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Mapping the City

Euyoung Hong

October 19 - October 29, 2017

Nanji Art Show IV
Mapping the City

SeMA Nanji Exhibition Hall
SeMA Nanji Residency

Mapping in a flexible era has become a creative and critical intervention within broader discourses of space and the ways that it may be inhabited. Mapping is freed from the problems of factual legitimacy and authority with which a centric and rationalist model of absolute space has until recently burdened it.

The 2017 Nanji Art Show IV, entitled ‘Mapping the City’ is the 4th group exhibition of recent video, photography and installation works by four domestic resident artists in the 11th term of the SeMA Nanji Residency run by the Seoul Museum of Art, Sejin Kim, Mo Kim, Joseub and Euyoung Hong, and by an external artist, Hye Joo Jun. The exhibition explores the concept of mapping and its relationship with the city, whose meaning and function have constantly been altered and broadened, being transformed into a way of creating new connectivity or network between people, places and times.

Human beings have recognized the importance of maps and mapping to their lives over a long period. Throughout the history of map, mapping has been understood and represented differently depending on its producers and particular purposes within society. An interesting example is the Hereford Mappa Mundi, which was made in the fourteenth century and is currently displayed at Hereford Cathedral in Hereford, UK. This medieval map presents a particular way of reading, organizing and projecting the world. It is one of the largest surviving world maps of the period. However, it is far removed from the maps that people use today. This is not only because most maps in the medieval period were made from limited scientific and geographical knowledge or because it was created almost two hundred years earlier than the exploration of new continents, but also because the monasteries were the centre of knowledge and they tended to dominate mapping to disseminate a Christian world view. The Mappa Mundi reflects traditional medieval mapping, locating Jerusalem in the centre of the world, and is heavily decorated with religious symbols and signs, such as angels and monsters. Significant scientific and technological changes after the sixteenth centuries, under the influence of the Enlightenment, have certainly affected both the tradition of mapping and the projection of the world, with rational ordering of space and time on the basis of an individualistic intellectual movement, detached from religious dominance and ordering. In the evolution or transformation of mapping, the potentiality of mapping can be rediscovered to expand our understanding of the space that we construct, inhabit and occupy, particularly concerning ways in which people perceive and shape the world through the notion of mapping; mapping acts to expand and change existing spatial systems and knowledge.

Changes in understanding and applying the concept of mapping has been accelerated in relationship with post-structuralist phenomena, which drive us to escape from single-voiced historical narratives and from universal and unitary explanation to understand people and the world. Specifically through various art practices and exhibitions, the idea of mapping has been expanded and visualized in different ways and contexts. From land art to conceptual art since the 1960s, many artists have taken up the challenge to create their marks and traces on spaces from the rural to the urban, documenting their journeys or reproducing the sites around them. Richard Long, for example, created many (temporary) site-specific and installation works by the act of walking and marking places, time and distance during his journeys. These works were composed of raw materials, such as stones and rocks, collected from the sites he visited and, in some cases, were documented and presented as a form of photography and text. Other works, such as Christian Philipp Müller’s performance and installation works of the 1990s, made by crossing borderlines between different countries and Gordon Matta-Clark’s site-specific works, such as ‘Splitting (1974)’ and ‘Day’s End(1975),’ explore the limits and contradictions inherent in various spaces and places, creating new possibilities of spatial relations and movements through and beyond existing orders and systems. Some exhibitions, which reconsiders the notions of dislocation and site in experiment with maps and mapping, include Robert Smithson’s ‘Mapping Dislocations’ and Sol LeWitt’s ‘Cut Torn Folded Ripped,’ which were held in James Cohan Gallery in New York in 2001 and 2013, respectively.

‘Mapping the City’ explores the concept of mapping, particularly its changing meaning and function in relationship with space and spatial knowledge built in contemporary society in South Korea. A ‘map’ is differentiated from ‘mapping’. If a map is seen as a finished product, mapping is related to the act of production, which can be understood through Deleuze’s concept of “spatium”. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze describes intensive spatium as an internal difference or inequality, which “is the sufficient reason of all phenomena, the condition of that which appears.” In his concept, extended space (Deleuze calls it equilibrium) is distinguished from intensive space. Extended space refers to actual space or everything that participates in the process of expressing or actualizing external measure or order. Intensive space is considered virtual space or everything else, which develops its potentiality to determine the flow and form of externality. Intensive space is resistant to extensive space, where differences are cancelled out and disappear. In this respect, mapping can be understood as the intensive process of spatial production or intensive spatialization, which focuses more on developing the act and rule of (un)making, passing through existing systems, orders and relations. It is the process of making a connection between everything and everything else, between equality and inequality, between centre and periphery and between the indivisible and the divisible.

In relation to the Deleuzian notion of spatium, the concept of mapping practises and is actualized in a creative yet critical relationship with the space. Mapping is inherently spatial and political, in that it plays a significant role in the (re)construction, change and representation of space and the perception of that space. In other words, mapping generates a new set of relations, which can change existing orders and relations both conceptually and materially. In the practice of mapping, authorship as a political agent expands the domain of its sovereign right from one place to another, without belonging to or being controlled by any existing systems of order and classification. This sovereign right legitimizes the practice of mapping in and through space, forming new spatiality and spatial relations. Mapping is, therefore, seen as the process of making non-hierarchical spatial connections. It creates new visible lines between unrelated people, time, memories, places and spaces. Mapping operates by variations and expansion and produces a map, which can always be detachable and connectable. In this respect, space or spatiality cannot be considered a fixed entity, which simply contains and even classifies things in its static spatial system. In the practice of mapping, spatiality is not only constantly (re)produced, transforming stratified space into permeable space, but also its change expands and directs people’s thought and behaviour in a different way.

This exhibition concerns ways in which mapping can act as new form of collecting, producing, coding, decoding, recording, (re)ordering and visualizing existing spatial knowledge and relations in and through the space of art; and how contemporary changes in perceiving and understanding the world alter the meaning and practice of mapping. As the title of the exhibition indicates, it focuses on the expanded relationship between mapping and space, particularly in the city. Compared with natural spaces or rural areas, which are mostly located outside cities, the city is a contested zone, in and through which new modes of production, socio-political actions and relations are competitively generated, to seize a dominant position in exercising decisive force. In other words, the city can be a proper place to provide more chances to perceive and experience the transformation and conflicts of existing relations and systems in an encounter with new spatial rule and perception. In some countries, particularly South Korea, people tend to use the spaces of the city more actively than those of other countries, not only because over 50% of total population in South Korea are concentrated in the cities, but also because, in many cases, spaces are used simply as an essential means for earning more profits, such as competitive development, investment of residential and commercial places and the occupation and transformation of public spaces. Considering the complex spatiality and spatialization of the cities in South Korea, mapping cannot be understood from a single unitary perspective, as a space is not a fixed entity, but constantly produced and changed in its interrelationship with different forces, movements, relations and perceptions.

The exhibition is structured in four different spaces, perspectives and methods of mapping the city. By developing the idea of mapping, these four artworks visualize specific aspects, moments or places, which have been forgotten, overlooked or invisible, covered with dominant powers and systems of urban space in South Korea. Each exhibition space is transformed by two artists. Sejin Kim’s ‘Day for Night (2014)’ focuses on complex relationships among heterogeneous moments, places and ideas in the city. In this video work, dark and fragmentary scenes of abandoned houses and desolate streets in a removal site in Daejeon alternate with full colourful screens and quickly passing images of urban spaces, such as railroads, subway platform and newly built high-rise buildings. This work explores the space of the city and people’s life and survival in that space, which constantly create unfamiliar moments in the process of urban transformation. When a dwelling space conflicts with rapid urbanization or urban redevelopment, it undergoes a complex social and political process of becoming fragmented, destabilized and fluid, blurring its established boundaries. In the competitive process of urbanization, the particular cycle of expansion, occupation and (re)development of space does not come from a desire as a form of demand; it is categorically related to the dynamics of urbanism, operating to reorganize visualized spaces or constructed territories and generating and reoccupying a new space through the constant process of transformation and expansion, imposed by the conflict between and coalition of heterogeneous elements and forces. The city is (re)produced, (re)mapped and (re)territorialized in dissonance between development and abandonment, between speed and inactivity, and between memory and loss.

Mo Kim and Hye Joo Jun present ‘Gaepo Jugong 1 Danji Tour Project (2017)’, which includes an information booth, installed in the exhibition space and is accompanied with a tour program to Gaepo Jugong 1 Danji Apartments in Gaepo-doing, Seoul. Beyond the nostalgia of the past, this work focuses on expanding and redistributing the disappearing moments and places of Gaepo Jugong apartments, some of the old apartments in South Korea, built in the early 1980s, by transforming their historically unique aspects into a new form of inheritance, for example, the development of tree seeds as a souvenir of the apartments. South Korean urbanization can be characterized as a profit-driven urban renewal project, which takes place on a massive scale and is led by affluent housing owners, the government and large construction companies and private investors. In many cases, the development process is violent, aggressive and unequal. ‘Gaepo Jugong 1 Danji Tour Project’ remaps periods of transformation of an old place through the concept of tourism, or from a tourist’s perspective, which rediscovers not only social and spatial changes in the process of urban redevelopment, but also the disappearance of old trees and facilities and their inherent cultural values, which are also seen as a part of the history of Korean apartment but can easily be overlooked in the dominant system and tendency of economically profit-driven urban redevelopment in South Korea.

Joseub’s new photographic work, ‘Empire (2017)’ is presented as a series along with ‘Eclipse (2013)’. This work unfolds certain aspects of South Korean contemporary society, by looking through a critical, twisted and satirical (re)presentation of the past, particularly the period of the late Joseon dynasty, which is read by the artist as a socially and politically dark age, full of chaos and corruption, in Korean history. The concept of absurdity or of an absurd encounter acts as an essential element for structuring Joseub’s works. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus describes that “the absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” Apart from the traditional dualistic view, absurdity can be considered the logic of difference, which constantly creates a new relationship between heterogeneous things, ideas and elements through the act of defamiliarizing or separating one’s position from existing systems and orders, which are easily taken for granted. Like Joseub’s previous works, this photographic series provides sequenced situations or events of estrangement through the contradictory and discrepant relationship between wry and exaggerated expressions and performances of the actors and desolate and random background spaces, which can also be understood as the depiction of our society and of the social and spatial environment that people shape, between the past and the present, between construction and destruction, and between memory (or history) and reality. This work focuses on discovering critical and conflictual moments that can change and expand our perceptions of history, society and the world, and the meaning of life.

Euyoung Hong’s installation work, ‘Greenhouse Project (2017)’ is composed of a prefabricated greenhouse, constructed from an aluminum frame and semi-clear polycarbonate walls. This greenhouse is filled with abandoned planted pots. These plants were collected from Jeongneung-dong in Seoul over a two months period in 2017, as their previous owners could not take care of them, owing to moving house or simply did not want to keep them. These planted pots are displayed on the large central table inside the greenhouse. In addition to their regular watering, a set of purple grow lights are installed above the plants to give them proper light indoors. ‘Greenhouse Project’ explores the relationship between displacement and space in the city, by examining the movement and traces of abandoned plants. This greenhouse becomes not only a temporary shelter for collected plants, but also a new spatial point, where different things and ideas can encounter each other in a new order, system and context. Hong’s site-specific work, ‘Variable Demarcation (2017)’ creates a rectangular space or boundary from projected light on the street outside the gallery. As this light remains only for twelve hours roughly 9am to 9pm during a day, the border of the temporarily projected space becomes faded, disappeared or brightened in the changing conditions of the exterior. Hong’s light work is based on social and spatial problems, arising from urban space, particularly the space of urban homelessness.

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