Text by Jonathan Watkins
Interview with Fatos Ustek
A Response by Mathelinda Nabugodi
This is an excerpt taken from a text written by Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon Gallery. It was published in full in Yva Jung’s catalogue entitled “Mooning Monday” on the occasion of her solo show at KCCUK.
Director of Ikon Gallery
I travel a lot, and so does Yva Jung.
I am in a hotel room as I write this, in far north of Norway, where four years ago Jung was part of group of artists, writers and musicians selected by The Arctic Circle Residency. It is an ideal place to think about travelling and what it means, for this is Sami country, a place suffused with nomadic culture.
The hotel has a small library including a book of Sami proverbs, Time Is A Ship That Never Casts Anchor. I am leafing through the pages and quickly find some un-home-spun inspiration, such as “It is better to be on a journey than to stay put at one place” and “A flying bird will always find something, a bird that only stays home will find nothing.”
As a preface to The Arctic is Not Too Far From Her(e), a book published as a result of her northern adventure, Jung quotes Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples from Luke, chapter 9: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” More recently, she starts a letter, published here, in the same vein:
You are on your journey; you are on your way.
You move, come and go but never arrive.
You don’t want to.
You move and look.
This is part of a transcript of a conversation between Yva Jung and Fatos Ustek – Fig-2 curator, currently Director of DRAF. It was published in full in Yva Jung’s catalogue entitled “Mooning Monday” on the occasion of her solo show at KCCUK.
FATOS: Would you perhaps start describing what were your intentions in bringing such an exhibition together? The way in which you have included new works with existing works [becomes] almost like a group show of your various productions within one solo manifestation. Can we start with what was the underlying thinking of the show?
YVA: The primary idea for choosing the works for the show was how to compose an exhibition, not as a collection of the works that I have made before but more so, how to treat the exhibition as a work. So when I thought about the works that could be included in the show and also the order of the works and the space between works, I was thinking about them as one piece, rather than a collection or jumble of pieces. (…) it was really important to bring these fragmented pieces into one narrative.
A lot of my practice is based on journeys that I have been doing. I wanted to create a sense of journey for the audience when they move from one work to the next.
This is the full text written by Mathelinda Nabugodi, Research Associate at Newcastle University, in response to Yva Jung’s solo show at the KCCUK. It was published in Yva Jung’s catalogue entitled “Mooning Monday” on the occasion of her solo show at KCCUK.
Research Associate, Newcastle University
At the entry a map is waiting for you. It is beautiful, but slightly too big to handle comfortably. It is two-sided. On the one side photographs of the artworks, on the other their titles. You consider how it would look on your kitchen wall (or maybe behind the bedroom door?), but you are not certain of how to transport it home. It takes a bit of awkward turning the sheet back and forth before you realise that the map does not map the exhibition space in front of you. The mapmaker has played a joke on you. The map is an entry point: not to the room you stand in, but to an imaginary space slightly askew off the Korean Culture Centre’s exhibition room. You can enter the show at any work, and at every work you enter it anew. No work stands alone here, rather the works echo one another, repeating images, motifs, shapes, trajectories. These interrelations turn the exhibition as a whole into a singular work of art. The map shows you one way in which the works come together – composed and juxtaposed – but your journey through the exhibition space is your own way of collecting the various artworks into one work of art. Map in hand, you are ready to get underway.
The first thing many will notice is a video with a rotating spoon. The projection is oval, bringing a keyhole to mind. The spoon is so clean that it reflects like a mirror, but unlike a usual mirror that reflects the viewer back at herself this spoon reflects an image of the artist holding a camera. As it alternatingly turns its concave and convex sides towards you, the mirror image is stretched out, turned upside down, then right side up, then upside down again. The eye of the camera remains firmly anchored in the middle of these alternating reflections. This is the camera that records the spoon. But it is also the camera that records the video with mum, the camera that is placed in the Arctic, the camera that hides in an elevator while Jung wanders around a library or a shopping mall with her yellow suitcase. While we only catch a glimpse of it in the video with a spoon, the camera is present as the voyeuristic gazer in most of the works. It is the camera that allows us to see the art that Jung has performed elsewhere.
As you meet the camera-eye’s gaze in the rotating spoon, you hear a thump. To the left of you a video is beginning. A knife cuts a bun. This is the first and last you will see of this bun as the view soon shifts to a bedroom scene. On the bed you see Jung, dressed in comfy clothes, and her mother. The scene is private. They sit facing each other. They are about to do art. Yes, art. One should not be seduced by the casual intimacy of the moment, as Jung’s mother momentarily is when she giggles and asks whether this really is Jung’s work. The mother’s question alerts us to the everyday nature of Jung’s practice: Jung does not use pretentious materials or high-flown rhetoric. She records a spoon. She blows up a balloon with her mother. She balances on a slope in the Arctic with an apple on her head. She throws the apple into a toilet. Yet the banality of her chosen objects is also their mystery – the mystery of all art perhaps. At the end of the video, mother and daughter confusedly look at one another, not knowing what happens next. You may giggle and wonder together with Jung’s mother: is this really art? But maybe it is precisely that which makes us ask this question that teaches us what art is.
Moving on. On the other side of the projection screen you encounter suitcases. On your left a stack of five suitcases; on your right, at the end of the passage formed by the large windows and a plaster wall, you see a single suitcase on the floor. This suitcase is the first in a series of four. Four suitcases suspended in mid-air. All these are not suitcases that can be used. They are wooden replicas of a yellow suitcase that Jung carried around the world. For her journey she filled it with artworks by other artists, but the suitcase itself was an artwork. (Just like this exhibition consists of many artworks whose composition becomes an other artwork.) In ‘Private View of the Organic Openings’ Jung divulges the suitcase’s secret – by letting it accidentally fly open, she lets art loose upon unsuspecting strangers. But this is not your usual vernissage, with sour wine and dry canapés. This staged accidental exhibition gives the audience a glimpse into what is usually hidden: the contents of someone’s bag. By scattering them over a staircase or an escalator, Jung offers the passers-by a glimpse of her transportable gallery. The ones who are kind enough to stop and help are rewarded by becoming part of the work they have just unknowingly beheld. They are also caught by her camera’s gaze.
‘A Cache of Monday’ is a leftover work. It is created from scraps of footage Jung discarded when creating the other works on display. In this sense ‘A Cache of Monday’ is found in-between them, pulled out of the crevices of Mooning Monday. Cache is a form of memory storage, here the memories are caught, stored, and restored in a new story. Any artist that works with memory uses time as her medium. Time rather than a canvas or a slab of marble. The remembered is carried through time, from past to present. Simultaneously, the challenge of preserving the artwork through time arises. How to make its remembered time persist. How to document it. The document points backwards in time, the artwork is here in the now. Mooning Monday has it both ways; it both documents something past and presents something new. The exhibition consists of videos and objects: the videos document earlier performances, the objects appear as if flown out of these videos. But these objects are here, now, with us in the room: the wooden suitcases, the apple that rolls through panes of Perspex glass not only repeat motifs, they remember what we have seen.
The objects that Jung records are remarkably ordinary: grass, a spoon, an apple, a balloon. Merely by pausing, Jung releases their inner poetry. Her composed attention turns them into works of art. With her camera she captures an object in a moment in time and allows us to return to the object and so also to that moment. We are in-between present and past. More precisely, we are in-between present and multiple pasts as the same object remembers itself in different works. Obviously it was not the same apple that was used in the scene in the Arctic, as was dropped into a toilet, as was imprinted into a Perspex pane. But in an important sense it is the same apple. It is an apple that has fallen out of the everyday world and into Jung’s artistic practice. It travels through the different materials that she works in: plastic, wood, video. At times it has even appeared as an apple – as the real, organic, crunchy, edible thing. But the apple that falls through the works in this exhibition also echoes the apple that fell on Newton’s head and revealed to him the secret of gravity. Just like gravity keeps the planets in check, so the objects of Mooning Monday are held together by the gravitational force of Jung’s imagination.
Mother and daughter are blowing up the same balloon. A balloon that also makes its way to the Arctic. Whereas an apple falls, a balloon swells. Another balloon that Jung once made had two mouthpieces. The balloon is a receptacle for breath. Its filling and emptying out is a cycle that mirrors the most fundamental cycle, that of life. Nor is it coincidental that the pale-white sphere of Jung’s balloon resembles the moon, a shape also emerging in the woody surface of the four suitcases that hang suspended at the end of the passage. Walking towards the suitcases you pass by an over-size photograph mounted on what resembles a giant ‘To Let’-Board. The vast vista of the Arctic shown on the photograph distracts from the outline of the board it is placed on. By putting the board in the gallery, Jung emphasises not the commercial message it sells (‘Premises To Let’) but its shape: it looks like a book so widely open that its spine is bent backwards. The board is another everyday object turned into art. And since it carries the same photograph on both its sides, this wide-open bookboard is also a mirror turned inside out. It is another mirroring surface where you find not yourself, but the artist reflected back at you.
A flight of stairs is a staircase; here we find the staircase next to a flight of suitcases. The two pieces are visual rhymes. And so it is with the words of this exhibition – they are as intricately linked through their sounds as through their recurring motifs. Spoon, balloon, moon. Jung assures me that she does not chose objects because they rhyme. She begins with the concrete, visual thing. The rhymes are found later, after the object has travelled through the artistic idea and into language. Jung approaches the English language like an explorer. She sounds its depths for words that sound the same, that sound differently, that mean similar things or several things at once. It is no coincidence that the staircase is called ‘Two Story from the Last Century,’ echoing a two story structure that Jung erected at the Beijing Biennale. That artwork told two stories over two storeys: ‘One Room Blow’ and ‘The Arctic isn’t Too Far from Her(e).’
Both of these are also told in the Mooning Monday exhibition, however, here they mean something new. Each retelling turns the same story into different stories.
Monday is etymologically a Moon-day. A Monday that moons is a day that acts out the origin of its name. But by calling her exhibition Mooning Monday, Jung also locates the visual rhyme hidden within the Monday. In the short story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,’ Jorge Luis Borges conjures up a planet called Tlön. The remarkable thing about its language is that it has no nouns. Hence ‘there is no word corresponding to the noun moon, but there is a verb to moon or to moondle.’ This verbalised use of the word moon offers a way of reading the exhibition’s title: its mooning is synonymous with moondling. Jung’s white balloon moondles as it fills with air. The flight of suitcases moondles as the round sphere emerges out of them. While the cycles of the moon are said to regulate the female cycle and make women moody, here moondling is a mood that devotes attention to the poetic hidden in the everyday. This journey consists of moondling around. A mood in which you go to the Arctic to play with apples and balloons. A mood in which you spin a spoon to capture your reflection in it. A mood that spurs you to pluck the hairs off a raspberry, one by one. The pincers that pull the hairs off the raspberry also prick us with the subtle touch of Jung’s humour. This is present in all of the works on display: in its puns and rhymes, in her mother’s giggle, in the absurd jottings of the atheist old man, or the yellow suitcase that not-so-accidentally flies open in the middle of a shopping centre.
Falling suitcases, falling apples, rotating spoons, rising balloons, jumps into the air, falls onto the floor: this exhibition is in motion. Not simply ascent or descent. Neither circulation nor spiralling. It is a motion around its own axis, but an axis that is continually shifted by the very motion which describes it. Once Jung pointed out to me that the constellations in the sky do not simply consist of the stars’ positions relative to one another – we also need our perspective from planet Earth in order to perceive the relations between the stars. Earthbound as we are, we are also a constitutive element of the starry constellations. In this constellation of works, we the viewers provide the perspective from which we can spot the relations between them. The astronomer orders the heavens by arranging the scatter of stars into constellations; this exhibition presents an array of works which the viewer has to arrange into a story.
The story Mooning Monday tells is the story you see as you explore the exhibition. It is the story of you. But who is this ‘you’ whom we are here apostrophising? Is it you? Or me? Is it the young woman we see in the artworks, the young woman who is the artist herself (in other words, the Jung woman)? Repeatedly we come face to face with a young woman on a journey. She is often alone. She does not appear to have a destination, but neither does she seem to be running from her point of origin. There is no nostalgia, no longing: neither for a goal nor for home. Yva Jung is a Korean artist working in the UK, but her imaginary journeys do not map onto her biographical journey from Seoul to London – via New York, Montreal, and the Arctic. Instead her art explores the state of journeying itself, being in-between. Such journeys are not aimless but they have no aim: they are undertaken not to arrive but for the sake of journeying itself. The stories they tell are not those of any particular you, nor of any particular me. They may be the stories of the young woman we see in the films, but her story is the story of every traveller. This is a journey, you have been given a map – now it is time to get underway.
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ in Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962)
transl. by Anthony Kerrigan.