Minouk Lim Frederic Michon: Search for Cultural Boundaries of Vision, Body, and Space

Dialogue with Kim Won-bang, Art-Critic

The “portfolio” section present in-depth interviews with young recent artists who have sharp critical eyes and individual visual languages, as well as detailed account of their works. Minouk Lim(b. 1968) and Frederic Michon(b. 1967, France) have collaborated and do joint works based on elaborate plans, drawing attention for their highly critical approach to visual culture since the exhibition in Alternative Space Loop in 1999 and the exhibition “Flow: New Tendencies of Korean Art” in the Art Center, Korean Culture and Arts Foundation. The interview processed with the focus on their representative works ?editor

Kim Won-bang(Kim): What seems to define your works in an investigation into social conditions where both visual images and spaces are communicated and the dynamic boundary between them experiencing subjects. And to add to this, you two also use considerably systematic and sometimes conceptual approach. As a matter of fact, the artistic trends in Korea in the 1999’s have an excessive inclination toward strong and shocking images or the temporary object effect of objects under the influence of Body Art in, among others, America, as had always done. Thus, the Korean viewers might find rather strange your works which give prominence to close inquiries into cultural signs and planning processes. I wonder how they started.

Minouk Lim & Frederic Michon(Lim_Michon): In truth, interests in cultural communication among outer spaces, visual images and experiencing subjects has been our constant them since we presented our first joint work, in 1994. This is a work that combines documentary and photoroman in a form of narration. It is composed of a series of real experiences tied up with geographical cultures, happenings and rendezvous that when we had from when we started from Paris in the morning till when we arrived at a certain spot in the suburbs of Paris on foot, or by bicycle or by car. We immediately recorded every bit of related historical, cultural, geographical information of the places or scenes we met and observed. It was as attempt to overcome the limitation of the anonymity and collectiveness do mass media by collecting the most practical and concrete information people have and restoring the private, local level of their life through it. In short, the ultimate goal of this project can be said to extend the limits of the knowledge of and communication with others. Although looking contrary to that, , the work we presented to Selest’Art Biennale in Strasburg in 1997 was also one of our trials to approach such problem from various angles. The Work has a structure which viewer can enter. Fur and mirror, as the two main materials of it, are exceedingly contradictory bodily sensations. Viewers can experience a kind of disturbance of physical sensations, especially by seeing their head coming out, the mirror reflected on the ceiling in the process where they come in and out of the structure. We intended to underline the sensation of the existence of the ‘body’ that is apt to be abstract or idealized. Through reflective mirrors and the communication of people in space, the work exposed space as a skein composed of sentiments, perceprions, and concepts. It encouraged the viewers to make new interventions in their body, and thereby, to re-ask about their own body as ‘sensing, perceiving, and thinking’ body.

Kim: It might be concluded that is the place where the sensations of body are suddenly ‘recreated’ and the notion of the body are ‘delayed’ in confusion. In a respect, the limitation of Body Art having flourished internationally since the 1990s lies in the fact that they have gone too deep into the external and socialized image of the body by resorting obsessively to the politics of representation or post-colonialist theoretical approached. This resulted in another idealistic fixed idea that works on the body place imaged of the body at the head in a strong and unexceptional way, which I critically define a undesirable ’secularization or becoming kitsch involves a sort of avengement’ and ‘non-purposiveness’ which interrupt the recognition of the most total existential condition of the body. If your works attract attention in this point, it is because you begin with the most primitive, amorphous, invisible body; the so-called subject of phenomenological experience; and attempt to link it to the cultural, social, semiological communication. I think that the same goes to and (1999).

Lim_Michon: Possibly correct. The exhibition held in the Loop in 1999 intended to expose the mode of our overwhelming visual environment today in the light of how the subject that has the body feels it, instead of simply observing or understanding it. Because visual image is not a material being, it is like abstraction without commercial value of its own. However we reached to the stage where all objects exist only through image recently. The computer programs like Photoshop or Quark X-press commonly used in image processing are changing our reality and the way of seeing. The Alternative Space Loop is not a space you see while passing by; it is designed to make stay longer. Here, we made these images which lost their materiality and were printed on white papers disappear into white of the wall, expecting the viewers could experience only the power of ‘image/imagination’ by seeing it. In this exhibition, we could start the project where we could observe the confusion between begins and things generated by high technology that had forged our new way of life, and represent the physical, psychological experiences caused by the generalization of synthetic images. is a proposal of a kind of filter though which we can see reality at a distance.

Kim: I thought that the images of drugs scattered in that work did not covey the ‘image’ of drug itself but allegorically revealed the ‘drug-ness and addictiveness of image’. If drug intoxication is a physical, sensual phenomenon, your work successfully suggests the ecology of the present technology-dominating visual environment where we are connected to, converged by, and sometimes even depressed to be addicted by images. It seems that this issue, that is, the critical approach to modern media-based visual environment has clearly continued in such works as installed at bus stops in the 1998 exhibition, , and the one presented in the 1999 Exhibition, .

Lim_Michon: attempted to give some ‘intervals’ and ‘differentiations’ to the existing urban space by deporting images irrelevant to commercial advertising at three bus stops around the Seoul Museum of Art after full consideration of their appropriate positions and logical compositions. It was to offer the occasions of ‘collision’ I the situation where messages are repeated, competing, and mixed undiscriminatively. These images are isolated as articulated experiences as if some visual, spatial and psychological knots in the regular movements of bus repeating stop and departure. Another work, also aims to disclose the conditions which tame and control our visual experiences. All of the photographs-texts and photographs taken of us models- stood erect like standing boards instead of being hung on the wall in a conventional way. This imparted a kind of sense of spatial direction, or some stream to the photographs. They were arranged along the passage, requiring the viewers to change their body and vision if they wanted to see them. The concrete contents of these photographs were magical, funny, or nonsense; unrealistic illusions like a pot flying in the air, myself sitting with four legs and so on. To put it another way, these images and texts emphasized the manipulation effect intentionally and strongly, a far cry from the photographic contents we expect traditionally.

Kim: I supposed that those pictures move toward a species of ‘non-photographic boundary’, denying being ‘entirely consumable image’. Your photographic installation no longer remains in the level of virtual image like others but possess the physical, corporeal, and practical geography and topology. That is to say, these images are not something to be looked at ‘like photograph’ but contain ambiguous ‘corporeal blank’ which could be experienced only when the viewers intervene their body as if wondering in a wood. Adding the strangeness of the images themselves to this, they ultimately from a ‘visual trap’ or a ‘trap for visual omnipotence’ as a whole. This common method of ‘hang pictures on the wall’ seems to work as a device for controlling our vision and perception of reality though images in public spaces. It is a kind of visual extension of wall or traffic control line, through which it intervenes our individual thought. Thus, Photographs in public spaces hide as much as they show, functioning as another wall to define proper boundaries. It is through them that the ‘politics of space’ suppressing the operation of private body and vision begins to work. In this sense, I believe that your work is opening the ambiguous and subversive zone between private body and public gaze in public spaces.

Lim_Michon: And is also founded on the same intension; to make people ask “how the enigma of vision is formed, how the invisible appears as the visible, and how begins and things lead each other”.

Kim: on the other hand, presented in the 1999 exhibition in the Art Center is marked by your intensive involvement in the various meanings of the publicized codes and their way of function. The title, “social meat” sounds quite full of implications.

Lim_Michon: In fact, ‘meat’ is one of the important key words of our joint projects. We have once produced an imaginative interview about its meaning. needs more detailed explanation, for there are some parts you can miss if you do not give a close look. The work is composed of four installations placed in the entrance, the exhibition hall, and the storehouse of the Art Center, though they do not build a system.
is a placard hung from the outer wall of the canter, is located in the storehouse on the opposite side of the entrance of the exhibition hall on the 2nd floor, occupies the floor, wall, and ceiling of the entrance of the exhibition hall on the 1st floor, and lastly is put inside of the Exhibition hall. The placard saying covers the old one reading ‘Here comes the century of the culture’. Our phrase, “Moderation, Anticipation, Control of body Smell” is totally devoid of the nature of pictogram or information and thus, the semantic variance among the constituent words are supposed to make the meaning of the original public slogan much more vague. Properly speaking, the four expressions are the typical elements found in all civilized socialites. In our project, they are used as words to reverse the slogan of the ministry; the “moderation” of the boundless overflow of culture in the future (as the “century of culture” arrives), the “anticipation” of what will be lost for it, and “smell” which is more controlled when civilization develops more. changed the storehouse for exhibition catalogues in the center to be looked as a kind of a butcher shop or a prostitute quarter, using red fluorescent lights and fragrances. I thought that the original room represented the place where surplus productions of arts administration rested and commingling. So, I systemized this state of commingling by post and put ‘fragranced’ to remove the bed smell, as if treating ‘meat’ sold by butchers or prostitutes.
The installation work, , at the entrance of the 1st floor exhibition hall, also applies the atmosphere of a butcher shop or prostitute quarters. Something like ‘meat model’, ‘fake germ’ are scattered on the floor and the viewers tread on them while coming and going. This is like the ‘sterilization zone’ between ‘clean’ and ‘contaminated’ zones. In other words, this is a place where ‘experiment/test’ of the body or the tests of adjustment/maladjustment of it are made. Finally, installed in the exhibition hall is a work to raise two rabbits throughout two weeks of exhibition time. For this, we borrowed various office items used in the center and made a coop with them. The excrement from the rabbits and the stench, the arts administrative eye of surveillance keeping watching it, and an inverted game to keep this eye of surveillance under surveillance, all these are intended to constitute the work.

Kim: The places like butcher shops prostitute quarters, is where the eye of surveillance over smell and contamination or the politics of vision works most powerfully. Therefore what is displayed in their showcases is only adopted and uncontaminated meat, to be exact, the ‘sign of meat that becomes discourse and represented’ in that way. The contradictory state where such ‘space of butcher-prostitute’ occupied the part of the center gave me an impression of revealing some blasphemous secrets. It appeared to disclose not only the politics of spatial culture done by the sleek signs of administrations for ‘public interests’ as well as politically constructed subject ? through they may be ourselves ? in an ‘invisible’ way, but also its eye of power, sending forth the smell of a pure savage’s body(meat) above the controlled surface. On the other hand, it is true that the rendering of butcher’s - or brothel - like space deserves such cultural interpretation stated above, but as for me, I would like to say that such rendering were giving a very forceful ‘fantastic effect’ to the original place, which yielded extraordinary meanings and interpretations in an unexpected way. The ‘fantastic feeling’ emitted by under red lighting reminded me of something like “Beaute convulsive” as a whole, one of the tenets of surrealism. I felt as if some ‘sensual, uncontrollable impulses and convulsions’ were happening in the stream of that public space. I define that the fantastic aspects in art is not the ‘absence of reality’ but the ‘reality of absence’. In this sense, fantasy is like a black hole (as full absence) destroying the syntaxical structure or semantic context of reality instantaneously. So to speak, the ‘fantastic’ appearance specific to such butcher shops or prostitute quarters, the change of ‘illegibility’ come about in the context of reality. This is the very destructive energy of ‘fantasy’. By the way, the profound intervention in the field you made in can be also found in , a very unique collaboration presented at Galerie Jorge Alyskewycz, Paris, in 1997 in an interesting way. Tell me about the concrete process of the work.

Lim_Michon: is composed of two parts, advancing in relation with the actual events occurring in the real world. The ‘first stage’ of the exhibition begins with the first round of French parliament election in 1997. The exhibition opens immediately after the second round of the election in finished, from which the ‘second stage’ begins and the installation is changed. In the first stage, we piled package boxes in the gallery space. We covered the brand name printed on the boxes with the labels which we produced by writing the names of the leading French politicians and businessmen (who have the French economy and politics under the thumb) on them. The illustration pasted on the window with a sticker is a drawing of the process where goods are packed. These objects were displayed with the gallery door closed, and viewers had to see the exhibitions only from outside. With announcement of the 2nd voting result, entered the second stage. This time, we attached those boxes to against wall. We write down the first part of the divine comedy by Dante on the front of boxes. The names of the big figures on the labels we pasted on the boxes are not individuals we can throw around carelessly, precisely speaking, we can call without proper reasons in public spaces even if it is for the sake of art. The system they have formed and constituted is theoretically defined by the nature of ‘what should not be represented’, and thereby, our works starts with ‘representing the unrepresentable’.

Kim: It sounds very ‘blasphemous’. By forbidding physical access and allowing only the view from outside, the gallery comes to have the meaning of a powerful, sacred and ‘inaccessible’ place as well as a warehouse. The point here is that those names displayed and called as package boxes are, in actuality, almost the ‘ultimate signified’, namely, almost the ‘name of God’ in this capitalistic production system. They are the agent of the power of panoptic surveillance watching and controlling us unilaterally. To turn our eye upon them, or to ‘represent’ or call their names would mean disobedience in them. The Divine Comedy re-written on the signs of taboo like scribbling appears to expose both despair and apocalyptic resistance. Lastly, I would like to hear about your recent work.

Lim_Michon: We are now working on for the subway exhibition of “Seoul Media City 2000”. The basic outline of this work is to bore a vertical hole between one point in the underground platform of Gwanghwamun Subway station and the other which lays on the ground a vertical extension of the underground point, to be looked through from each other. Of course, it is impossible to make a real hole, so it will be replaced with a video installation. And some items will be also added as graphic landmarks. With all these, we intend to disclose and changed the attributes of modern urban space and locomotion. There are neither visual standards nor milestones in the subway space, which, I think, leads to the ‘abstraction of the subway space’. The map of the subway space or the sense of space in it is dependent only on the views from outside (above), and the relation between above-ground and underground becomes arbitrary. As a result, the underground space is reduced to a mere idealistic space. It is the primary object of this project lies in creating the point of direct and practical communication passing through this abstract space. If the subway space will have such point of communication, it will be like an experience of falling into a hole suddenly. This falling into ‘another place’ will be able to change the notions of the idealistic, ‘here and now’ space and movement to highly actual, corporeal ones.

Kim: The important characteristic of this kind of work is not to investigate into space from the modernist perspective, that is, the ‘physical an architectural attributes’ in a narrow sense, but to interpret is as the most comprehensive place where life, culture, intimacy, circulation and mutual transformation of knowledge, confrontation, and outburst of desire are all begin done, and thereby, to be involved in it in a general way. As a matter of fact, the attempt of approaching ‘space’ from a particular context, for example, to consider it only as the field of ‘physical and phenomenological’ experience in a very narrow sense, has almost been so exhausted to be hackneyed already in the stage of Minimalism. What can be significant today is an attempt to include all kinds of spatial experience in the totalistic and hybrid sense, which consist of physical, corporeal, cultural, and semiological signs. At this point, your work seems to be located in the exactly same context. The time and space as the present living environment is marked by the fact that it has continued ‘genderization’ to force us to adjust our body and soul on it, or it has constantly made discrimination and endowed defined structures. Thus, it seems to me that what an artist can do now is to expose the fluidity of the gender-based, idealistic boundaries and ‘recover’ the totalistic sensations. For me the truly creative art is not ‘new production’, but ‘recovery’, that is to say, the behavior of ‘anamnese’ in the Lyotardian sense. If anyone has a prejudice that your subway project is an investigation only into ‘architectural time and space’ and its surroundings, it should be corrected as fallows; Its aim does not lie in “treating or emphasizing the time and space or particular genres but working on the boundaries between public/private politics generated within. It considers ‘all of the unspecified reality’ where our experiences are taking place as time and space.”

Lim_Michon: was already situated in the exactly same context you mentioned. And we are still now working and researching based on such point of view. We could take the video work presented recently in the exhibition in Hanrim Museum of Art, Daejeon as example. This strived to expose the axis of consciousness, pains and notions running across this historical city, Ganggyeong, in a multiple way, which underwent both prosperity and decline and now is in danger of destruction by reckless development.

Kim: After listening to your explanation, I felt that a much more complicated nerve net and dynamic energy are extending from your works. I will be looking forward to your future work.

Art & Discourse, 2000 summer