Euyoung Hong
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The Translation and Production of Urban Space


Hyun Jung (Assistant Professor, Inha University)

To what extent may a space be read or decoded?

Under capitalism, the city became the center of gravity.

Euyoung Hong has been consistently exploring the living condition of city dwellers, and urban ecology, which is constantly produced and made to disappear. The city is a space, wherein all the ideals pursued by humankind are gathered. According to Italo Calvino, the city cannot be described only by its form; rather, the city is formed by large and small events and anecdotes in it. If civilization is considered a process of governing nature, the city can be the destination of the process. At some point, the city seems to enter a state of being, to some degree, outside the domination of humankind. Henri Lefebvre left a similar opinion as that of Calvino. He considers the practice of space as the act of linking city dwellers’ everyday life, labour and leisure. It is, therefore, the logic that the urban is produced by gathering living in urban space (spatial practice), planning (space planning) and the act of representing them (representation of space and representational space). Calvino’s poetic words depict the city’s emotions - sadness and happiness; pain and joy - in a literary figure, but Lefebvre focuses on ‘the production of space’, which originates from the relationship between space and power. What, then, if Hong’s works are applied to Lefebvre’s perspective? Hong’s works are based on the premise that the concept of landscape is considered as the elements that constitute the city, rather than the city landscape as scenery. It includes architecture, a street, a map, redevelopment planning, the interior of architecture, and even a human being, who lives in the city, and nature. The process of understanding these elements becomes an opportunity to discover how a space is composed of and produced by the influence of something.

Negative space, from the visible to the representation of the social

Consider land art. The subject of ‘the relationship between land and value’ behind Hong’s works is somewhat relevant to land artists’ experiments. At the time of the appearance of land art, modernism was heading for an aesthetic plan, which monopolizes on the purity of media through a medium’s particular condition. Artists developed mixed media and conceptual art to resist it; the appearance of land art derived from this stream. Land art set the territory, which was the target of struggle and construction, free from the frame of capital and development. Land art was presented as a certain state, which is neither a thing nor a sculpture nor a painting. It is impossible to have an exhibition at a typical art space. This attitude towards a work of art and site-specificity can be understood as resistance to modernist art. If the negative, in this context, is considered an attempt to arouse the delay of development and the shift of viewpoints, Hong’s ‘negative’ deconstructs urban conditions. She represents the negative, which is not the surface of the visible city, but what is hidden behind the surface. The negative is understood in a figurative sense, and focuses on many personal living conditions inside an architectural space, rather than on a building as the object of research, which functions as an element of the city. Her work represents not the life of city dwellers but the space of life as a minimum unit for survival, that is, the condition of space.

In all her works, including her current works, Hong has developed various experiments to read and rewrite the city. Above all, Fragmented Space, which was begun in 2009, is a work of art that constantly asks how an infinite space concept can coexist with a finite city. According to Hong, Fragmented Space was made by extracting a part of everyday space, taking out of context and recontextualizing this part of everyday life as an aspect or a proof of a contemporary phenomenon or of urbanization. Hong does not rashly transform this extracted ‘urban scene’ into an emotional interpretation or (social) remains; rather, the fragments of everyday life are used to create a thoroughly recontextualized object. Fragments become a formative material and are produced as the possibility to obtain the new. Fragmented Space is like a pure object and can be seen as a concept, derived from the readymade. In particular, all the fragments are painted white so that they are given the concept of decolourization. Here decolourization does not indicate the disappearance of colour, but is an essential process of erasing the given meaning of found objects. In addition, compared with her early works, which have more sculptural characteristics, Hong’s recent works permeate the inside of the city little by little, developing observation and intervention around the site. Her interest focuses gradually on temporary spaces, which parasitize in the crack or gap of substantial city. Temporary space can be seen as an informal space, which can be easily folded and unfolded like a pojangmacha (mobile market stall). Her site-specific works, such as Waiting Room (2012) and House Project: Settling into the Vulnerable (2012) can be read as another reality of the Korean nation, which produced the miracle of economic development in a very short period of time.

In this respect, Hong analyses and diagnoses ways in which utopian plans, which are built on the ideology of capitalism, rule over the space of life. It is actually impossible to evaluate the absolute value of dematerialized land and the buildings constructed on the land in themselves. Hong’s perspective reminds of exchange value in Marx’s Capital. In short, A Study for the Space of Han Pyeong (2016) takes a view of the relationship between life and social conditions, by providing a minimum physical space for survival. The concept of ‘han pyeong’ is understood not only as the smallest unit, which represents a class of city dwellers, but also as a barometer, which directs how urban life, which is confined to the frame of capital, acts as a mechanism that exploits a person. These series of experiments draw a discordant conclusion (which is very natural, yet still problematic) on the conflict between physical sizes, that is, lands and values, that are produced by the logic of capitalism. The concept of the negative that penetrates Hong’s work can help in interpreting the absurd state or condition of urban space, made by supercapitalism.

The urban

Arjun Appadurai, an anthropologist, frequently uses the term, ‘scape’ to argue that we necessarily pass through the outside and the inside and through the interior and the exterior to understand a certain flow, because a hybridized, fragmented and multiculturalized contemporary city cannot be understood as a form, which is composed of physical conditions. The position of cultural geographers is similar to that of Appadurai. They emphasize that the scape in the urban age is understood not only as a visual representation and a sociocultural symbol, but also as a result, which is formed by the logic of political economic power. Hong’s work unfolds these overall phenomena of the city through the methods of experience and conceptual interpretation. She applies the negative to deconstruct absurd urban conditions; this is similar to the strategy of a kind of appropriation. Before the negative is discussed, I will deal with what is ‘the urban’ first. The urban refers to the image of the future that Lefebvre predicted. He thought that the future city will become similar to a theme park in Las Vegas. However, Merrifield unravels the urban in the following manner. The transition from the city to the urban is “ … a motion from urban phenomenology to the existentialism of the urban. This is no longer a matter of developing a new theoretical understanding of the city under capitalism, but a problem of tackling an affective being in an increasingly urbanized world.” Merrifield, then, views the urban not simply as a physical city, a geographical territory, an economic capitalist view of interpretation, but as an existence produced by a very complex emotional state, which is composed of all these phenomena. Hong’s concept of the negative is, therefore, the process of encountering urban space before everything. In this process, various spaces are read and all the desires and wills - failures and shame, fears and hopes - projected into the spaces, are discovered. Through using physically restricted spaces, the attitude of an urban dweller towards the city can be made to appear through an affective being. Curtain Room (2017) is an installation work, in which a structure, covered on four sides with curtains, hangs in the air. Light and sound ooze through the gaps between the curtains. This work represents a space in Manhattan, New York, in which the artist stayed for a short period. This was actually a sublet space; the original tenant subdivided the living room with curtains. It is apparent that the lives of the occupants influence each other through the tiny space and the thin curtain; the occupants necessarily continue to make an ‘affective relationship’. This relationship with the others continued, which is quite different from the healthy future of communities, often introduced by the media. Their consciousness controlled each other and their bodies were nervous. In this way, the urban penetrates the very private lives of people.

Space is sensitive. This is because space is influenced by people’s manners and attitudes in developing and consuming it. The form of life will be actualized through entanglement with the elements that compose a space, such as a street and a building, nature and civilization, business and dwelling or the public and the private. The space is vulnerable in history and power and dominated by them. In this way, it can be viewed that the exterior of space is inherent in the causality of power in its invisible inside. Lefebvre argues, “In the dominated sphere, constraints and violence are encountered at every turn: they are everywhere. As for power, it is omnipresent.” Power represents a space; through representation, art sensifies the relationship between space and power. There coexist a rosy expectation and fear about how the advent of the age of artificial intelligence will be spread. The city of the future will be a strong indicator of the possibility of a more alarming presence. This is because to be excluded from the life of the city can be understood as the fact not only of falling behind in competition, but also of facing the life of different cultural spheres. Will the age in which both human beings and systems can plan the city appear? The city actually became de-territorialized from everyday life itself through repeating the process of development and redevelopment, like a tautology. In the case of Pompeii, the ancient city, the volcanic eruption has left it a frozen artifact; a permanent reminder of its miserable past. The supposition of the city in which life was stopped became a favorite theme in science fiction literature and movies. In the excessive condition of the city, everything overflows. Wealth and poverty, surplus and deficit, success and failure overflow. The excessive condition of the city has everything. The unaffordable height and size of a living space seems to be close to a symbol for ostentation beyond daily life anyway.

On the contrary, how will there be a life in a tiny space, han pyeong or the like? Although one says that the size of the dream is not envious of others, it cannot be denied that it is an absurd reality, produced by a social desire that does not give up on urban life. Goshiwon Project (2017) is a work that emphasizes an architectural aspect, which seems to transfer a blue print of goshiwon into a three-dimensional structure. Hong measured a goshiwon and represented it mechanically by removing an affective aspect. In addition, she used objects collected from the space and represents the space of the goshiwon passageway in the same way. It is owing to ambiguity that the dwelling form of goshiwon has. The dwelling form of the goshiwon has an ambiguity about it; the goshiwon is functionally similar to a temporary accommodation that can be used for an extended stay, but it is closely akin to the meaning of house in the manner of using it. According to an article in Korean Sociology, a goshiwon is a type of space that represents the young generation, “Goshiwon is a typical subhousing form that the young generation appropriates and endows with the meaning of 'house'.” In this way, “The practice of reterritorialization that newly connects space and a person’s life is viewed as the practice of making home in the space as well as the practice of doing home.” However, Hong focuses on ways in which the owner of a goshiwon subdivides an architectural space and produces a space, instead of erasing the traces of the individuals, who use the space. This is how Hong questions ways in which the production of space produces a value. If Curtain Room captures New York, that is, the space of an exceptional condition of the city, Goshiwon Project deals with a very special status of space, which reveals social situations in South Korea. When you think about this, it is easy to understand that it is a delusion that only expensive and fancy forms have desire. Urban life itself is desirable. Most of contemporary people endeavour to lead an urban life. Above all, capital is required to maintain this life and consumption is inevitable in enjoying this life. Fear and insecurity become a very useful standard of consumption for consumption. In this way, private institutes and insurance companies are established and people, who want to survive in the crowd, decide to choose the life of goshiwon dwellers to achieve the few remaining tickets to success. Goshiwon is seen as another aspect of an excessive society that appears as the results of that bureaucracy that, aiming for success, is in collusion with urban development.

Reread and rewrite the city

To people who come from big cities, a 'hometown' is different from the dictionary definition of 'hometown'. Rather than a resting place of very private memories, it is more like a theme park, which everyone can enter; it is always crowded with strangers; the interior of the place changes and the price of the entrance ticket increases every year.

Let’s think together. Can we represent the city? I mean whether it is represented through a romanticist landscape, an impressionist form or a conceptual representation, as used by social statistics. The advent of contemporary art and the discovery of the city are actually inseparable. Artists pass through the interior and exterior of a complex or the city, a broad street and an alley, the past and the present, the bourgeoisie and the people. It is too obvious that it is very important to emphasize this repeatedly. The city after industrialization is not only a centre raised by modernization, but also an absurd place, wherein ambivalent values coexist. Accordingly, in the city, all kinds of desires are visualized and urban dwellers aim to achieve their desires. Not only the desire, which speeds up and advances, but the sorts of people, who pursue different paces of life, have increased more than in the past. In a way, the value of a slower pace of life can be seen as another form of desire. In this respect, consider the question posed by contemporary art on the subject of the city. Some cases, such as the delay of unconditional urbanization that destroys the memory of life (Gordon Matta-Clark), the disclosure of the corruption of government in collusion with real estate (Hans Haacke), social classes in the city, as viewed from a semiological perspective (Martha Rosler), a sexual, yet elegant confession about the relationship between public spaces and the inequality of sexual minorities utilizing outdoor signboards as the realms of private memories (Felix González-Torres), and a dignified survival experiment on the essence of life utilizing and transforming dangerous buildings to form a temporary residence (Abraham Cruzvillegas), can demonstrate how contemporary art rewrites the city. In addition, some other cases can be found, including the city as a theatrical stage, a social declaration and the realm of resistance, the opportunity of solidarity and participation, the world of de-territorialization and re-territorialization, which is constantly made to disappear and reconstructed through accidental encounters. The role and contribution of architecture cannot be omitted. However, the city itself becomes an inexplicable, uncertain and atypical organism. The owners of the city are citizens, architects, artists, politicians, scholars, merchants and office workers …, this is, all the beings, who are connected with the city. The subject matter of the city should be sociopolitical, cultural and industrial. Contemporaries, who live in the age of supercapitalism, cannot be free from the economic logic of the system of capitalism. Negative Landscape (2017) is a work, that ‘rewrites’ topographic maps of ten redevelopment areas, including Myeongryun-dong, Sajik-dong, Sanggye-dong, Jeongreong-dong, Hongeun-dong, and Heukseok-dong in Seoul. Redevelopment areas exist in a state in which their fates are consigned to the future, but they are places of de-territorialization. Hong relocates these areas regardless of actual geography and erases all the buildings in the maps. In other words, it is a way of rearranging topographic maps after deconstruction. Rectangular and circular topographical maps are completed by cutting 2mm thick of shapes out of Styrofoams and stacking them like a terraced field, without attaching them to each other. Perhaps, this can be the fate of the near future that Seoul faces, or the fate of the entire Earth. The insecure condition of Negative Landscape involves the risk of collapse even with small threats. This is a desperate struggle that a parasitic territory, which precariously relies on power, undergoes, but it also visualizes how much urban life is temporary and spontaneous. The city exists, but does not exist. This is because in the age of globalization, the city itself is a product. Specifically, to the new generation, the city is considered only the object of consumption. In the city, it is difficult to find a sense of duty, which connects the past with the present. In Sagwa Kim’s text, quoted at the beginning of this section, we can assume how the city will be changed in the future. Finally, Hong uses an architectural methodology, but it is separate from utopianism, which is pursued by architecture. Rather, it is closer to an anti-architectural attitude. Frequently considered in this text, Hong seems constantly to explore the relationship between the idea of capitalism and value. In Capital, Marx described an exchange value as the relationship between one thing and another thing, which he called a type of concrete abstraction. It was called, concrete abstraction. I wonder if the concept of ‘concrete abstraction’ can be applied to Hong’s works. In the gradually dominant situation of mixing reality with fiction in contemporary art, Hong’s reductive method of work focuses on finding a point of contact with reality in a concrete way. In addition, the possibility of thought, whereby an encounter of Marx’s theory with an art practice is connected not by the image, but by the material, can be found.

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