Nakhee and Nakyoung Sung,
KimKim Gallery, Seoul
Hello. My name is Clemens Krümmel.
I am talking to you from Berlin…
the deep underbelly of Midwestern Europe…
where stuffs happen eight sacred hours later…
I think I might look familiar maybe to only two or three of the people gathered where you are, and these include the resourceful and kind Gregory Maass and Nayoungim who treated me almost like family when I visited Seoul two years ago.
After my stay they invited me to write an essay about their work, since I a work as a writer. It is soon-to-be-published. Also, and that brings me here, they have recently asked me to serve them as an external, outsider commentator to the unusually rich, fertile, irritating, infuriating and enthralling painterly production that has become visible in the latest emanation of their famed and aptly named KimKim Gallery – the thing called “STUFFS!”, produced by the sisters Nakyoung and Nakhee Sung.
I have never met these artists. I have not seen the exhibition I am supposed to comment upon, at least not in person. What I have seen was sent to me in several tiny video clips of about a minute’s length, a lot of pictures taken during the Sung Sisters’ laborious preparations for this exhibition. I have seen a floor plan. I have read another writer’s comment. Etc. I was told their fama. Who does what, who did what. Vaguely. Some temperamental description becomes obvious at first glance, other descriptions don’t fit so well.
This awkwardly angled position to speak about artworks in another part of the world without having shared close range with them is maybe not so new anymore.
Usually, when I try to write about art I like, I try to seriously kid myself that I share a space with some thing of necessary interest, that working as an art critic can include entering into some kind of co-production. Maybe not with the producers, but maybe with their products – or, almost more importantly, with their attitude towards production.
A friend of mine, H.D., is often invited to write essays for friends’ catalogues, but he doesn’t write about them like I think many of us have come to loathe it: features, barely masked, but mostly blunt marketing tools. He writes about what he was occupied with anyway in the moment he was asked to write about the artist’s work. One has to say that he has a unique way of describing artworks on their own terms. But approximately one half of his texts is his own contribution really, theoretical conjectures, comments on what is happening outside the exhibition space and his living room. Reading them, it becomes clear, that his comments and observations are so valuable because he is obviously taking himself as seriously as the artist and her or his work that he is writing about. That he is not only serving a function of sorts, but is involved in another way. Out of his own interest, too.
Didn’t it use to be the expectation toward critics, a kind of professional minimum, to see artworks “in person,” to “share a space” at least for some time, “directly”, “immediately”? To come to the vernissage and, well, be able to “watch the paint dry”?
Initially, I departed from the idea that I would speak to you from here in Berlin – projected right into the middle of that temporary, liminal space they marked out for their “paint-in, ” their almost “live-in” work of weeks. So that I would virtually be inside their space. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference to me, but for you, the audience – because you could have compared my words with something you consider to be Nakhee and Nakyoung Sung’s latest works. As you are clearly aware, even this is not the case. I am in a bar with you, hardly matters if media bar or not. Hope you have drinks. Cigarette vendors that way. Toilets in the back.
I’m saying this in some detail to explain a little what I think is the bigger-than-usual distance in more than one sense that I have to you, the artworks, the artists. My inaccuracy, on top of what inaccuracy I usually have when speaking. Speak softly, bear with me for a little while more. Thank you, Jina, for your valued help with translation.
I think you can see a bit of my background now. I am sitting in a room, as it were. Ha ha. Behind me is my trusted TV set spurning out pictures from the 70s. It’s a French movie, I heard people like French movies in Seoul. It’s about a society where only truncated, mutilated and imprecise communication is enacted. The protagonist played by Michel Piccoli does not speak. He grunts and bellows. In the beginning we see the painfully regulated spaces he permeates. The bloody kitchen, his mom, his sister first. Then the way to work. Then the workplace. Stuffs happening, not very pleasant, authority being waged upon him, some crime, some punishment. Frustrating. Makes him crazy. It’s easy to say, but it seems to be that way.
My point: At one point, a boiling point where the dramatic threads get too entangled, he starts another life. He literally breaks out of his living space. Grabs a wrecking hammer, breaks out the outward wall of his flat.
Grabs the stuffs he finds and throws them down into the street. He makes a campfire in his flat that now looks like an aerie. Policemen gather to take his life. They won’t succeed, not before one of them gets barbecued by Monsieur Piccoli.
Looking at the exhibition across the street you will find that there is a visible attempt to start another life.
I agree when you say it’s different.
But its intended and unintended parts to me describe the yearning for a space that would finally end the processes happening not only in this quarter of Seoul, but somehow similarly in large portions of the world right now. Processes through which the spaces we inhabit lose something. It could be their ambivalence.
Their potential to leave their neatly privatized, capitalized state again.
If only for a week or two.
The last decades of neoliberalism in its many local forms and shapes have brought many many artists to occupy unused urban spaces that fell of capital’s shovel for a moment, to start by squatting inside them, spreading things on the floor, preparing for a longer stay by spreading something like a bed on the floor. Water, Heating, Lighting.
The artists whose works we see here have developed their own visuals, and significantly, also their acoustics.
My impression from my far-away-land is that they are sending out ambivalence, painterly ambivalence if you will. This is not only due to the fact that abstract and figurative, gestural and scriptural elements alternate on the walls, the ceilings, the floors, everywhere.
One could start now to identify who did what. Again. Probably the painting styles of both women are distinctive, recognizably different enough. But here we are confronted with a joint production mode. It’s possible to imagine that the exclamation-like words on the walls represent something brought in from outside, something heard, lingering and ringing in the ears.
The many painted faces, grimacing, sign-like, broadly applied seem to open a mimetic space-within-the-space. In general, it seems almost inevitable to imagine a bodily presence living there, leaving a trace of warmth and concern, a signature applied moving along the walls, ornamental, figural, well, expressive.
The French worker from the 70s who tore out the walls of his habitat-turned-cave, had different intentions, different tools, a different world, a different time. Yet, he represents a similar desire to think, feel, live beyond a bourgeois, urban, determined space. Some of Nakhee and Nakyoung Sung’s gestures seem to me just as raw as if they had broken down the walls. They have developed different ways. It’s not the tired cliché of “women artists” enacting more “communication” than their male counterparts or whatever-(non)parts. It’s a lesson learned from decades of artistic practices in appropriated or temporarily open spaces. Certainly, their work there shows some of the signatures of what an art criticism interested in morphologies and classifications has labeled as “typical” for women’s art – the centrifugal, outward spreading occupying, appropriating, signing movement in space, but also the weaving of a textural network. There would probably be nothing wrong if this were true. But the unbearable intimation that women’s are is to reconcile, harmonize, soothe etc., to be fragile, minuscule, filigree – is most certainly impossible to keep up when we enter the factual and imaginary space of the Sung Sisters. Their artistic intelligence and skill is not limited to languages of painting, it resides in the sometimes disharmonic, sometimes utterly willful, capricious application of their personal, intra-familial, professional ambivalences.
Well, again, here I am talking about a work that is 8157 km away and that I have only come to experience through the not-so-talented iPhone camera work of Gregory. I’m sorry, Gregory! But what is there to do for me, with these ambivalences? How can I hypothetize the spatial, notional, conceptual ambivalences “between” what could be identified as an “image” or a “picture,” a “slogan,” a “portrait” or a “trace,” an “ornament”? What I can grasp in the crystalline, organic, or figurative applications is that there is a logic of moving through space, along the walls, along, between pictures, signs and traces that fill the space – strangely enough in a way that does not stuff the space…
The space used for the Sungs’ stuffs does not correspond to typical models for the first postwar art. So, first, I tried to stick with “Western Standards”. With my own professional “family,” as it were, and just these days, I read something they expressed that made me think about “Stuffs!,” this exhibition across the street, across the web. The talk was between two North American art historians (and art critics) who were of a changeful importance for me for various reasons: Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois. It was about Krauss’s new book “Under Blue Cup” that puts forward a very harsh criticism about the current state of what is considered “installation art”. Funny enough, they weren’t even talking about painting. They were talking about a film-director-turned-installation-artist from Germany, Harun Farocki – and about a Western Standard, a “Best Western” of art criticism, Brian O’Doherty’s “Inside the White Cube” that applied a Foucauldian critique to the white spaces of the then-budding world of art galleries in the West. Their ideology that he found in their aesthetic proximity to what Foucault called heterotopies, clinic, prison, school, etc. So, okay, Krauss talks about Farocki and then saif something about the “White Cube” that I wanted to share with you people there at the Media Bar.
Krauss: “I encountered Farocki’s work in this wonderful exhibition at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, and what really focused my attention was the work called Interface, where what was displayed—I talk about this in the book—was Farocki himself in his video-editing room talking about how he cannot write a video without having two screens, side-by-side. “Interface” is exactly that: two screens, two monitors, side-by-side, mounted on individual pedestals. What struck me was that the eye has to pass between them in order to follow the video. And as you pass between the monitors your eye slips between them, and in a sense hits the wall of the museum which we can call the wall of the white cube; so there is this sense in which anything that might be called installation is countered by the way that the surface of the white cube is figured forth, because you have to encounter it. I really think that to speak of Farocki’s work just as installation is a big mistake, and in the exhibition catalogue, of course they do. For me, he emerges as this extraordinary figure, who is forcing us to encounter the Cube, which at a point in the book I speak of as a swimming pool in order to remove it from the idea of museums as palaces, as mausoleums. I use this image thinking of the sides of the swimming pool. They not only limit the field but also form a solid surface, the rigid surface against which you as a swimmer kick off in order to return across the water, so this sense of the white cube as a sort of——
Bois: Bouncing surface.
Krauss: As this surface against which the eye has to rebound.
Thinking about this, I noticed how appropriate Gregory’s less-than-amateurish camera work was really a valid approach to Nakhee and Nakyoung Sung’s work.
It does have a filmic quality that is more than a “déroulement” that makes the viewer move with a flow of images. It includes techniques of impromptu editing, jump-cuts, repetition, framing, transparence, lucidity, color. Maybe, I thought, admittedly low-tech as it seems, as it relates to urban space, to art space, to the damn white cube – it also or even more relates to an interiorized filmic space.
And since it lets outside images and sounds seep through the walls, as it were, it is on the way to break open any cube or preconception of painting.
Thank you very much.
Now let’s grill some policeman.
Artists Talk: Julio Cesar Palacio, Nakyoung Sung, Nakhee Sung
15th Feb. 2012
Gallery Lounge Be-Hive