Body and Grotesque Images of the Technology Age
Su-mi Kang (Aesthetics)
The science fiction-like imagination that a human body can be merged with mechanical devices often lead us directly to fearful thoughts. In reality, our daily lives are constantly in connection to various mechanical devices, sometimes even completely immersed in them; we are tamed by our comforts of these devices, spurred on by self-interests of our civilization. Take for instance, earphones in your ear, or mobile phones and computer memory chips that have stored your memories, or a navigation system that controls your space perception, are they not already a part of your body and that you cannot live without them? Of course, we believe that these devices are only "useful tools" that aid us in our sensory and cognitive activities, and that they are only accessoriesthat we can always remove. Is that really the case?
Among Jong-joon Son’s photographs, sharp metallic mechanical devices are the first to draw my attention. Enigmatic devices, made of silvery solid metal pieces joined simply by nuts and bolts are attached, surrounding the model’s body in the photograph. We are immediately drawn to thecontrast of soft protein skin to the elaborate form of a human body. However, because of this contrast in Jong-joon Son’s photographs, we are led to re-examine the conditions of our lives that are surrounded or connected to various machines or mechanical devices. It is here that we see the virtues of his artworks. As we can see in the title, <defensive measure>, Jong-joon Son has symbolized these crude mechanical devices as "defensive tools." However, when we look at these devices in his photographs, they are attached to the shoulders or arms, acting as protective devices for the head or the face, on the other hand, when we take a closer look, we see that there are sharp, arrow-like spikes on top, also functioning as attacking weapons. In other words, these foreign mechanical devices in the photographs are not only "means of defense," but also "means to attack." From what do they defend, and what do they aim to attack? To answer this question, let us take a closer look at his photographs.
Among <defensive measure> series, a strongly built, dark skinned man can be seen. The model’s physical characteristics unconsciously remind us of faraway African natives and their wild lives. It is not to say that they are uncultured or uncivilized, but rather, that they are closer to nature and that they phenomenological bear the bodies they were born into. However, this model’s body, perfect by itself, wears Jong-joon Son’s mechanical devices that I mentioned above like a "prosthetic device." The usages of the devices that are attached to various parts of this dark body are unknowable by just looking at the photograph. On the contrary, the usage of the silvery mechanical devices (that appears to act as aesthetic props) and message series that the artist wants to show through these devices can only be read when viewed together with his other photographs. Jong-joon Song not only presented <defensive measure> as a complete photograph artwork, but also presented it as a form of data of a performance. This performance involved a model dressed as a city-dweller with a mechanical device fitted over the clothing, walking about Tokyo city. Although the model appears to blend with people, surrounding him is a sort of defensive zone, a boundary, and both the model and surrounding people are forced to keep a certain distance from each other. This is because of the silvery mechanical device. Of course, people might have kept away from the model because of the crude and grotesque appearance. However, more than any other reason, people kept aloof because this plainly aggressive image suggested possibilities of some sort of conflict or physical harm. Continuous transfer and migration within densely crowded space is characteristic of large metropolitan cities. By wearing a visually aggressive and defensive device, Jong-joon Song’s photographed performerpushes others away and holds a superior position within an imaginary battle. At this point, my questions, and curiosities presented above may be answered.
First, do we freely choose and use these mechanical devices only as "useful tools", without shrinking our own innate physical perception and world experience? At seeing Jong-joon Song’s photograph, our relationship to mechanical devices is not so autonomous. Although they are dramatically expressed as silvery mechanical devicesin the photographs, in reality, those devices symbolize the everyday tools or digital technology media. These are not what we choose to put on, but they are almost "second skin," or "second sensory organ" to our bodies, and they reorganize our cognitive and sensory relationship to the world,one way or the other. The meaning of that reorganizing is the answer to our second question. In other words, when we question, from and to what do the mechanical devices in Jong-joon Song’sphotographs "defend and attack,"the answer is that they defend us from the possible aggression from the others and the surrounding world, and that they can also become means to attack back. For us, living in high-tech age, various devices (here, devices do not only mean mechanical devices, but also includes various social structures, institutions, and physical forms) that are amalgamated to us has reorganized our relationship to the world so that we have become closed and narrow instead of helping to form relationships that aredeeper and more personal. What Jong-joon Song wants to tell us through these grotesque body images wearing mechanical devices, or what he expects us to read, may be just that. And the point where <defensive measure>becomes most beautiful is on a point of visual technique rather than the text it is a point where it speaks of our own alienation (by being familiar with high-tech devices), alienating others and the world with extremely defensive and extremely aggressive attitude.
Inside and Outside, and Those return to oneself
Noam Kim (CEO of Art Space Hue)
Is this a sculpture, an objet or an installation? Or is it a performance? What is the effect equipments give and what (aesthetic) function do they have? What are they talking about?
Generally, a sinking force corresponds to the level of their depth is applied to those rising up outwards. A stage of convergence and collision which the specificity these two opposing forces have should be passed or these two forces should act simultaneously in order for a single piece to be formed. Indiscriminately capturing an accomplished target and only capturing an aesthetic target through selection and negligence is different. Technique or convention of formative expression forms a narrative of technical and quantitative level. And then we can deduce the deep meaning or structure of the artist or the piece or unconscious structure or trend.
What we can do from the analysis of the surface level on the work of Jongjun Son are as follows.
An objet or equipment composed of basic metal materials and repetitive stages reminds of craftsmanship concentration and tradition of tenacity. Due to the reason that almost all stages are carried out by handwork, one has to think of the personal characteristic of the artist and the sticky viscosity and force of the labor. Fruits made like this remind of personal history of the artist who studied in Japan, and remind the morphological origin and culture code of custom of the equipment. The appearance of the equipment tempting for interpretation of various culture codes is only relative and random. Any interpretation or meaning made through this stage freely floats and becomes a sensible reference to see the piece.
A formative outcome is transformed and reproduced into photo images of people wearing this. According to the artist’s quote, these equipments are only a kind of an outcome of order-and-production method on what the characters in the photo feel and think through the interviews with them.
The expressions, motions and eyes of people wearing and attaching the transformed metal equipments are lonely. Although one might use the expression, ‘frightening’, this expression may make us difficult to see a piece and the image clearly due to commonness as it is frequently used in our field. However, expressing a piece is clear or seeing the meaning clearly is another metaphor.
Characters wearing shiny metal armors make an eccentric atmosphere to the achromatic everyday space – like a scene of a well produced drama or film. The appearance of those wearing unique outfits or equipments changes every remaining thing surrounding them into a background or a set place made into a certain intension. The appearance of an objet, a person or an incidence is which distorts the whole of the living environment or lifestyle rather than simply limited to the individual target or dictionary.
After such an analysis and classification, we get to think of what we should do and what we can say with these.
The themes became even more unclear. It became more difficult to communicate through discussions and debates. What the keyword to solve the unclearness surrounding such themes became more significant today. In the indefinite languages and abundance of logic, ironically, we feel poverty of contact and communication.
Mental anxiety and obsession of individuals isolated from an organization and society and various mental motives occurring in the relationship between the individuals are reflected in his piece. We are alienated and not starved. It is not important who the subject and object of alienation is. The roles change every time. It is a kind of a play or a game. However, it is only possible when there is a promise or a rule of the game for it.
We tend to blame aggression which is visual and tactual at the same time on ourselves, our inner selves. Such ambivalent aggression and defensive attitude makes the nuance of the image of the piece abundant. It is touching every issue being at the forefront of recent artists, complying with the conventional formative cultural tradition. ‘Aesthetic’ is ultimately social and gets to be integrated with the psychological ego and the problem of subject.
The artist’s external appearance and rhythmic sense working like a society researcher, a common office worker or a labor attracts our attention forming a contrast with the unique equipments leaving his hands. Such an existence and absorption force makes us think of the story and message of his continuous work.
Although art comes out from an individual’s hands, ultimately it gets to confront the universality of people. A piece is which is structured in the outside of an individual. It is the sound of outside and the sensation. This is composed of various eyes and messages surrounding relationship and communication, and alienation and individual existence.
Is today better than yesterday?
Lee Jinmyeong (Curator)
The profile of the artist Son Jong-jun is not well known to the public yet. However, whenever we sense energy and caliber from his work, we are confident that his future is bright. Son has been creating distinctive sculptures that combine the human body with metallic material, such as aluminum. Son’s artwork includes the human body as a prerequisite. His work exists as a mechanism for protecting the human body; or as a complimentary means of supplementing the principal subject, such as the human body; or as a protector to protect the principal subject. In that sense, his work is a symbol where the effect of delivering aesthetic enjoyment or completing the aesthetic is not his main concern. This co-optive mechanism, which makes viewers think about what humans are, instead of about his artwork itself or the issue of aesthetics, is a distinguishing feature that differentiates him from other artists.
The name of the series of this type of artwork is a “defensive measure,” and it is somewhat known to people who keep up with the recent trends in the Korean art arena. The description “defensive measure” reminds people of the military. It protects us from enemies or others. According to this principle, the most effective method is a prior prevention. The tendency of removing dangerous elements to rescue ourselves from existing danger can be interpreted as a, “defensive measure.” Julius Caesar’s decision of engaging in the Galilee Excursion in order to prevent the threat of Germanic peoples beforehand; Chinese Emperor Shi Huangdi’s construction of the Great Wall; or the US’ list of terrorist nations are good examples of self-defensive measures. This artist asserts that, not only do social groups take such defensive measures, but that each individual person also operates self-defensive measures. We should concentrate on the artist’s observation, asserting that the distinctiveness, which differentiates the modern time from the contemporary time; the distinctiveness, which differentiates the past from the present; and the distinctiveness of modern civilization, which lead each individual entity to be further independent from the total integrity.
The words “westernization” or “modernization” have long been set in our mind as some kind of ideology, as if they are the highest good. Westernization or modernization has made a great contribution to causing us to worship science and to perceive the value of democracy. However, we had to pay the price in return, and this appeared as worshipping money, opportunism, fetishism, individualism, and indifference towards the community. The loss of total integrity, which connects each other, will remain as an endless debt that our modern society will have to pay. In the era where total integrity is lost, each individual’s carefully planned self-defense will become the only way of life. Son cannot simply accept that these phenomena happening. The crudeness of aluminum, not reflecting the silver shine outward, but contains it inward, expresses our anxiety about our helpless self-defense in an exaggerated fashion. The connection of protruding bolts and nuts, which resembles rose thorns, reminds people of our pathetic self-defense. The artist’s visualization does not end here. He even takes up a radical way of presenting studio photos, by completely deserting the virtue of the candid camera. Through his artwork, he asks not the actors, but the general public to express their subjective world in extreme, even disregarding the life of the models, who appear in photos, or neglecting the prediction of. This shows the artist’s confidence in his interpretation of this world.
We should briefly think about how the “defense measure” came about and we should carefully examine how his new work was created. The artist’s new work, which was created in 2013, shows his strong experimentation in exploring the property of media power. In this exhibition, his two works of art seems to be the main event. His first work is operated by a relatively complex mechanism. It was created by integrating the characteristics of installation art and media art into the property of kinetic art. From the complex structure, which consists of aluminum, has a motor that turns a disk. Morse code, which was first used as military radio signals in the early 20th century, are loaded onto the disk. Outside of this work, a TV monitor has been installed, and a news program is being aired in real time on this monitor. At this moment, Morse code that has been devised by the artist, intervenes by directly interrupting the news program or it partly detaches the news program from the sense of viewers by changing the Morse code into lights.
His second artwork also uses a mechanism. His installation art seems to be created to precisely show a monitor screen to viewers. However, an opaque glass, which blocks the monitor screen, provides information or momentarily shuts down information to viewers alternatingly, as the opaque glass repeatedly moves back and forth in front of the screen.
Mass media is a creation of the 20th century. However, this mass media does not look different at all from a modern painting or photograph in the sense that they also provide information. Furthermore, the phenomenon of providing information, whether through ancient paintings or modern media, is political in the sense that it is occurring unidirectionally and without exception. This is because the interest or belief of information providers cannot be interjected in the process of leaking and dispersing information. This element has existed for a very long time. However, the reason that modern media can be more dangerous, as compared to the past, is because they have the power to skillfully adjust or instigate the general public’s judgment or even value. As a result, mass media hinders people from forming their own worldview based on their existential experiences with the real world. In addition, reflecting the general public’s needs on mass media is very rare. Lastly, what is worse is that modern day mass media, that is, the immersion quality of mass media, does not have a great influence in forming relationships between individuals in society. What is certain is that an interrelationship that is formed between people through an effective conversation or exchange is the process that can truly enrich human beings. It is a human tragedy that mass media had shortened and expedited these basic human conditions into a signal system between people. This artist has taken the phenomena of the unidirectional transmission of information, serious individualism, and the immature socio-historical flow that is caused by such individualism as important issues.
There is a well-known Japanese word “hikicomori,” which means a hermit/loner. This phenomenon is a serious social problem, and it is spreading across the world, including throughout the West. Many experts attribute this phenomenon to urbanization and modernization, which can be described as the nuclear family, the development of telecommunication, and unemployment. It is said to culminate the sense of loss and self-humiliation. This can be attributed to the era in which direct communion between skin and skin, hand and hand, and emotion and emotion has become rare, and the high speed and spectacular sensation of TV or various media makes us easily forget the value of humanism. Accordingly, the artist’s works may look delightful or even seem to be humorous, but his thinking is quite serious. What does he intend to remind us of through a minimal intervention or mediation on the screen of a media, which in itself symbolizes modern times? What does he suggest to us by even making a direct message on the electronic display look fuzzy with an opaque glass? There can be numerous interpretations and responses to these questions.
My answers to these questions are as follows. We have accepted urbanization and modernization. We even postponed judging whether they are bad or good. We simply accepted them as they were. However, there is no telling whether the polarity of social classes, as well as the discrepancy between generation, regions, religions, and races would be dissolved at all. We even accepted them. However, one last thing we cannot give up on it. I mean as an artist it is. That is what art is, at least. Instead of glossing over the issues of all social phenomena to just simply criticize them, this artist states that art is the last message for post-humanism, and this is one true fact that we cannot deny. In this day and age, even art, which is a genre of liberal arts and aesthetics, is pressured to take a unidirectional path to appease the flavor of the system and power. In particular, we live in a society that disconnects us from the past and continuously pursues the Western standard and where even artists have been trying to imitate the West. However, to build a better tomorrow, this artist thinks that we should take up the attitude of communicating with the present to look straight into our problems and seek future advancement.
Human history has a long-term purposefulness. In other words, it is an optimistic belief that all things from the past and the present are being operated by the principle of goodness. This means that there can be no hope in negativity. The premise of long-term purposefulness is based on the fact that nothing is possible without the ceaseless effort to correct the present. This artist wants positive improvements, rather than negative criticisms. Accordingly, the world of this artist is an experimentation of his thinking, which pursues the realization of communication, exchanges, and human touch as art.