Supported by Art Council Korea
at ARKO Art Center, Seoul, Korea, 2 JUL - 26 AUG, 2007
Artist Jinjoon Lee,
Contemplating between reality and existence

Jeong-ah Lee (Arko Lease Project Manager)

I’d like to congratulate that you were selected for the ARKO Art Center Lease Project that started in May this year with the purpose of sponsoring artists. I also congratulate you for the successful operation of the Art Theater project and the opening of your first private exhibition titled <Video Installation Exhibition – Role Play>. Can you tell me the meaning of role-play as a major theme of the current project? What is the key message of your first private exhibition as compared to group exhibitions that you have participated before?
I wanted to hold a private exhibition when I could articulate my views on a certain topic or proposition, and I believe the time has come. Also, the ARKO Lease Project provided an important momentum. In the past, I did not have my own art studio where I could audition and select actors, help them practice acting, and have meetings with staff members. I was in desperate need of such space, so I thank ARKO for providing me this opportunity. One-channel videos have unique characteristics compared to existing TV programs, films, and advertisements. As my video works are usually quite long, I created a space named Art Theater to show these long videos to spectators. In a gallery, spectators would watch video works as they stand or walk by. However, when the space takes the form of a theater, they can sit down and be prepared to appreciate the showing. I decided to introduce the notion of a theater, thinking that people may take a more active and engaging approach when they come to the theater with the show time schedule and popcorn stand. That is how the idea of Art Theater was born. I have created documentaries and other types of videos. My basic approach is that any abstract images I create are always based on facts. 
For instance, Korea’s modern history provides facts based on which I create my artworks. As an artist, I wanted to express my confrontation with the world in a playful way. In this sense, I became interested in how children play family roles. Positively speaking, these role plays are educational, but negatively speaking, they serve to socialize children into particular roles and expectations in order to impose certain social responsibilities within the social frame. When you watch children play family, you realize that they are aware of how a mother and a father typically behave. These assigned roles and responsibilities are taught in kindergarten and later reinforced through various media. Broadcasting, films, and advertisement constantly remind us of social norms and responsibilities. The media also implicitly create and impose certain prototypes of different professions. With these prototypes, individuality is suppressed, and different ideas and dreams of individuals are slowly dying out. I want to express these trends through my art.
Wangddasikyu, 2007. Single Channel Video and Sound, 00'38''
Wangddasikyu, 2007. Single Channel Video and Sound, 00'38''
Four actors are asked to smile and say ‘Wang Dda Si Kyu’. The video images of the four actors are combined in one screen and edited by using Mona Lisa’s smile and SFUMATO technique. When you keep listening to it over and over again, it starts to sound like “Mona Lisa” because the words ‘Wang Dda Si Kyu’ are uttered together by four different people.
Let’s talk about specific works. Your recent video works such as Metro in Seoul, Flagflower project, A to Z project, Interview, and Audition project have adopted different styles and approaches compared to the past projects, but still continue to expose attempts of people in power to exercise control while criticizing social irregularities and contradictions in the existing social institutions. How would you differentiate your recent works from the previous ones? What particular social issues have you tried to deal with in your recent projects? How do you monitor their success?
There are several projects that carry more personal significance. One example is Insomnia. Personally, I suffered a severe case of insomnia. Because my eyes cannot take in strong light, I used to close the window blinds during the day. Once, the blinds were moving along the wind, and I felt fear at the sounds created by the blinds hitting the window. I think it was a fear of the outside world. I had to decide whether I was going to confront the outside, avoid it, adapt to it, or run away from it.
I also realized that oppressive forces of the society are not far away from us but near us. The metaphor of the window, the symbolic meaning of the blinds closed during the day, and my personal experience were combined with a lyrical scenery and minimal music. The outcome is a three-minute collection of advertisement images. This video is intended to evoke sympathy with insomnia patients and deliver the metaphoric meaning of the window. The key objective of this project is to let people know that violence can be embedded in lyrical scenes, that people who are gentle and smiley may have more wounds inside, and that they may use more colorful decorations to hide invisible pains inflicted by the society. As I was carrying out in this project, my attitude and ideas have developed more clearly and influenced my recent works. I became more certain of my approach and decided to express my ideas more actively. Therefore, Insomnia is an important project for me.
Flagflower Series (Korea),  2007. Single Channel Video, 01'55''
Flagflower Series (Korea), 2007. Single Channel Video, 01'55''
Flagflower Series
During the Gulf War in 1991, TV stations broadcasted live when American fighters dropped bombs in Iraq. I still remember an American pilot who described flames caused by bombing as “beautiful”, and this memory provided a direct motif for this project.
This project shows a kaleidoscope-type video of national flags juxtaposed with flowers which serve as a symbol of beauty and thus provide a contrast with national state. Numerous acts of violence and oppression are committed under the cause of national interests and authority, maintenance of major power, and political ideology. Their victims are tragically hidden under the “beautiful flames” of assailants.
A variety of shapes are mixed but the exact symmetry and order are maintained in a decorative pattern, which symbolizes the characteristics of people in authority who employ deceitful rhetoric to sugar-coat their oppressive behaviors and hide dirty secrets.
In Flagflower project, you used a national flag which is an important means to understand a country as it contains social, cultural and historical meaning. It is also a symbol of the political ideology, authority, and order of the current state. Then, the national flag is made into a flower in full bloom as a symbol of beauty in a kaleidoscope style video. Please tell me why you decided to match the two contractive elements together and how this project was developed. I also wonder which country you will select for the next video.
I got the motif for the kaleidoscope project when I was watching TV news on the Gulf War. I felt the power of the media. At that time, everyone watched TV news coverage on the war as if they were watching an entertainment program. After dropping bombs, a fighter pilot looked down at the flames and commented, “Isn’t that beautiful?” His statement was such a shock to me. From above, it may look beautiful because the pilot could not see the horror on the ground. However, the media would only report what was going on in the sky.
Therefore, I searched for a symbol to represent such sovereign power and became interested in national flags. The national flag reminds me of the pledge to the flag in my childhood. It made me tense and nervous. We were not allowed to burn the flag nor stepping on it. So I wanted to play with the flag by making the flag into something beautiful in a paradoxical way. When I put pieces of the flag together into a flower, it was beautiful. I intended to reveal the hidden state power in a paradoxically beautiful way as if the pilot was describing the bombing scene as beautiful. That is how this Flagflower project started. I have four super powers (USA, Russia, China, and Japan) in mind, but I hope to include all the nations as far as their flags are available. Small size flags are not suitable, but large flags are what I need. If I am invited to an exhibition in a certain country, I may create a video for that country.
Metro in Seoul, 2007. Single channel video, 16'56"
Metro in Seoul, 2007. Single channel video, 16'56"
Metro in Seoul
In this project, subway is not only recognized as a vehicle of transportation that moves from one place to another and connects one space to another space, but also as a stage where deviant happenings take place. For instance, a man bows politely and keeps apologizing. Another person is on the phone, describing and demonstrating yoga postures to a friend. An American sings the Star-Spangled Banner with tears. These unusual and nonsensical happenings are staged in a subway and the reactions of passengers are observed.
Most passengers try not to show any emotions and try to ignore the happenings so that they can stay within the social norms. In filming their reactions, no camera work is involved such as close-up and zoom-in/out that are often employed in other video projects. Instead, the camera is placed in a fixed position. In other projects, close-up is often used to control people’s attention and present detailed psychological descriptions. However, in this project, there is no such close-up or long-take camera work. Therefore, the camera documents the scene without addition or subtraction. This approach goes well with the lack of drama among the passengers who seem to be indifferent to all the deviant behaviors in the subway.
In Metro in Seoul project, the subway, which is an enclosed space but a very public place, is used as a stage for various deviant situations. What are unique characteristics of subway compared to other public spaces? Why did you select metro as a stage? Another interesting point is that there is no camera work such as zoom-in and zoom-out. Can you tell me why you decided to shoot this video from a fixed and monotonous camera perspective?
I have often used medium spaces such as windows and staircases in my previous works. Each car of the subway train offers a more public and equal space compared to other modes of transportation. As there is no authority figure such as a bus driver, an airplane pilot or a flight attendant, passengers are equal in the metro space. Anyone can ride on the subway upon the purchase of a ticket. While the subway train travels from one station to the next, it becomes the most public space for the riders. It is also an in-between space that cannot be defined. I wanted to play tricks in this public sphere. I used it as a stage where actors perform small deviant acts and observed reactions of other passengers. Some may argue that this is similar to a hidden camera show but there is a major difference.
A typical hidden camera show focuses on reactions of ordinary people upon encountering unusual situations. As such, the camera follows these ordinary people very closely. On the other hand, <Metro in Seoul> does not focus on fun and entertainment that other hidden camera programs pursue. Instead, the camera is set in a fixed position in this public space and makes faithful observations. I did not mean to cause inconvenience or discomfort to passengers. Therefore, I had several rules to keep order. For instance, it was not allowed to get drunk, make loud noises or film at very late hours. I created situations that were unusual but possible to occur. What was interesting is that most people did not react strongly to these situations. A majority of subway riders are working class and middle class people. They usually rest or sleep on the subway. Maybe that is why most passengers did not pay much attention to what was going on in the space. I expected to show how we are indifferent to people around us.
A to Z Series: Korea, 2007. Single channel video and sound, 16'35".
A to Z Series: Korea, 2007. Single channel video and sound, 16'35".
A to Z Project: Korea
In this project, the alphabet letters from A to Z are searched in a single place in each country. These letters are videotaped and combined into words and sentences. For instance, A to Z in Korea Palaces is a video project where the alphabet letters were searched in a palace filled with Korean traditional lines, shapes and colors. The entertaining and fun search for the alphabets in the palace is videotaped and documented in a serious and careful manner, which creates an interesting paradoxical situation. These captured alphabet letters are combined into words that represent family roles such as father and mother. These family roles are imposed on people in order to make them suppress their desires and thereby maintain the social institutions. This project shows that shadows of Korea’s modern history are hidden underneath the forceful imposition of roles.
In A to Z project, you captured English alphabets and combined them into words in the palace where Korean traditional colors, lines, and shapes are abundant. Simply put, this project is similar to the Flagflower project in the sense that contradictory cultural elements are matched to create an interesting point of discussion. What made you select the most Korean and historical place to capture the alphabets of a language from another culture? What is the message of this project?
I went to the palace six months ago to look for the alphabets for this project. It took a long time to find all 26 letters. I like to visit old palaces. There used to be the government headquarters building used by the Japanese during the colonial period. Later, it was converted into a museum and then finally demolished. I watched a documentary film that showed the Japanese flag coming down and the American flag putting up on that building in 1945 after Korea became liberated from the Japanese rule. The day I watched the documentary film happened to be the Liberation Day. On the most important building, the Japanese flag was brought down and the American flag was posted instead. The building was located right in front of the royal palace of Korea. At the time of the liberation, people in Korea’s central government recruited those who served the Japanese government, and I can understand why. They did not plan to re-build the Korean society from the Koreans’ perspective. Instead, they were only interested in how to establish American style capitalism and democracy in the Korean society and how to create ideological barriers against the Soviet Union. There are two subtitles to the <A to Z> project: (1) Where are we and where to go? and (2) They see only what they want to see. I think we are not very different. We sometimes pay attention to what we want to see rather than trying to look at things the way they truly are. When I produce documentary films, I try to focus on what is truth and reality in our society rather than trying to portraying what I want to see. As I searched for alphabet letters in the old palace and found the letter A, it occurred to me that most people might have taken that shape as part of the shapes in the old palace, but some people might have recognized it as the letter A. The palace is where Korea’s painful histories were repeated in the early 20th century. It is also a place that preserves beautiful colors of Korea. I wanted to narrate paradoxical stories as I searched for alphabets in this beauty.
Eyes in Mind, 2007. Working process.
Eyes in Mind, 2007. Working process.
Interview Project: Eyes in Mind
This project is an interview documentary series where socially disadvantageous people provide questions that they want to be asked and interviews are conducted with them for an hour without camera editing.
In Interview with Eyes in Mind, questions were collected from six children in the 6th Grade at Seoul School for the Blind. Then, an interview was conducted for an hour. As soon as the camera started recording, it showed complete darkness. This way, people with vision and without vision can appreciate the documentary under the same condition. The title of the project is associated with the eyes in mind mentioned by Plato. Also, the eyes in mind are what these children claimed to have as they created the list of questions.
The Interview series interview socially marginalized people, but the format of the interviews is different from a typical interview format in the sense that the interviewees come up with questions that they want to be asked of. Therefore, this interview series approaches interview methods from a meta-critical point of view. What is the message you wanted to communicate through this project?
Documentaries aired on major TV channels focus on either well-known celebrities that the public wants to know about or social minorities that are unknown to the public. The media take artificial and calculated approaches to documenting stories of socially marginalized people. In other words, instead of representing their voices, the media try to convey certain messages with a purpose. It made me think that documentary films are often used as a tool to prove that broadcasting stations serve public good. Of course, I was not allowed to express my voice because I was an employee of the public broadcasting station, but I still felt discouraged that my freedom of expression was limited. I was asked to create documentary films that meet the eye levels of middle school students, but I knew this was not the right way to approach it. Soon, I left the broadcasting station and started to create documentary films on my own. I wanted to adopt a different approach to documenting stories of social minorities.
Of course, there were certain stories I wanted to hear, but instead, I decided to document the stories that they wanted to share. The effect of broadcasting may be limiting, but I concluded that it was meaningful to report their stories without editing, regardless of whether they are educational or not. Socially marginalized people are often not able to afford to produce documentaries on their own. For instance, it is practically impossible for a terminally ill patient to create a documentary of his own life. Recently, I made a documentary of blind children. In doing so, I decided to give them a chance to be involved in the production process. In other words, I helped them create their own documentary film. The children created a list of questions and filmed the interviews. My role was to provide the equipment, record the film, and show it to them. In this project, I promised them that I would ask only those questions provided by the children. I also promised that there would be no editing once the recording started. No editing would be done on any mistakes or awkward parts.
Another point that I like to mention is that this documentary is not produced for the viewers and the theme is not about the vision impaired children. The title of this film is Eyes in mind. I thought deeply about the way to present the film so that it can be viewed in the same manner for people with and without vision impairment. In mainstream broadcasting stations, a similar documentary that deals with blind people would focus on viewers who can see. After they see the documentary, they would make such comments as how thankful they are that they can see or show sympathy towards blind people. I did not want to create such responses. Instead, I wanted viewers to feel how uncertain and fearful it would feel when one is not able to see. I also wanted viewers to start thinking that it may be a prejudice to conclude that blind people are unfortunate. People who cannot see may have more than those who can see.
In fact, these children did not think in terms of what they lack but in terms of what they have. I want to report these types of stories in the documentaries. I will continue to employ the same format to document other stories. The length of the film is about an hour, and there is no editing involved. The question is whether spectators will be patient enough to watch an hour-long film. If they do not have such patience, it may be because they are so accustomed to sophisticated entertainment programs in the media. Most people live in the era of speed and learn to enjoy sensational, entertaining, and provocative programs. As an artist, I want to report true stories even though they do not appeal to the general public.
Half Water, Half Fish, 2007. Performing view at Alternative Space Loop.
Half Water, Half Fish, 2007. Performing view at Alternative Space Loop.
Half Water, Half Fish
Half Water, Half Fish is a group psycho drama. In the spring of 2007, for three months, 30 actors were selected through auditions for the project. The actors revealed their socially traumatic experiences during in-depth interviews and got trained to express them in an exaggerated way. During an hour-long performance, the actors were divided into three groups. Group A did a performance on the topic of massacres on the stage in order to hide the secret missions assigned to Groups B and C. Actors in Group B were placed among the audience to perform individually assigned roles. Group C served as staff members. As a result, members of Group A and B believed that Group C worked as staff, but in the real performance, Group C was secretly assigned to provoke Group B.
Recently, you organized a performance in an alternative space called Loop, and at the ARKO Art Center, you directed six different mono dramas with different content and formats. In these projects, you have combined theatrical elements, music, poetic texts, programming sounds, dancing, body gestures, and interactive videos to create experimental, multi-dimensional art. Several artists have introduced theatrical elements in experimental projects within the framework of multi-dimensional art. However, the concept of multi-dimensional art is not clearly defined yet. What is your definition of multi-dimensional art? What is the direction to which your future projects will be oriented to?
The term “multi-dimensional art” emerged only recently, and some call it “total theater” or “image play”. Similar attempts have been made in the theater circle for a long time. For instance, videos were used as stage background, or installation art was on the stage where actors performed. On the other hand, it was less frequent for artists to bring in elements of theater in their artworks. In this sense, recent attempts by some artists are valuable regardless of their success because these attempts represent efforts to expand the vocabulary of art. Certainly, I also approach multi-dimensional art as an artist. The starting point of the performance held at Loop is my attitude towards the society. I wanted to use a particular space and provide a wholesome experience of art. Because I did not study theater, my approach was naturally more artistic than theatrical. I paid attention to the stage sets, lighting and other visual elements. In the past, I was involved in performance acts myself to raise issues with certain philosophical questions. However, this time, I wanted to take the role of a producer and work together with actors instead of staging a performance myself. I thought carefully about how to increase effectiveness of the performance.
Therefore, musical, literal, theatrical, and choreographic elements all came into play. As an artist, I borrow these elements whenever necessary. I felt something lacking in other similar performances and multi-dimensional artworks.
For instance, installation artwork used in a play did not assume important presence but became part of the stage props. Also, canvas paintings became nothing more than the background painting of a play. Good music did not feel like sound art but mere background music. In a similar vein, good literary texts were not perceived as a piece of literature but part of the lines recited by the actors. Therefore, considerations were made about how to achieve a balance between different elements used in the performance. When the scale of a performance is big and many professionals are involved, the division of labor is applied for work efficiency.
For example, choreographers, play writers, music directors, stage installation experts, and video artists work in their areas of expertise, and it is the producer’s job to pull them together in a single performance. In this process, your role as an artist becomes constrained and limited. In my project, I thought it was worthwhile for the artist to create a stage, produce sounds, make stage props, direct acting, write texts, produce a scenario, and install lighting. If this approach is taken, it usually takes more time and the scale of the performance is small, but it is worth trying. Performing six different mono dramas for two months may seem like a lot of work, but it was not an issue. Because I was the sole decision maker, I was deeply involved in the project and was able to make decisions quickly. Unnecessary elements were removed so that the story that I wanted to tell could be expressed freely without any constraints. This was the advantage of my approach. I was able to find the right format and content for the message I wanted to communicate. In this sense, multi-dimensional art means to create a small but meaningful space where the artist can combine all different genres and produce a coherent story. In order to be successful in this type of art, the artist needs to learn from experts in different areas and internalizes these different genres. That is how you can create a successful multi- dimensional artwork.
Art Theatre Project 

As selected for the ARKO Museum support program, the Art Theater Project was held at the 3rd Exhibition Room for two months. This project involved six rounds of mono dramas. The format was a mono drama of a single actor. Also, images, sounds, and elements of literature and dance were properly utilized to complete the work. Based on the prepared texts and photographs, each actor used his own imagination and performed a role-play on the stage. Furthermore, boundaries between the on-stage play and the off-stage reality were experimented. 
FIRST PERFORMANCE : The Death of Salesman
SECOND PERFORMANCE : Seoul 2007 and Summer (Part 1)
THIRD PERFORMANCE : Seoul 2007 and Summer (Part 2)

The Audition Series 
The Audition Series is a project that completes the iconic action blockbuster film, Chapter 21: Casino Royale from the 007 series, through audience participation. It consists of limited "spectacle" while mainly composed of dialogues, allowing the audience to piece together the film by reciting lines one by one, resulting in a significantly shortened duration.
Through a quantity-oriented approach, the visually captivating elements are emphasized, injecting falsehood, exaggeration, and inaccuracy repeatedly into the film medium, manipulating the viewer's judgment and imagination. On the other hand, by including scenes where the audience becomes actors and performs the lines, as well as showcasing bloopers, acting instructions, and the filming process, it challenges the conventional visual aesthetics that aim for the best visual effects with carefully selected cuts.
Art Theatre - A Play for Role Invitation Card
Artist                Jinjoon Lee
Curator            Hyungmi Kim
                         Hyunjoo Ahn 
Art Manager   Jeongah Lee
Technician      Kiyong Kim
Education Program Managing    
                        Jin Heo, in2museum
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