Borderland of unfamiliar reality
Visual Art Studies Lee Moon Jung
Overlapped image of a coin and newspaper above the background of unrecognizable particles fill the screen. The placement of people and incidents that cannot co-exist due to time, space and social limitations into a common image is a type of defamiliarization. In the unfamiliar space that Ji Ho Jun has created through his series ¡®Coin Invasion¡¯, Ji has combined objects of contrasting phenomenon and principles such as microscopic spectrum and visible spectrum, creation and destruction, future and tradition, anti-colonization and extreme-conservatism, pacifism and terrorism. In the borderland of harmony and conflict, history is created.
Ji Ho Jun began creating a borderland from his Nanography series. His works were created as a photography of images of objects enlarged to the unit of nanometer in a microscope which were later digitally edited, colored and project to a material space. His productions, which in some ways are similar to holograms or argumented reality, create a mood of fantasy. Ji¡¯s use of images of nano particles as a natural background stimulates the extremes of senses through integration of high technology and analog. The most important part of his work is the exploration of the truth and the actual material, touching upon both the certain and the uncertain. This is the core theme of Ji¡¯s work across all series.
Ji Ho Jun is skeptical towards observing, judging and expressing the world without mankind acknowledging its imperfection. He continues to throw the questions ¡®Is what we see the truth? What is the actual substance of the images that we see? Can we trust our judgment towards what we perceive?¡¯ Instead of fully denying a man¡¯s perception, Ji remains on the boundaries of the border. One example is the counter use of technology, which represents humanism, to prove the imperfection of man. Man invented the microscope, and with this invention opened a whole new area of vision and perception. The images made of nano particles represent the imperfection of a man¡¯s vision but also at the same time, the paradox of overcoming this imperfection through technology.
The key focus of the ¡®Coin Invasion¡¯ series is a coin enlarged to the unit of a micrometer. A coin is the symbol of capitalism and a necessity of a man¡¯s life, but at the same time has minimal economic value. An object of so little value, still carries the symbolic figure of the society it belongs to – a person important in history, an architectural work, a cultural asset. A coin reflects the history and civilization of mankind and in itself represents capitalism which in modern world holds dominant power. Ji¡¯s objective is to look back on humanism through the microscopic world, breakdown the absolute measures of value. To do this, he enlarges an ordinary coin that we come across in our daily lives, making it into a significant figure and reminding us of the true subject in it.
In this series, Ji Ho Jun¡¯s work consists of two main parts. First is overlapping images of the enlarged coin. Second is redrawing of history using newspaper and magazine articles relating to the symbol in the coin.
The coins engraved with architectural works and scenery are especially interesting – DaBoTap Pagoda, Lincoln memorial, Monticello, which was the private residence of Thomas Jefferson, Mountain ranges of Colorado. The objects representing civilization have been placed into a space as a miniature. This began from the artist¡¯s imagination based on the question, ¡®How would our world look to a much greater existence if there were an existence greater than man?¡¯ A coin is a small and insignificant object under the standard of man, but it is enormous for an existence smaller than a coin. Likewise, the human universe is even smaller to the greater existence. Even with the scientific knowledge today, in the scope of presumable universe, mankind is lesser than a nano particle. The thought of man being able to be such a small existence is an extension of Ji¡¯s interest towards the microscopic world and the questions and criticisms he raises towards humanism.
So what is the border between the micro and macro world, and what is the truth of the world that we know? There is no answer to the question, only an indication of the unlimited number of truths.
In a coin, the laws of perspective no longer exist, enabling the viewers to focus on the coin itself. The coin, enlarged to 150 to 300 times its size, displays the traces of rust and scratches that has developed with its existence. The background images of the nano particles, which look like clouds or cotton balls has a highlighting effect on the coin¡¯s metallic substance. A sense of touch is an experience that occurs through meeting of the skin and an object. However, Ji Ho Jun¡¯s coins are able to fulfil the experience just through vision.
Generally, the term art has been used equally for plastic art and visual art, the former with focus on space and the latter with focus on vision. Art, from the beginning, was focused on the visual aspect and developed strong towards ocularcentrism through the era of abstract art – which sought for imitation of the visual world, reproduction of perception and purity of vision. However, post 1960¡¯s the criticism towards philosophy centered on rationality also affected sensationalism. Due to such influence, materialism, as a symbol for both rationale and senses, replaced the value of absolute vision. This also affected art and is the reason why artists today aim to deliver not just the visual aspect but also other experiences through their work. Same goes for Ji. However, instead of delivering the experience directly, Ji provides them only through vision. Just like the counter use of science – using the product of humanism to criticize humanism – there is a counter use of vision to escape the limits of ocularcentrism. In doing so, Ji stands in between the borderline. The visual tactility that Ji creates represents the experiences that we are exposed to through digital and mass media in the modern world. As stated by Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan, we have come to experience tactility from what we see, through development of media such as television, movies and computers. This is maximized through Ji¡¯s images of enlarged objects. However, as ironic as it is, it is not possible to experience the actual sense of touch from his works, which emphasizes his question ¡®Is what we see the truth?¡¯
On the other hand, Ji Ho Jun observes and analyses the details of the human world as if looking into a microscope, through which he finds conjunctions and develops a historical narrative. Like a coin, a newspaper is a common object of little material value. However, a newspaper conveys the important incidents and issues of its time – coexistence of values. Daily news combined, forms history. A newspaper carries the complexities of our lives, from political ideology to gossip. In Ji¡¯s works, there are some interesting pairs – Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, Karl Marx and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Eagle and death of Osama Bin Laden, Queen Elizabeth II and late Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe – these pairs have either shared a revolution, have conflicting existence, or are in reality attacking each other. The combination of two people or incidents that would not be able to coexist in reality due to difference in time, space or values, makes the viewers look back on history from perspective of current times. The nano particles that fill up the space between the coin and the newspaper act as a metaphor for micro history, the incidents and people who have been forgotten in history, and symbolizes the formation of a new history with vast possibilities.
As nano technology acknowledges a particle in the unit of a nanometer, one billionth of a meter, micro history deals with history based on people or incidents that have not been drawn upon in mainstream history. Nanotechnology and micro history shares a common factor that it restructures and recreates the world through a finer view. Ji¡¯s works of nano space also aims the same by zooming in on the world. His works are the border of technology and micro history and at the same time, world of new possibilities. One must not forget that Ji has maintained a dual attitude from the beginning. His aim is the creation of a big picture that incorporates the smaller details that have been neglected.
Ji Ho Jun¡¯s works continue to expand to the themes of philosophy, value, ideology, political power that have dominated history, throwing additional questions such as ¡®Who records history? How should we view history? Up to what level is our historical knowledge true? Is there an absolute truth in history?¡¯ In general, news that is delivered to us through mass communication is perceived as the absolute fact or truth. It was not doubted in the past. However, as time passed, what was believed to the true turned out to be false, manipulated or hidden. As a coin can be counterfeited, so can be news. Same probably goes for history. The idea that history is scientific, based on objective research and is absolute fact was an established theory up to the modern era. However, reality is not fixed, and it changes depending on the context. Absolute history does not exist, just as Gordon S. Wood¡¯s saying that each era tries to rewrite history based on the perspective of the time. As history and the recorder of history cannot be independent from politics and power, it cannot but remain elite and broad. Also, we must keep in mind that understanding and assessment of history differs for every receiver of the record. Same historical record is read by each person based on their own perception – no history is of same meaning and value.
The question towards truth and authenticity inspires Ji Ho Jun to edit and create his own history. The articles in Ji¡¯s artwork were chosen subjectively by the artist and are not the actual published materials, but rather replaced or edited to form a better visual composition. Some are even fabricated. This is a way of showing that the news and history that we believe to be the truth is actually just a small part of the world that was recorded by a journalist or a third person with an opinion. A story is made through the mixture of history and opinion, of what actually existed and what might have been. In Ji¡¯s work, this is done by the artist through choice, fabrication and creation of articles. Ji again displays duplicity, taking the role of both a historian and a novelist. A historian has strict responsibility to only deal with the facts, while a novelist is able to utilize the imagination and has the freedom to develop fiction. Ji mixes fact and fiction, and remains on the border of a recorder and a writer.
Ji Ho Jun is an artist who actively utilizes technology. Technology is thought to provide with an answer through reason. However, the world that Ji displays through the use of science is vague. His attitude is somewhat like relativism or rapprochement as he continuously throws questions towards senses and judgment, history and fact, actual substance and truth, and yet does not provide a clear answer. Ji¡¯s works are made even vaguer by the endless borderland that is created by the mix of opposites – past and present, fact and fiction, micro and macro, science and art. There is a certain rule to his artwork. In the borderland that the artist has created, he uses both microscope and magnifying glass to find the root to what comprises both the small and the large world. The root that Ji is in search for is not what solidifies the existing greater opinions or stereotypes, but rather something that has potential to overthrow and change them. Ji is fully aware of the limits of the human world but never gives up on its potential. It is for this potential that he crosses the borders of several worlds, raising issues to search for the endless space and depth, inviting us to his borderland.