by Minji Chun (Art Critic)
The soft glow of the green light dances and flickers in the exhibition space. The gentle illumination casts an ethereal ambiance, creating tranquil shadows that envelop the visitors. A number of tourists and red double-decker buses visible through the translucent Mumbling Window (2023) start to lose their grip on reality and fade. A tranquility pervades the air, as if one has been transported to a parallel universe where only Jinjoon Lee’s garden exists. Soon, the space becomes a portal to an alternate dimension, where time seems to stand still, and the boundaries of perception are challenged. As a garden that Lee has created over time, the exhibition invites the audience to embark on a sensory journey, where the harmonious blend of visual and auditory elements transports them to a realm of contemplation and introspection. 

  Audible Garden, which was held at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, is Lee’s first solo exhibition in over 10 years since Artificial Garden in 2011. Through the use of sound installations and interactive sculptures, the artist has transformed the static nature of a traditional garden into a dynamic and immersive experience. Lee, who has meticulously studied the liminoid experience and liminal space through light, sound, and East Asian Garden philosophy, envisions the intersection of art, technology, humans, and space. By blurring the boundaries between the real and digital worlds and exploring how media and technology are reorganizing contemporary human society, he showcases his own innovative approach to art that pushes the limits of traditional mediums. The whole audiovisual spectacle breaks down the external division between inside and outside, rebels against existing spatial perceptions, and enables multisensory experiences. This synthesis of artistic practice and technological innovation not only questions established norms of artistic expression but also hints at its own potential in the near future.

  Daejeon, Summer of 2023 (2023), which takes up most of the space, is a work of synesthetic exploration employing time, memory, and space as elements. In the process of engraving personal experiences into plaster casts, the artist adopts the form of an LP record, which actually rotates on a turntable instead of functioning as a mere displayed object. The patterns carved in ink on each plate are converted into 88 unique notes through camera sensors and data sonification technology creating a melodic structure. In this way, the plasterboard is redefined as a living object, and the fragments of everyday life trapped in the physical dimension are read as soundscapes. The eponymous work of the exhibition, Audible Garden (2023), installed as a site-specific mural in the central section, unfolds the distinctive visual texture of each plate by reprocessing it in the form of dots. It is, in fact, a graph composed of the X-axis, which represents time, and the Y-axis, which represents the MIDI note index. However, as the sound data is translated visually again, the work unexpectedly echoes the tradition of the landscape painting Sansui. Without a doubt, the dots on the graph resemble brushstrokes, creating a sense of depth and movement within the composition. This unanticipated link opens up interesting new avenues of thought about the complex relationship between nature and technology.

Jinjoon Lee, Daejeon, Summer of 2023, 2023. M10 plaster and sumi ink for calligraphy sculpture, turntable, two real-time web camara, two-channel video and sound installation, Dimension variable. ⓒ Sungbaek Kim

  Across from the mural is a technologically enhanced audio tapestry installation titled Hanging Garden (2023), which draws inspiration from the artist’s life and works, including his childhood. Lee, who also takes an autobiographical approach in this work, collects and randomly arranges the sounds of birds chirping, the noise of water flowing, and the urgent siren of an ambulance in order to share auditory memories. The pieces of the past that he carried speak to the audience in the exhibition hall through 12 hyper-directional speakers as if inviting them into the artist’s inner garden rather than slowly eroding away by the forces of time. This way, the sound gently reverberating in the exhibition drifts through the space, probing the divide between personal experiences and shared memory. Simultaneously, the immersive auditory experience invites visitors to reflect on the interconnectedness of human perception and the power of sound to evoke emotions and memories. Meanwhile, Thrown and Discarded Emotions (2023), a plaster sculpture work that embodies emotions such as fear, anger, and happiness, combines contemporary neuroscience with the East Asian scholar’s rocks. Neuroimaging techniques read unseen brain wave patterns, and the traces of emotions that escape the body are restored to familiar traditional shapes and form part of the artist’s garden. Lee highlights the intricate relationship between our inner emotional landscapes and our external surroundings by incorporating neuroscience.

Jinjoon Lee, Thrown and Discarded Emotions, 2023. 
Plaster and ink sculpture, Dimension variable. Dan Weill ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

  As seen in a series of Lee’s recent creations, in the contemporary era, advancements in technology are part of the seamless integration of the human mind, experience, memory, and environment. Another example is Fresh Nature: Black Milk (2023), which is made of plastic milk bottle waste. It is a reminder of the natural cycle and an ode to the tradition of scholar’s rocks. Not only does Lee’s intentional use of recycled plastic milk bottles raise awareness about the waste, but it also pays homage to ancient traditions that revered the balance between humanity and the natural world. Similarly, in the hallway, the UV-printed Two Mountains (2023) depicts the landscape of Yongmasan Mountain, with which the artist’s nostalgia is woven, leading to participatory and active appreciation using a flashlight. This interactive element adds another layer of depth to the piece, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the scenery and further appreciate it. Nature is no longer separate from technology but rather intertwined, interpenetrated, and interconnected with it. In the same vein, technology does not serve as just a tool or an object but also as a reflection of our values, beliefs, and cultural perspectives. Borrowing the discussion by philosopher Yuk Hui (b. 1978), it is crucial to “reexamine the diversity of cosmotechnics, or how technology is infused with a worldview.” [1]  Regarding this, he also purported, “[t]he new nomos of the earth has to be thought according to the history of technology and its future.” [2]  That is, what the artist uncovers are the complex ways in which technology influences our perception of the world and vice versa, ultimately leading to a more holistic understanding of human experience and lives in general. 

  Certainly, the audience’s physical presence in the gallery serves as a conduit for Lee’s accentuated border space, which links inward reflection to external engagement. This means that the blending of seemingly opposites—nature and technology—is evident not just in the space itself but also in the presence of curious observers. These spectators become integral agents of the investigation into the interface between nature and technology. Then, one must ponder: How do we take this momentary stroll through the garden into which the artist invites us? His invitation prompts us to question how we can extend ephemeral experience beyond the confines of the garden and apply it to our own lives. Therefore, within this context, we are about to transcend the borderlines of our own perspectives and connect with the universal themes of Lee’s world within the grand tapestry of existence. As we have already set out on this journey of profound change, perhaps it is time to reorient our future ways of being-to-come in relation to one another and the cosmos writ large.
[1]  Yuk Hui (Interview), “Singularity Vs. Daoist Robots,” Noēma Magazine, 2020. 
[2]  Yuk Hui, “For a Planetary Thinking,” e-flux Journal, 2020.
About the author 
Minji Chun is an award-winning art critic, curator, and translator based in Seoul and Oxford. A doctoral candidate in History of Art at the University of Oxford, she is interested in overlooked histories and spaces, focusing on Korean contemporary art. 
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