherent contradiction. Wouldn't this be the kind of situation where natural and pressing questions about art, life and artists would arise?
The “Scrap Project,” which took place around a container in the playground of the Haja Center(SYFAC), is a general term that includes the various works made from 2004 to 2005. The goal of the project was to invite people, actively compile an archive, and ultimately develop and share models and tools for a new direction, in the search for possibilities of survival for the students of the Haja Center. The participations invited Buddhist priest Ji Yul to speak, and met with Mixed Rice, which produces video productions about migrant workers, and the migrant workers themselves. They did not just passively listen to the guests' stories, but did preliminary research, checked on their social significance, and created works according to their activity styles. The alternative tourist guide book Pidgin Bus Tour - Garibongdong is a booklet that was produced in this process. The booklet, which attempts an ethnographic search of the history of Garibongdong and the multicultural present in the form of a tourist guide book, understands the district not just as a simple geographical space, but as a place for life, extending our social memories.
Another interesting example among the series in the project is The Tenor and Sweet Potatoes(2004). In this work, people are gathered at one side of the Haja Center playground baking and eating sweet potatoes, while a tenor singer is invited to come and sing at the other end of the playground. This playful and absurd idea presented a chilly situation that burst open the closed structure of fixed daily life. When the aria had finished echoing through the thick smoke, people shared the sweet potatoes, which were well-baked by then.
Another noteworthy work of the Pidgin Collective is Picket(2006). The work began with the idea to make a manual for resistance, after experiencing a demonstration against the expansion of a US military base in Daechu-ri, Pyeongtaek. Titled “Picket―a Manual for Non-Violent Resistance,” it is divided into nine chapters: “throw,” “carry,” “hand out,” “disguise,” “write,” etc. What is interesting is the composition of each chapter. For example, not only explanations about how to throw things or about how to divide up items, but also information in diverse layers―such as related images, tables, historical cases and significances of such actions―are provided humorously. The work, which shows a certain behaviorist approach, tells us something about Pidgin Collective's political orientation.


Where is this?
In 2000, Minouk and Frederic received an order from the Gwangju Biennale to produce a cultural guidebook for foreigners. They were reminded of the photographs they had accumulated, and collaged them into a small book called Rolling Stock(2003). What was the culture of Korea that foreigners needed guidance on, other than cultural spots with long history and tradition, or other worthwhile attractions? They took note of the keyword “speed” and chose means of transport. Not only bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trains and boats move. Hand carts, mobile bars and display cabinets also move endlessly as they carry people's bodies, luggage and life. They definitely show “Dynamic Korea”(Korea's national brand slogan), but show it ironically. “To stop is to die. In this sense, the best defense is to always move without resting.” (from “Instructions for Infantry man,” Vauvan, 1888) Here there is no relaxed life. But there is life.
In an interview, Minouk Lim tells about her feelings on (returning to) Korea, as follows: “I realized that traces of the past cannot be seen, and present appearances are being erased even before they are perceived. Do you understand the phenomenon of ‘Dejadisparu’ (seeing death in the reality before one's eyes), and not ‘Dejavu’?” For an object or place to disappear means that any significant memories attached to it disappear as well. Memory, whether good or bad, is closely related to the maintenance of the physical environment in which it was born and sustained. Therefore, extinction of memory leads to uprooted life. Concerning this situation, Edward Relph said “The word humane means that he/she has his/her own place and knows(remembers) it well.” Of course in life change is inevitable. It is the same with objects or places. But when the speed or method of change does not allow meaningful participation of people, they feel they are living an uprooted, or inhumane life. Furthermore, when the speed and method reach a level where new places and objects prepare for death the moment they are born, there will inevitably be neurosis and illness everywhere.
But Korea's modernization has continued at rapid speed, even now, as if there was an unknown ghost of continuance drifting around. According to Lim, the place where she spent her childhood and school years until college, and the place she lives currently are both included in the New Town Redevelopment zone. Minouk Lim's New Town Ghost(2005) is a confession, denunciation, protest and propaganda concerning the division and confusion that takes place in this situation of reality. The work is a video of a small truck with a drum, drum player and slammer (slam is the basis of rap/hiphop and is a genre combined with poetry-writer) driving around the Yeongdeungpo redevelopment area, where Lim's home and office are located, as the rapper performs on the truck. As the truck circles the district along a certain course with a mixture of newly built residence-commercial complexes, shopping malls, markets, alleys, construction sites and commercial sectors, the woman slammer cries out the phrases written by the artist as if she were calling a ghost to attempt contact. The phrases spill out desires, disillusions, fears and illusions felt in today's consumer-information-cyber-global-knowledge-developmental hybrid society, like an oppressed voice bursts out. Money, skin, plastic, surgery, department store, new town, Saemaeul, complex, business, business complex, selling, buying, telephone pole, around the block…
As mentioned earlier, speed velocity does not leave memory. In other words, it instigates oblivion. And in this place of memoryless oblivion, it is easy to erect a monument of ideology. In fact, to remember something is to acquire space in the heart where alien substances can travel back and forth through the holes. Wrong Question(2006) consists of two video projections on a single screen, while a taxi driver narrates. One side of the screen shows views generally seen from a taxi, and the other (or both) side shows very ordinary daily scenes of reality such as buildings, cars, floods, apartment buildings and children. Radio sounds and children's voices overlap with the driver's narration from time to time. The artist formed a room so that spectators could see the screen below as they stood on a balcony. The narration of the driver was a totally rightest interpretation of modern history, typical of a member of the old generation. “Rhee Syngman, Park Jung Hee, the courageous decision, overcoming hardships, America, socialist regimes(DJ and Roh Moo-hyun), we can never return to the wretched times of the past…” The artist seems to have hoped that the spectators would compare the situations of reality on the screen and the narration of the driver to put together an interpretation of these different layers of realities in an active way. Remembering is “By no means a stationary act such as self-reflection or recollection. It is putting together the broken pieces of the past to understand today's trauma; it is a painful re-collection.”(Homi K. Bhabha)


Who am I?
In 2007 Minouk Lim exhibited an installation work called Too Early or Too Late Atelier at the candidates' exhibition for the Hermes Korea Missulsang. She received the award. She referred to the prize as “Rewarded failure.” Is that why I want to read the work as an allegory of the artist's situation in a confused motherland?
On the floor there is a carpet or plain cloth made of latex. Could this carpet be read as a place of mobility, where the artist's work takes place, like a temporary dwelling spot? Beside and above the carpet there is a car cover(we love cars) of brilliant patterns extracted from an appartement hanging as if it were flying. The inside of the cover is a quilt made of pieces of cloth(life and truth). On the other side of the carpet there is an open refrigerator with a hunk of pink urethane foam bursting out (I love ~ LG, I love~ Xai, I love~ you). Swirling patterns give viewers optical illusions as they hang between the refrigerator body and window (take it take it, pick one pick one). Behind that is a picket or shovel. It says NO or ON (Oh no!). In a drawer protruding from the rear wall is a piece of felt, which had been on the gallery floor to work on. (The artist worked on-site for this exhibition!) Then there is a TV monitor. A video is played on the monitor, suggesting the raw and fresh love, labor and dreams of a bookbinding girl in the printing alley of Chungmuro.
The bookbinding girl says to herself near the end of the piece: “There is nothing I do well, but that is why I can do anything. No matter what I do, I am always thinking about something else.” The last line: “My name is ING” Bingo!

In a society moving at a speed so fast that to stop means to die, due to the intense compression of time-space, a certain phenomenon of “Simultaneity of the unsimultaneous” occurs. Coexistence of time. Pre-modern, modern, and post-modern coexist in the same place like neighbors―in our bodies, in our heads, in our families, in the relations of those families, in art, in the state, and mixed in those structures. So in this place where different times coexist, everything is either too late or too early. Misconception of era or misconception of time is like the condition of existence for this place, all the more so if one feels this situation consciously.
Thus, in the work which depicts cross-bred time and culture, Minouk Lim talks through the voice of the bookbinding girl. My name is “ing.” She seems to be saying to herself and her country that she is “ing” in the place where one dies if she stops; or she cannot but “ing,” she must “ing,” even though she is not doing anything well among: modern, pre-modern or post-modern. That is why she can do anything, and has to think of something else to survive, and always does think about something else.
I suddenly feel that her works have been equipping themselves with functional power appropriate for the context of Korean society and art. Now she has the situation beside her.



*The above text referred to the following articles directly, and partially adopted expressions or ideas as well.


Kang, Sumi, “Art of Your Neighbor, Against Masterpieces,” Wolganmisool, Apri,l 2007.
Kim, Jang Un, “Mutation of the Artist,” Space, November, 2004.
Kim, Jang Un, “There Is No Truth in Our Circumstances,” Hermes Korea Missulsang, 2007.
Moon, Young Min, In Congruent: Contemporary Art from South Korea, Hyunsil Cultural Studies, 2006.
Minouk Lim&Frederic Mishon and Kim Won-bang, “Talk: Searching for Cultural Boundaries of Vision, Body and Space.” Art & Discourse, Summer, 2000.
Ricupero, Cristina, “Minouk Lim's Art of Life,” Hermes Korea Missulsang, 2007.
Interview, “Minouk Lim and Sunjung Kim,” unpublished.