'Each artist seems thus to be the native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten (…)' [1]
Poetry is a medium of sound. Although the advents of writing, the printing press, typewriter, computer and internet have aided in its sophistication and dissemination, it remains essentially a phonetic means of communication. The mother's heartbeat heard (and felt) in the womb; the pleasure we takes as babies as the vibrations made on our lips shape the earliest sounds we ourselves make; the soft, calming qualities of mother's voices: these remain important experiences whose patterns influence the rest of our lives.
  Sound is a crucial mode of the liminal, the threshold. At birth, that first, liminal experience that all we all share and that none of us remember, the gentle, alternating current of the mother's heartbeat, stops abruptly as we enter the great, unknown country outside. We plunge into a world where sound, especially noise (almost all the audible world is noise to a new-born child) is now also a vital early warning system: ambulance sirens, thunder, and smoke alarms are  added to the aural palette and soothed by the cooing promise of mother's milk.
Jinjoon Lee draws on a range of media including sculpture, new media installation and architecture to explore perceptions of utopian space and its attendant ideologies in his films, writing, photographs, scrolls and installations. Rich in metaphor and highly allusive to a wide range of both Far Eastern and Western cultural traditions, his latest exhibition is specifically concerned with the garden philosophies of his native South Korea, childhood memories of Masan, and the Sansui ('mountain river') paintings of East Asia. Lee declares his approach as 'auto-ethnography': he is interested in the rampant spread of media and technology in recent decades, and how it has altered both our physical and mental relationship to our environments, especially how we experience memory, nature, and sound.
  The anthropologist Victor Turner’s concept of 'liminoid experiences''[2] is central to Lee’s practice in recent years. A liminoid experience has many of the characteristics of a liminal one, but is a culturally optional threshold and does not involve the resolution of a personal crisis. A bar mitzvah ceremony, marriage or divorce might all be regarded as 'liminal' processes, whilst an exhibition or football match could all be understood as 'liminoid.' Using himself as a kind of test case, many of his works grow around such experiences: a cross-continental plane journey; sunsets and sunrises; convalescence; and the private (later to be made public) marking of time in his own diary. ​​​​​​​
The historical East Asian figure of the 'literati', the scholar-official come painter-poet, first emerged in Tang Dynasty China (618-907 AD). Specialising in ink wash painting, the literati overturned earlier, more naturalistic techniques. Typically, made in monochrome and using only shades of black, ink wash places a great emphasis on virtuosity, with highly skilled brushwork usually conducted extremely quickly: the essence of a subject dominates over any direct imitation. The form flowered during China’s Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) and in Japan after its introduction by Zen Buddhist monks in the 14th century[3]. In these countries, and to a lesser degree in Korea, ink wash was kept separate from other types of painting, ideally illustrating a member of the literati’s own poetry. Often these works would be made as gifts for friends and patrons, rather than for direct payment. An element of the informal, of freedom, infuses the best forms of this work. The figure of the scholar-official strongly influences Lee's artistic persona, and almost all the works in Audible Garden bear the literati movement's influence.
Fig. 1. Jinjoon Lee, Mumbling Window, 2023. Site-specific installation. Green filter on 27m glass window with 4 resonance speakers. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK.  
Audible Garden, staged at the Korean Cultural Centre UK's exhibition space, has a porous relationship to the outside world. A central piece, Mumbling Window(Fig.1), running along the whole west wing of the show (which sits in central London's Northumberland Avenue), uses a camera, facing the street, to live-capture the Hackney carriages, cyclists, pigeons and pedestrians of a mid-August afternoon. So, this street, and the daylight suffusing the exhibition, is viewable only in a slightly sickly mint green tint. Resonance speakers scramble the street’s noises with ambient sounds from within the gallery space. A sonification algorithm converts the resulting video frames (projected at cinema scale at the centre of the show, as I am later to learn) into corresponding MIDI notes. A velocity is assigned to each MIDI note (determined by the darkness of its respective grayscale pixel), so that the resultant sound, drifting from the central gallery space adjacent to the atrium in which I now stand, is a dynamic reflection of the view. Where am I?
I read the first, introductory text on the atrium’s wall: the entire exhibition is punctuated with these detailed, museum-style descriptions of each artwork. The green cast of Mumbling Window, and the sound of Hanging Garden(Fig. 2) destabilise me: there is something uncannily precise and direct in the tinkling ambient noises, which appear to be emanating from the wall itself. Turning to the right, I see the physical form of 'Hanging Garden': it is a large, mixed media mobile featuring twelve super directional loudspeakers, hanging suspended from aluminium rods and piano wire, moving gently of their own accord. The speakers, prompted by air currents, move - as with most mobiles, as with most memories - unpredictably. The artist’s recollections are blended with recordings he has made of contemporary urban gardens, creating a jangling, ASMR-like experience. Like an overture, this abstract, dreamy work prompts me to consider a central theme running through this Audible Garden: that our personal histories are not in any way accurately accessible, and yet form, for many of us, a dominant filter through which we must experience life.​​​​​​​
  Although he is not mentioned at all, the figure that hits me here is Marcel Proust, the French novelist of A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) and patron saint of self-publishers, whose great subject was involuntary memory. A massive, sprawling seven-part novel which features over 1,500 characters, and recounts, in minute detail, the unnamed (read: Proust himself) Narrator’s remembrance of his childhood, youth and early adulthood in late 19th and early 20th French high society. For Western Europeans especially, having read it (particularly in its original French if it is not your native language) is a badge of literary sophistication [4]. To have enthusiastically started the enterprise whilst allowing yourself the rest of your life to finish it is  a running joke in literary circles:  A la recherche is a world within itself. 
Fig. 2 Jinjoon Lee, Hanging Garden, 2023. Mixed media mobile. Piano wire, black acrylic panel, aluminum rod, directional speakers, dimensions variable. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK.  
Our world contains five major biomes: large areas characterized by their vegetation, soil, wildlife, and climate. These are aquatic, grassland, forest, desert and tundra [5]. Some of these can be divided further into subcategories such as savanna, water, marine, taiga, and rainforest, both temperate and tropical. Living and working between East Asia (mostly South Korean) and Europe (predominately the UK), Lee spends most of his existence in deciduous rainforests and a great deal of his art is set in them. But other biomes, especially the aquatic, are ,also featured, as with, for instance, his 2020 sound and video installation, 'Moanaia'. Water, its prevalence and scarcity, density and flow, is central to bios: 'life' in Ancient Greek.
Major developments have been made in recent years in human understanding of the gut microbiome. This conglomeration of trillions of bacteria, fungi, archaea and viruses contains at least 150 times more genes than the human genome and weighs 2kg, which is more than the brain. The liver is the only internal organ in the human body which is heavier than the gut microbiome. A 2020 study by the European Bioinformatics Institute which pooled over 200,000 human gut genomes to create a genetic database of their gut microbes, found that 70% of the microbial populations it listed had not yet been cultured in a lab and were previously completely unknown [6].
Experts such as Tim Spector, Professor in Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College London, stress that we should each treat our gut microbiome as a garden, which needs regular 'fertiliser'[7]: the 'good' 'bacteria that live in our stomachs can be cultivated. Based on the limits of the current research, we are currently unable entirely to expel the 'bad' bacteria, but their detrimental effects on our bodies and brains can at least be minimized. A gut-friendly diet needs regular quantities of fermented foods, such as kefir, kombucha tea, and the Korean pickled vegetable dish kimchi.   
  As consciousness remains a huge area which humanity is only just beginning to understand, the gut microbiome is like a vast (yet tiny) garden, of which we know only a limited number of plants, birds, insects and mycelia. As well as our ‘gut garden’, it might be helpful to also imagine here, using the prompt of Lee’s self-casting as a ‘gardener cultivating light, sound and imagination at the liminal space’, and of this particular exhibition, an ‘audible garden’, also completely unique to each individual.[8] We are born with the audible garden, and especially if we are lucky enough to have a reasonable degree of control over our lives, have ample opportunities to cultivate it.
Let me add one more 'garden' to those I have described and imagined above. As well as our gut gardens and audible gardens, could we think of 'data gardens' that each of us are required to cultivate? Each organism must of course manage from its moment of conception a complex network of information which comes to it through the senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. For many humans (and some other animals), this mix has become more complex with the advent of web-based technology and Artificial Intelligence. The way we consume, retain, digest and use information, and the benefits and harms it causes us, requires increasing levels of study and care.
  The history of literature, especially that of the autobiographical novel in the West, is scattered with attempts by individuals to 'digest' their entire life’s experience. Proust is a paradigm of this phenomenon, with his famously digressive passages, where tiny details trigger memories within memories. Lee has set himself a similarly daunting task with his practice as an artist, examining, primarily through sight and sound, how liminoid moments (bird calls, plane flights, drinks of milk) reverberate throughout his life. This is how he cultivates his data garden.
Fig. 3. Jinjoon Lee, Daejeon, Summer of 2023, 2023. M10 plaster and sumi ink for calligraphy sculpture, turntable, two real-time web camera, two-channel video and sound installation, dimensions variable. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK.
The physical centrepiece of the show, Daejeon, Summer of 2023 (Fig.3: note the title, which is effectively a diary marker), is a multi-sensory exploration of time and memory, in one sense making material the ideas and sensations that were hinted at sonically in 'Hanging Garden'. On a long wall at the centre of the gallery, thirty circular plaster sculptures, covered in swirling ink patterns, each the size of a long player record, are arranged in a neat grid. Below them, spot lit by a lamp, sits a small desk and record turntable. 
  The accompanying wall text informs us that through data sonification, the patterns on each ‘LP’ have been transmuted into unique sound compositions: a real analogue record player sits underneath the sculptures, recreating in part how the additional resulting sound and video pieces were made. As the record rotates, a camera sensor reads the visual variations on its surface, and these patterns are transformed into sound. The area captured by the camera is sub divided into concentric circles. Video processing begins at the plaster plate’s outermost circle, and the camera works towards the centre, as with the sound-producing needle of an analogue record player. Lee’s team’s custom-built algorithm converts the individual pixel values of the camera’s recording into MIDI notes. The static patterns of each plate have become aural abstractions of the artist's memories. Facing the wall on which the plaster discs hang is a massive video projection. This shows a detail of one of the turning plaster records, viewed from above. The sound, which blends with the 'Hanging Garden' noises drifting in from the first room, echoes the mechanism of the turntable. Lee’s team trained AI in the use of traditional Asian instruments, such as the Korean geomungo, a plucked zither. The accompanying machine improvises music based on the patterns unique to each disc. Whilst Lee 'composed' the piece, the machine interprets and performs it. 
  The installation of Daejeon, Summer 2023 is complicated yet further by a video projection, again at cinema scale, which sits between the sculptural and video components of the original piece. I am unsure of what I am looking at, but it seems to be a semi-abstracted, live street view with ghostlike long exposures dragging themselves over the static elements of the scene. I soon learn that this is the video component of Mumbling Window, so I am looking again at Northumberland Avenue. But due to the sound of the zithers and the general sense of 'otherness' created by the soundtrack, I had originally thought I was looking at a Korean temple. I am standing, not without pleasure, in what feels like a black hole of sorts: something very specific has been relayed to me about the construction of an elaborate artwork, but I am also witnessing (and hearing?) scenes from another artwork which now seem to relate to the street from which I recently stepped, into what had initially appeared a cool, clinical gallery space. Proust returns: this time in the form of the elegiac sequences from his novel (some of the few I have actually read) describing the Narrator’s enchantment at the magic lantern sequences he witnesses on holiday as a boy.
At its worst, conceptual art is visual art that wants to be philosophy or writing, but remains hidebound by the materiality of the art object. Duchamp’s urinal remains a kind of stumbling block to the lay exhibition goer, in part because it stubbornly refuses to induce any imaginative leap in them. With literature, readers may cherish a book's physical form, but their relationship to it is essentially speculative: there is never any confusion between the space of the imagination and of the physical world. The deluge of abstract sounds and video projections in this central exhibition space is womb-like, disorientating, hypnotic: I want to linger here. But I am troubled by something. The laborious, almost indigestible description of how Daejeon, Summer of 2023 was produced is sticking with me. I am being bullied by my inner technocrat: I haven’t fully 'understood' it. I therefore don't 'get it'... 
  But to what degree is this my failure as a viewer, or Lee's failure as an artist? Lee moves between multiple worlds: Eastern and Western societies, especially galleries and universities; his family; his past; his present; an imagined future. To some degree, he presents himself as a figure melancholically trapped in the liminoid spaces between all of these. It is perhaps when he tries too self-consciously to be both simultaneously a 'contemporary artist' and a reinvention of the 'literati' figure that his work can feel strained and unpersuasive.
  As we have already seen, Lee invokes the East Asian 'literati' tradition with the use of calligraphy ink, landscape imagery, and the diary. Less obviously, but just as significantly, there is the use of text panels, as described above. They both explain how the works were made, and their significance within Lee’s wider project. But in providing cues to interpretation (over and above the essential context), there is always the danger of these texts being prescriptive. Should art tell us what to think?  
  Part of the gentle joy delivered by a work such as Chuseongbu: Landscape on an autumn night (Fig. 4) by the Korean literati painter Hongdo Kim, with its source poem by the Song dynasty writer and politician Ouyang Xiu, is in abstraction: both poem and painting give us only the most evocative details. The essential focus of the literati painter, although he was interested in making minor refinements in style, was in preserving the past and its traditions. In this case, the painter harks back to a work by a poet working over seven centuries earlier. Lee’s project is more complex: to preserve Korean cultural traditions at the same time as embracing contemporary technology. But might an artwork such as Daejeon Summer of 2023 demonstrate the impossibility of being both things at once? 
Fig. 4. Hongdo Kim (1745–c.1806 to 1814), Chuseongbu: Landscape on an autumn night (with poem by Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072). Image Courtesy of Korea Database Agency
Turning the corner, I find 'Obangsaek': five prints on the reverse side of the wall displaying the plaster discs. In this reiteration come distillation of Daejeon, Summer of 2023, the patterns evoke (even more than in the original plaster works) the literati’s ink wash paintings. A unique set of five colours has been used to make these works, which represent the traditional Korean 'Obangsaek' palette. The term is a direct translation of 'five-orientation-colour', encapsulating the core Korean hues of white, black, blue, yellow, and red which in turn correspond to the essential elements underpinning the universe in traditional Korean cosmology. 
  Green is notably absent and is intentionally extracted from the RGB colour model used for the next work, 'Two Mountains', which faces 'Obangsaek' in a long, corridor-like space. Here, Lee pays an homage of sorts to the painter Paul Cezanne's obsessive depiction of Provence’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. But in Lee's version, the artist uses ultraviolet printing onto two carpets to evoke memories of Yongmasan, the mountain near which he lived as a child. Loaded with Feng shui symbolism for the local population, it remains largely untouched, but overlooks a landscape now dominated by urban sprawl. As a boy, struggling with tuberculosis and (like Proust) asthma, the artist convalesced here, and remembers the local milk that sustained him at this time. Gallery visitors are invited to use their mobile phones to light up the mountains, bringing the iridescent blues and reds of the carpets' weave to life amid the green gloaming of the nearby 'Mumbling Window'.
Making their first appearance here (if one walks, as I am, anti-clockwise through the exhibition), intermittently dotted on plinths alongside the Two Mountains carpet pieces and the Daejeon, Summer of 2023 prints, I find three of Lee's signature pieces, Fresh Nature, Black Milk. These are small black sculptures based on the international standard two litre milk carton, each of which has been cast in plaster, covered with black calligraphy ink, and embellished by hand-painted golden leaf. I am not a vegan, and usually unthinkingly consume it, but a drink produced by cows and goats for their offspring and consumed by humans suddenly strikes me as a profoundly odd, perhaps wicked, thing. Milk has carried deep cultural significance for millennia, symbolising purity, fecundity, the divine and even life itself. The artist cites ancient Christian beliefs that blood became a sanctified white as it approached the heart, and esoteric Buddhist beliefs about enlightened beings experiencing their blood turning white. [9]
  One of the most celebrated passages in A la recherche features a baroque description of the Narrator eating the crumbs of a madeleine cake dipped in lime-blossom tea. Sensual delight (sight, smell, taste) sparks the aching pleasure-pain of nostalgia. Milk is Lee's madeleine: I know the milk carton as white, but I see it here as black. 
  For Westerners, 'lactose intolerance' signifies a lack, but it might be more appropriate for us to consider the perversity of our relatively recent 'tolerance' for the lactose of other animals, especially when they are reared under industrialized conditions. The Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan comes to mind. He was interned for eighteen months in the Nazi death camps (which used technologies borrowed from industrialized farming) and his parents were deported and eventually murdered there. One of his best-known poems, 'Todesfuge' ('Death Fugue') opens with this stanza: 

  Black milk of morning we drink you evenings
  we drink you at noon and mornings we drink you at night
  we drink and we drink
  A man lives in the house he plays with the snakes he writes
  he writes when it darkens to Deutschland your golden hair Margarete
  he writes and steps in front of his house and the stars glisten and he whistles his dogs to come
  he whistles his jews to appear let a grave be dug in the earth
  he commands us play up for the dance
Fig. 5. Jinjoon Lee, Manufactured Nature: Irworobongdo, 2023. Dan Weill​​​​​​​ ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK. 
Moving into the smallest room in the exhibition, in its far corner, I find two earlier video works, drawn from the previous decade of the artist’s career, that explore his speculation about a certain space that might exist, that needs to exist in his imagination, in order for his soul to make progress. 2022’s Manufactured Nature: Irworobongdo (literally, 'Painting of the Sun, Moon and the Five Peaks': Fig. 5, left) takes its name from traditional Korean folding screens. These highly stylized landscape paintings, invariably featuring five mountain peaks, the sun and moon and were always set behind the king’s royal throne during the Joseon Dynasty [11]. The sun and moon symbolize the king and queen, and the five peaks, a mythical place. A passage from Lee’s recent doctoral dissertation indicates how his recollections of these screens conflated themselves with childhood memories of his grandfather’s’ study and garden, and with disorientating plane trips between the Far East and Western Europe:

When I would stand beneath those streetlights, I would stare at the trees lining the road. Each of those trees had been growing somewhere else until its roots had been slashed away, and it was moved to this new space, where it was forced to put down new roots and grow expressionless in the space between road and pavement. Whenever it rains or the wind blows, I feel as if those trees stand guard, acting as the true heroes of the city’s story. Is it because they’ve collected too much dust from the city? Or perhaps because of the way they stand stiffly at exact intervals perfectly spaced from each other? In their mother forests, they would have never stood this way. Clearly, those trees were living things, but somehow they felt manufactured. Manufactured nature... It formed a portal of sorts. Those trees — with their perfect spaces and intervals, covered in their city dust; casting their strange shadows as they moved under the streetlights — they whispered to me about where I came from. In the middle of the night, London can be a quiet place, but the sounds of the busy city day still linger in the trees. I would walk amongst them, as they guided me through the city maze until the early hours of morning. It always felt as though if I went just a little farther, those trees would take me to a secret place, one only they knew. A place that would take me away for a moment from the stage on which I was living. I felt almost like I was walking around inside the painting in the scroll you used to show me in your study, Grandfather. As you would unroll the scroll before me, I could see a flower, a stone, a stream, a snow hill, a tree; and they whispered to me of things which can’t be found in the city. Those whispers must have come from some wide space outside of the study, brought from nowhere in somewhere by a gust of wind. Somewhere along the way, our concept of speed has become confused, in their understanding of space and time. As the concept of ‘lived time’ has disappeared from our age of instant information, we have become virtually unable to feel space through our senses. If we hope to not lose that in-between space, where, ever-shrinking, it sits between start and finish, we will have to pay closer attention. It is said that the space between start and finish has been lost, but I yearn for that place which exists somewhere but isn’t anywhere, that ‘nowhere in somewhere’. A place like my grandfather’s garden. Is that why I miss my childhood in the shadow of Masan’s red mountains? Is it because I’ve travelled so far away — because we as people have travelled so far from the nature we were born to? Here on my plane from Somewhere to Nowhere, I feel I’m starting my own journey — one that will take me through the smells and sounds of my memory to meet my grandfather. One that will take me to nowhere in somewhere. [12]

The screen on the left shows mountains, forests, seas and rivers scenes filtered in green, and on the right, with a higher degree of pixelation, what might be similar scenes, but morphed into almost complete abstraction and cast in complementary reds and blues. The longer I look at these looped videos, the more unnerved I become. The scenes change at the speed of thought. The transitions also put me in mind of the children's origami finger game which purports to tell players their future: just at the point where an image becomes legible (a tree, a mountain pass), then it 'folds' back into itself, rapidly becoming something else. Thinking of the passage from his dissertation, and knowing how deeply the artist is affected by plane travel, I think of the dual consciousness immigrants must balance between their home and adopted countries. I’m also put in mind of black box recorders and the painstaking work carried out by forensic scientists as they piece together the last moments of a plane's flight before a crash. The piece also somehow encapsulates the rather queasy sense of hope that the little I know about AI creates in me. It suggests a hyper reality in which human experiences can be sped up and downloaded. Where am I?
A wall perpendicular to the one on which Irworobongdo hangs displays another diptych: two more short video pieces, both from the Nowhere in Somewhere series. Blind Sound in Sound Mirrors, (Fig. 5: right) from 2017, is a digital montage showing cows in a field in the foreground whilst, on the horizon, a tower block is destroyed and rockets are propelled into the air. There is something curiously quaint and awkward about this piece, with it rather heavy-handed 'nature/culture' juxtaposition. That dichotomy is still present in Lee’s newer works, but tends to be more sensitively staged through how video is projected in galleries. In Daejeon, Summer of 2023, or 2018 and 2022’s Green Room Garden, layers of time and space are spread across the installation itself, rather than sitting within a quasi-cubist single-frame pictorial space. 
  Next to Blind Sound, Zero Ground in Hiroshima offers a peaceful mediation on war and humankind’s vexed relationship with itself and the rest of nature. As with Blind Sound, a fixed camera angle shows us a view with figures (this time people) animating the scene. The focal point of the composition is the famous Genbaku Dome, the city's peace memorial by virtue of its being the only structure left standing in the region where, in 1945, the USA detonated ‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb ever to be detonated over a populated area. The Dome is seen simultaneously from two angles, a range of related views patched around it. It is as if one of David Hockney’s photo-joiner works from the early 1980s has come to life: as with the other video diptych in this room, the Olympian view, with Hiroshima’s ant-scaled citizens moving amongst the ruins, hints at the fragility and transitoriness of the entire human enterprise. 
Moving away from this small installation, to reach the final parts of the exhibition, I need to walk the entire length of Mumbling Window. I have already encountered it in part, through the way that the green tint infuses the atrium, but like a musical refrain swelling to its climax, only now does the true significance of the colour come to the fore. I now understand that directly through the window, I can see live scenes that are being relayed to the video in the exhibition’s central room, caught between the two walls of Daejeon, Summer of 2023. As well as its connotations of nature, green can suggest the media limbo of the TV production 'green room', where actors and studio guests are given hospitality before making live appearances. It can suggest 'green screen', a form of chroma key compositing, a VFX and postproduction technique for layering two or more images together. I am also struck by the thought of 'being green' meaning 'naïve' about the exhibition's contents: I didn't know what the relayed video scenes of the central room were until I saw the 'real' thing here. Lee's childhood illness; Proust's childhood illness; nausea; trapped and waiting; the 'secondary gains' of sickness; the imaginative space created by the body's limits...
  I now encounter two more black milk bottles, cast directly in Mumbling Window green. That double quality again: the knowledge of white's purity and sustenance; the image of black's 'corruption' and exploitation. Again, black milk for Lee; madeleine for Proust. Proust's cake elicits a host of recollections nested within one another, a potentially endless chain of memories that both ache with childhood’s irretrievability and seem somehow to promise such untainted pleasures might be recaptured: that ‘lost time’ might indeed be regained. The first four cartons I had seen were embellished only with sumi ink and gold leaf, but the final carton (Fig. 6), accorded its own triangular nook and looking out onto Northumberland Avenue, has one further addition: a single, slender artificial tree branch in its mouth making the carton a vase of sorts, and offering a light note of hope, like the olive leaf brought back in the mouth of the dove that Noah sent out after the flood.
Fig. 6. Jinjoon Lee, Fresh Nature: Black Milk, 2023. Artificial tree branch, M10 plaster, sumi ink for calligraphy and golden leaf sculpture, 22 x 30 x 60 cm. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK.  
Returning into the atrium: the first and final room of the show, I find the eponymous title piece: 'Audible Garden' (Fig. 7) is a huge, site-specific wall painting measuring over eight metres across and three metres in height. It is another data visualization: a scatter plot derived from information originating in the work the artist made immediately prior to this, Daejeon, Summer of 2023. The camera in that piece captured a unique visual texture of each spinning stone plate, reading a sole, centrally-drawn vertical line. During its scan, the initially circular arc was morphed into a straight line. Its pixel value (a conversion of grayscale values) was then mapped onto eighty-eight corresponding piano notes. The grayscale pixel value informed the velocity of each MIDI note, effectively behaving as a translation system. This velocity is now visually represented through the size of the dots in the scatter plots. Here, the X-axis signifies time, while the Y-axis shows a range of MIDI notes. Each dot is directly proportional to the corresponding MIDI note’s velocity: the larger the dot, the greater the velocity, providing a landscape-like representation of the initial sonic information. The mural is a pleasant spectacle, but I cannot help feeling, in part because of its overwhelming size, underwhelmed by this penultimate work. But it also helps me pinpoint the weaknesses of the show. Lee is self-consciously working, at least in part, in a conceptual art tradition, where the means by which a work is made (and in his case, this includes additional data not directly related to the physical properties of the work itself), are intended to be considered as significant, if not more so, than the work’s visual qualities [13]. But such works tend to succeed only when the idea one is being asked to carry in one’s head as a reader/viewer is in some way ‘graspable’ as poetry. For me, this has been the case with almost all of the works in the show, but Daejeon, Summer of 2023 and Audible Garden ask too much of me. 
  These two centrepieces suggest most forcibly the irreconcilability of the literati/conceptualist positions. Whilst Lee nods at the traditions of the former in a respectful manner, many of his works feel stubbornly conceptual in nature. Perhaps this is rooted in his use of emergent technology. Writing and painting are of course themselves ‘technologies’, albeit of an ancient form, but the pleasure we can take in Hongdo’s brushwork rests in part on the transparent history behind it. Even a person completely untrained in ink wash or any form of painting can see how earlier artists influenced his spiky lines. There is a parallel with poetry, where anyone fluent in the language (or to some degree with pictographic languages such as Chinese, even those who do not understand the language) can find the history of a word in its own construction, and enjoy the discovery. For example, the word ‘garden’ has its roots in Middle English, from the Old Northern French gardin, a variant of Old French jardin, and is related to ‘yard’. By contrast, unless you know the software behind Daejeon, Summer of 2023, some essential qualities of the work remain completely opaque. The descriptions of the way in which one form and set of data becomes another exhausts my capacity to hold the means of their construction in my head. 'Digesting' the textual elements of these works really does feel like being asked to memorize lines and lines of an unfamiliar computer code. I feel slightly exhausted. 
Fig. 7. Jinjoon Lee, Audible Garden, 2023. Site-specific wall painting, 804 x 324 cm. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK.  
Exhaustion is a familiar state to many people working in academia. The increasing marketization of universities means they must extract ever more 'resources' from their staff and students. There is an artful reference to this state of things in the final work, Thrown and Discarded Emotions: Brainwave Scholar Stone (Fig. 8). As well as being an artist regularly exhibiting internationally, Lee is an Assistant Professor at a prestigious university in Korea, and the demands made by combining the two roles and a personal life are hinted at here. Once again, these pieces (plaster and ink sculptures) use processed data and are an amalgamation of contemporary technology with a centuries-old East Asian tradition. 'Scholar’s stones', known respectively in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures as gongshi, suiseki and suseok, are small, naturally occurring rocks that usually placed on a desk: objects for decoration and contemplation in the withdrawn space of a study. Lee has collaborated with neuroimaging specialists to trace and transcribe his own brainwaves into 3D-printed form, making visible a decidedly opaque and private human experience. The waist-high towers of 'Thrown and Discarded Emotions' (note the neat pun on a ceramist’s throwing of clay) look a little like bed post pillars: they record every conceivable emotion experienced by the artist over an unspecified period.
  These five pieces are arranged in a row with their own small plinths. Despite their elegance, like the Audible Garden piece that they face across the room, I feel slightly disappointed by them as a concluding part of the show. Despite what the wall text tells me about the way the sculptures (bring) 'a new degree of tangibility to the eternal human experience' I feel nothing, and for the first time, the Lee-Proust comparison falters. In the artist's defence, I find myself claiming that such a 'blank', muted artwork could be read as a critique of sorts of how we are increasingly expected to live and work in industrialized economies. Is this Lee's 'data biome' laid bare?
Fig. 8. Jinjoon Lee, Thrown and Discarded Emotions: Brainwave Scholar Stone, 2023. M10 plaster, sumi ink for calligraphy, dimension variable. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Center UK.
Whilst finishing this writing, I attend a silent retreat near Dartmoor in Devon, UK. As we eat, clean, meditate, and mutely walk the lush, leafy grounds of the centre together, I muse on the fifty or so other residents' faces. For a few days, I am living in a moving painting. I think of Jin’s grandfather’s study, the scroll unfurling in front of Jin’s infant eyes. I have never met any of the other retreatants before and will likely not see many of them again: I am challenging myself not to judge any of them, but only myself, and only the impressions I make of them. I am trying to stay with my thoughts, not within them. I am struck by how, without knowing their names, and having few other means of identifying or knowing them, I categorise each of them, by age, sex, skin colour and assumed race, but also by association: X reminds me of a work colleague who often irritates me; Y (an elderly woman) of the writer Norman Mailer; Z of my mother. I revisit Jin’s exhibition many times, its colours, sounds and rhythms fermenting slowly in my head. 
  I realise that this essay has challenged me in part because of the artificially 'neutral' critical stance I have been professing to take. But Jinjoon is not an absent figure, an anonymous 'Artist' I can judge impartially. He is my friend, a fellow artist, someone whom I envy (the right envy, not a green envy: artists will know what I mean), for whom I worry, for whom I want the best, for whose company I pine. My essay needs to declare this. And I think about how each person can remind us of another, perhaps acutely so with 'significant' others. Nearly thirty years ago, in my late teens, I became estranged from a dear friend. His name is Jethro Green. I mull over how those three gentle syllables form a dactyl (‘tum-ti-ti’) and how both Jethro and Jin share my first name (and nickname’s) initial, J. There is even a half-rhyme in their surnames, and a garden association in them: Jethro’s ‘Green’ to Jin’s ‘Lee’ (‘plum’ in Korean):

Jethro Green
Jinjoon Lee
I think about the physical resemblances between the two men, especially in two graduation photographs of them: a certain stillness and strength, especially in the eyes and jaw. And I think of their facility with numbers and technical information, something I have always admired.


'Oh you're doing it wrong, dissecting the bird
Trying to find the song 

I have described my experience of Audible Garden as I moved anti-clockwise around the exhibition’s five gallery spaces. But I could just as easily have moved around it clockwise. In search of lost space, I revisited the show a week after my first visit, retracing my steps in reverse. Again, the sounds of Hanging Garden were the first thing that washed over me: bird song and gentle ambient noises created an audio balm, but now what had previously been the blankly overbearing qualities of the Audible Garden mural greeted me, a fresh visitor in a sunnier mood than on my first visit, as the second, rather than the penultimate, work in the show. I expected less of it, and it felt lighter: more of a curtain opener than an attempt to make a single statement. I now considered Mumbling Window and Fresh Nature: Black Milk with a more intense sense of the literarily and symbolically nourishing qualities of the milk for the artist, and of the latter’s implicit, subtle critique of Western industrialization. I was also even more struck by Lee’s light touch. Like, I suspect, many people in ‘developed’ economies (and perhaps this tendency is most acute amongst us Gen Xers), he is both enraptured by emergent technology and distrustful of it: aware we are too deeply ‘plugged in’ to turn back, but in thrall to less mediated experiences of nature that he remembers from childhood. Daejeon, Summer of 2023, along with the video component of Mumbling Window now became the penultimate experiences of the exhibition: there was a crescendo of sorts, with the most layered and dense multi-sensual cascade of the principal room being almost the last experience of the show, before the sweet return of the bird's song and the muffled, babbling memories of 'Hanging Garden' lingered with me as I left.
  In my perhaps overly Western, scholar-manqué, nit-picky fashion, I have found fault with individual works, and, prompted in part by the wall texts, have used the tools of an art critic to imagine how an art historian might strategically 'place' Lee’s exhibition within the traditions of his composite cultures. It is perhaps the brilliance and the absurdity of the Western Enlightenment project that it views existence as knowable: that by minutely examining and classifying it, we can ultimately come to know it better. Like a yin to the West's yang, Eastern Enlightenment, especially in Taoist and Zen Buddhist traditions, leads us in the opposite direction, towards flow, interconnectedness, and the ultimate unknowability of things: a warning, if not an injunction, against 'dissecting the bird'. 
  The whole of this show is more than the sum of its parts. A unique sense of place, and of displacement, of 'nowhere in somewhere' came to me particularly acutely on my second viewing, and in the many remembered visits I have made since. I think again of how Eastern traditions, through first considering, and truly accepting, impermanence, decay, and death, might create a more lasting sense of happiness and joy than the kind to which I imagine Proust clung, like a survivor of a shipwreck clinging to the disintegrating pieces of his past. 
  I’ll never get around to reading the whole thing -I’ll never dive deep enough- but little pieces of treasure from In Search of Lost Time’s sunken trove still glint at me from the surface. I Google the book again and find one more glittering coin, one more piece of coral, one more tiny scholar’s stone that seems to evoke the essentially ultimately optimistic vision Lee offers: 

‘But sometimes illumination comes to our rescue at the very moment when all seems lost; we have knocked at every door and they open on nothing until, at last, we stumble unconsciously against the only one through which we can enter the kingdom we have sought in vain a hundred years - and it opens.’[15]

© Justin Coombes 2023. All rights are reserved.
[1]  The English translations of Proust in this essay are taken from Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, trans. DJ Enright, CK Scott Moncrieff, & Terence Kilmartin (London, Vintage Classics, 1996). Quotations can be found at www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/233619.Marcel_Proust 
[2]  See Victor Turner, ‘Liminal to Limonoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual’ in Rice Institute Pamphlet - Rice University Studies, vol 60, no 3, 1974
[3]  See Dorothy Perkins, Encyclopaedia of China: History and Culture (New York, Facts on File, 1998) 
[4]  Note the Merriam Webster dictionary's two definitions of 'literati' in the West (and compare them with their Eastern counterpart): 1: the educated class also: INTELLENGENTSIA 2: persons interested in literature or the arts.
[5]  See  https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/five-major-types-biomes/#  
[6] See www.ebi.ac.uk and www.ebi.ac.uk/about/news/research-highlights/inventory-human-gut-ecosystem/ 
[7]  See www.tim-spector.co.uk and Tim Spector, Food for Life: The New Science of Eating Well (London, Jonathan Cape, 2022) 
[8]  See https://leejinjoon.com/
[9]  From an e-mail conversation with the artist, 16 Aug 2023.
[10]  Translated by Pierre Joris: see www.poets.org/poem/death-fugue See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todesfuge and https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/paul-celan
[11]  See www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20220119000585
[12]  See Jinjoon Lee, Empty garden: a liminoid journey to nowhere in somewhere at https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:844c3fc4-2a47-46c6-a0ff-30fcff172e2d
[13]  As the artist Sol LeWitt states in Artforum, 'When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all (…) decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art'. See LeWitt, Sol, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, from Artforum, Vol. 5, no 10, Summer 1967 (New York: Artforum International Magazine)
[14] From John Craigie's song, ‘Dissect the Bird', taken from LIVE - Opening for Steinbeck (2018). See www.johncraigiemusic.com
[15] See footnote 1.
About the author
Dr Justin Coombes is a poet, artist and a Senior Ruskin Tutor at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. www.justincoombes.com

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