The 'Cheonbo' of the Book of Songs (Shijing) sings of the existence of the king bestowed from heaven in the following verses:
"Heaven protects and stabilizes you,
Truly establishing your nation.
As high as the mountains and vast as the land,
Flowing like a river,
As the moon waxes,
As the sun rises,
It shall never fall.
Endlessly, like the lushness of a pine tree,
There shall be no interruption in your succession."
- Interpretation by Professor Lee Sung-mi
The beautiful and majestic scenery of the 'Irworobongdo'* depicted in the poem symbolized our ancestors' cosmology and the presence of kings in the Joseon Dynasty. In this exhibition held at Changgyeonggung Palace, we aim to capture the dignity and grandeur of the Joseon Dynasty through the media installation artwork called 'Media Rock.'
In particular, the video utilizing the changes in nature through AI technology starts with the rising of the sun and concludes with the waxing of the moon. The sea sinks into the clouds, which transform into mountains. The mountains become an island, which then turns into a tree. The tree sinks into a river, which rises as a hill. The hill transforms into waves, which become the sky. The land sinks, transforming into a waterfall that flows and eventually forms a lake. Finally, the lake solidifies into a rock, capturing the fleeting moments of nature's transformations.
In the midst of a thousand years of mist, the media rock is finally created,
Gathering the 'moments' of nature and embracing the 'eternal' time,
May this rock, which embodies the primordial form, blossom before us once again as a media artwork.
Irworobongdo (일월오봉도, 日月五峯圖) is a Korean folding screen with a highly stylized landscape painting of a sun and moon, five peaks which always was set behind Eojwa, the king’s royal throne during the Joseon Dynasty. It literally means "Painting of the Sun, Moon and the Five Peaks" and is also called "Irwoldo" ("Painting of the Sun and Moon") or "Irwolgonryundo" ("Painting of the Sun, Moon and Mount Kunlun"). The sun and moon symbolize the king and queen while the five peaks denotes a mythical place. The screen serves to display the majesty of the Joseon royal court.
Aesthetic experiences between absence and presence
Seong-hoon Lim (Professor of Sungshin University, Art Critic)
1. Space, mass and structures
One autumn day in 2022, when the afternoon sun starts to set down and the evening light gets dusky, I met media installation work of Lee Jinjoon entitled Walk between moment and eternity (hereinafter abbreviated as Moment and eternity) at Changgyeonggung Palace. This installation work created based on AI technology makes us realize how immensely art can take us to a different cultural landscape. This is because the historical and cultural space of Changgyeonggung Palace is arousing our aesthetic sympathy after having been transformed into an artistic space. The square pillar faces of Moment and Eternity present not only multi-layered reproduction of traditional patterns but also a variety of transformations of the sun, moon and nature combined with AI technology. In addition, they symbolically reveal their iconographic meaning through “the digital stone with a bizarre shape”. The work Moment and Eternity is an exhibition that does not intend to put emphasis on the formativeness of the object installed in the space of Changgyeonggung Palace, but interprets the sublime feature of the space through the light of art to open an aesthetic atmosphere from the horizon of understanding interpreted that way. Jinjoon Lee is not only a media installation artist but also a media performance artist. Since he mainly applies technological media in his work, it is fair to say that, for the past 20 years, he has been focusing on non-material art purely in terms of the form. Although he invites diverse images, light, and sounds to his media installation works, it is the sculptural element that effectively forms the basis of his work. This is a crucial point that must not be overlooked when trying to figure out what formativeness is penetrating his work. What is sculpture? It is not easy to find an answer to this question. Nevertheless, we can possibly approach the essential aspects of sculpture in terms of space, mass and structures. Most of the media installations and performances Lee Jinjoon reproduces evokes sympathy corresponding to this essence of sculpture.
Space is the most intrinsic possible condition for sculpture. What does space mean in sculpture? The correlation between sculpture and space cannot be clearly explained in a dichotomous manner. Although we often talk about positive or negative space, this is an excessively formal reference, and it is nothing but a naive word that tries to express the relationship between sculpture and space in an overly simple way. Although the space in his work is not a material one, it is quite hasty to define it as an entirely immaterial space. In the media installation Moment and Eternity, material space is translated and reproduced in the language of art. For this reason, it would be more appropriate to say that the space created according to AI-processed data is the space artistically perceived anew. This is the space of the between and the space of the boundary. There is no eternal moment, and there is no momentary eternity. What is felt as presence is only the between and the boundary. His work Moment and Eternity manifests the between and boundary that transforms from the instant of nature into the light of eternity through the highly concentrated formativeness. The aesthetics of the between and boundary can be evidently sensed in the concept of “artificial gardens” or “artificial nature” that has been constantly emphasized since the artist's early works. There is no space where artificiality and nature are visibly divided. Neither life nor death can ever be understood in a dichotomous manner. Space is a place of life and a place of death at the same time. We can assume that the duality of life and death is intactly revealed in the artistic landscapes the artist is demonstrating.
Mass is an important formative element in the media installation works of Lee Jinjoon. It may sound a bit strange to talk about mass in the image reproduced by media. In fact, mass is often mentioned in traditional sculpture. Mass is a lump, in a simplest term. Nevertheless, this lump has formative variability. In contemporary sculpture, immaterial things and even empty things can be considered mass. For instance, as we can see in Torso by A. Pevsner, formative mass can be embodied even though it is not filled with lumps. In addition, many images realized as media are related to the concept of mass. It is not possible to imagine a media installation work void of the concept of mass. The mass is also vital in the artificial garden work of Lee Jinjoon. This is because the artificial garden itself is enormous mass that can be experienced and expanded in multifarious ways. In particular, the “the digital stone with a bizarre shape” in the exhibition Moment and Eternity at Changgyeonggung Palace presents what the image of mass realized through media is like in a direct and concrete way. In addition to space and mass in his work, we are required to pay attention to the matter of structure. The structure, here, is not a physical structure commonly understood, but a conceptual structure that puts the entire work together as a synthesis. Of course, this structure is not limited to the conceptual realm. This is because what matters in the artwork is the process of seeking how to artistically bring out the tension between senses and concepts.
2. Artificiality, nature and art
Nature is an imperative element in the media installation work of Lee Jinjoon. However, the artist does not carry out nature art, ecological art, or environmental art in a broad sense that presents them in a concrete and direct manner. Instead, it is always “artificiality” rather than nature that is prioritized in his work. Why “artificiality” then? This question carries a philosophical and aesthetic significance. In fact, although we say that it is nature, we know that truly pure nature itself no longer exists. Even if it is called nature, as soon as it is known to humans, it is no longer nature, but the one that is inevitably related to humans. Thus, in a strict sense, nature becomes artificiality and culture. Paradoxically speaking, we cannot meet nature or speak directly about it. There is no such thing as nature. Nature is recalled only through artificiality. Therefore, artificial gardens and artificial nature are artistic representations that evoke new sympathy with nature and remind us of what nature really means to us humans.
Art as artificiality always looks at nature from a new perspective. Paradoxically, formative elements that are extremely delicate yet not easily perceivable are placed at every corner in the artificial garden allowing us to contemplate the most intrinsic nature. Detecting these formative elements is a very important issue in understanding what the aesthetics is incorporated in the axis of his work. Nature presented as artificiality reveals an indefinable relationship between art and nature in a dual way. Kant speaks of this duality in The Critique of Judgment. On the one hand, Kant says that nature is beautiful when it looks like art, but on the other hand, art is beautiful only when it appears to be nature. Although it is difficult to determine what this exactly means, what seems clear is that the relationship between nature and art is being created in a double tension. The artificial garden undoubtedly shows the aesthetics of this tension. In the space of art called “an artificial garden,” the most secret nature coincident with the five human senses is discovered, and art is manifested like nature while nature is manifested like art.
Lee Jinjoon explores and studies how technology relates to the way art exists, beyond the simple artistic use of new technological media. His Moment and Eternity is a media installation work in which the concept of an artificial garden had been expanded. The historical and cultural values of Changgyeonggung Palace arouse new sympathy in the audience through images of nature that had been transformed into media. The space of Changgyeonggung Palace, where humans, technology, art, and nature intersect, is an aesthetic place and a field where the boundary of reflection is created. The work Moment and Eternity shows nature flowing along Changgyeonggung Palace according to non-linear time, in other words, nature transformed into art, inviting the audience to walk through it. Each viewer is no longer a bystander, but an aesthetic subject or a main agent who naturally experiences the aesthetic boundary between nature and art in the artificial garden incorporated with technology. Media icons are not presented as fixed and defined images. Instead, they ask what kind of sparks of images can flare up in the interaction of nature, art, and technology. What do you see while strolling between moment and eternity? Can moment and eternity be spoken about as “presence”? If they cannot be spoken about, are they something that do not “exist”? Or are they something that exist and do not exist at the same time?
3. Presence, absence and experiences
2011 photo exhibition of Lee Jinjoon's Somewhere in nowhere clearly shows the mind of the artist who was working on exploration of the light of media. The formative concept of an artificial garden is identically reflected in this photo exhibition. However, his recent serial exhibition is not entitled Somewhere in nowhere but Nowhere in somewhere. Is there a difference between the two? The answer is “yes and no.” “Somewhere in nowhere” is related to presence as absence, while “nowhere in somewhere” seems to be connected to absence as presence. However, in the end, presence and absence are in a relationship to prove each other. Only through absence, presence is perceived and vice versa. Experiences are multi-layered events that develop in the boundaries between absence and presence. In the synthesis of these experiences, everyday experiences become the artistic ones, and artistic experiences sometimes become everyday experiences in another sense. The space where such absence and presence intersect is the very space of an artificial garden, where we can experience both nature and art.
According to F. Kittler, an aesthetician of technological media, the assumption that presence is visible is no longer valid today. He states that technological media made presence even more invisible than visible. Presence as traditional concept of visibility disappears, while the presence of invisibility realized by technological media is manifested. However, in a manner somewhat different from Kittler, Lee Jinjoon goes beyond the dichotomy “visibility-invisibility” in his work, and tries to reveal the boundary created between the two through the aesthetics of the five senses. His work Moment and Eternity does not just provide visual pleasure to the audience, but allows them to experience the visually perceived presence and the invisibly contemplated absence counting on their five senses. This is also a special aesthetic experience encountered while walking between moment and eternity or on the boundary of the two. The experience between absence and presence evoked in the media installation work of Lee Jinjoon is comprehensive. Synthesis, here, does not mean that the parts are carrying a completed form. This is because synthesis is not given with a stipulated determinacy. Synthesis as an unfinished state invites everything that sets off an aesthetic experience. Technology is what plays a role in making this invitation possible. In this respect, his media installation work is entirely different from media art, which puts emphasis only on the spectacular aspect of technology without a solid aesthetic basis, intending to elicit exclamation of the audience, or installation art, which is nothing but a superficial combination of several technology genres.
Without intending to captivate the audience, he allows them to stay in the in-between space and the boundary, and shows aesthetics in which the multi-layered experiences are comprehensively manifested. In the realm of this synthetic experience, the five senses work in varied ways. In reality, the five senses were not actively applied in sculpture. For example, sound was not considered an element forming the sculpture. Lee Jinjoon intends to represent the experience created through art between absence and presence by way of technological media. This aspiration for this representation is precisely reflected in his multifarious artistic experiments and trials.
While actively developing aesthetics of technological media, he is chiefly interested in the deep understanding of human life, delicate contemplation on nature, new perceptual experiences led by art, social intervention of art, possible conditions of art, and the comprehensive experience related to the amalgamation of many artistic genres. Moment and Eternity, the exhibition held in Changgyeonggung Palace provides a cultural landscape in which the synthetic experience of his media work over the past two decades is artistically integrated and concentrated.
Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation