Hwa-yeon Nam: Caught on the Net

Art Press - - RENCONTRE -

Hwa-yeon Nam, born in 1980, be­gan­ma­king art on the Net. She used the most com­mon tools, the Web and the Google search en­gine, to tell dis­tinc­tive sto­ries. She is fas­ci­na­ted by in­for­ma­tion sys­tems and da­ta sto­rage. Her range of sub­jects is ex­tre­me­ly broad, in­clu­ding all sorts of fields such as bo­ta­ny, zoo­lo­gy, as­tro­no­my and bi­blio­gra­phy. Ope­ra­tio­nal Play (2007) is a per­for­mance vi­deo that arose out of her re­search in­to Operation De­sert Storm, the 1991 in­va­sion of Iraq. Af­ter hap­pe­ning on a Wi­ki­pe­dia page lis­ting the name of mi­li­ta­ry ope­ra­tions since World War 2, she de­ci­ded to or­ga­nize her own “operation” with a si­mi­lar­ly poe­tic and evo­ca­tive title. The names she chose be­came cha­rac­ters in an im­pro­vi­sa­tio­nal role-playing thea­tri­cal pro­duc­tion. While mi­li­ta­ry ope­ra­tions re­quire a set of ve­ry pre­cise rules and stra­te­gies, what cha­rac­te­rizes this play is “the ab­sence of tac­tics.” A cross bet­ween a se­cret so­cie­ty ri­tual and a chil­dren’s game, it is ba­sed on a per­so­nal me­tho­do­lo­gy for fer­re­ting out hid­den sub­jects, do­mains and sys­tems (of a mi­li­ta­ry na­ture, in this case). Her quest for an unk­nown ter­ri­to­ry conti­nued with Field Re­cor­ding (2015), ano­ther per­for­mance vi­deo using a re­cor­ding tech­nique de­si­gned to col­lect and file bird calls. On the Web she found a do­zen spe­cies unk­nown to the ge­ne­ral pu­blic, such as the blue coua, cres­ted ca­raca­ra and bur­ro­wing owl. Then she as­ked two per­for­mers to re­pro­duce these bird­songs af­ter lis­te­ning to them on head­phones. The per­for­mers did so un­der the wat­ch­ful eyes of an au­dience whose mem­bers try to guess the spe­cies being mi­mi­cked. The mo­ment was both so­lemn and stu­dious, des­pite the co­mi­cal faces the per­for­mers were ma­king. While or­ni­tho­lo­gists use field re­cor­dings for scien­ti­fic pur­poses, Nam’s work re­flects our de­sire to get close to these win­ged crea­tures by imi­ta­ting their lan­guage in a sort of re­verse field re­cor­ding. Co­réen 109 (2014) is about an an­cient Ko­rean ma­nus­cript en­tit­led Jik­ji­sim­chaeyo­jeol, kept at France’s na­tio­nal library (the BNF) un­der the re­fe­rence num­ber “Ko­rean 109.” Nam as­ked the BNF if she could exa­mine the ori­gi­nal, but they tur­ned her down and sug­ges­ted she con­sult the on­line ver­sion. She was in­ter­es­ted in the sto­ry of how the BNF got the ma­nus­cript. She stu­died, in mi­nute de­tail, the ma­nus­cript’s route from the library of ex French am­bas­sa­dor to Ko­rea Vic­tor Col­lin de Plan­cy to the old lo­ca­tion of the BNF at 58 rue de Ri­che­lieu and the pri­vate collection of the je­we­ler and au­thor Hen­ri Ve­ver. She even read a bio­gra­phy of the illus­trious Car­di­nal Ri­che­lieu. Her own Co­réen 109 was­made from these ele­ments found on the Net. Since she wasn’t al­lo­wed to con­sult the ori­gi­nal co­py of the text, Nam concen­tra­ted her ener­gy and sen­si­ti­vi­ties on the place where it is kept, fol­lo­wing an ima­gi­na­ry map she made af­ter consul­ting the Net. She ima­gi­ned going to Rue de Ri­che­lieu, wal­king to­ward a book that would ne­ver be ac­ces­sible to her in real life. While the ori­gi­nal ma­nus­cript is jea­lous­ly kept un­der lock and key, the ver­sion she in­ven­ted exists in a fluid and abs­tract space-time conti­nuum. A CHRONICLE OF DE­SIRE Ado­ra­tion des Rois mages (2015) is a vi­deo ins­pi­red by Hal­ley’s co­met. Once again she used the Google search en­gine to glean images and his­to­ri­cal ar­chives about this sub­ject. We learn that Giot­to re­pre­sen­ted the co­met in his ce­le­bra­ted 1301 fres­co Ado­ra­tion of the Ma­gi, that the co­met was gi­ven its name in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry when its or­bit was first cal­cu­la­ted, and that the first space probe sent to take close-up pho­tos of that hea­ven­ly bo­dy in the 1980s was na­med the Giot­to. Thus Nam’s eye is su­per­im­po­sed over that of the pain­ter Giot­to, the as­tro­no­mer Ed­mond Hal­ley and the spa­ce­ship’s ca­me­ra. To­ge­ther they form an al­le­go­ry of the de­sire “to see” that holds hu­ma­ni­ty in its grip. The grand fi­nale comes when the Ita­lian pain­ter’s fres­co meets the Giot­to space probe built by the Eu­ro­pean Space Agen­cy. As the Ch­rist­mas ca­rol Silent Night plays in the back­ground, the co­met ceases to be a sa­cred ob­ject and be­comes one for scien­ti­fic stu­dy. Nam thus re­veals the evo­lu­tion of our de­sire: hu­man beings star­ted out be­lie­ving what they saw, and now they seek to ana­lyze what their eye per­ceives. The dual-chan­nel vi­deo The Bo­ta­ny of De­sire (2015) was ins­pi­red by tu­lip ma­nia, when prices for tu­lip bulbs dra­ma­ti­cal­ly soa­red and then col­lap­sed in se­ven­teenth-cen­tu­ry Hol­land. Nam’s com­po­si­tion draws from tu­lip lo­vers’ ca­ta­logues of that epoch, ex­cerpts from on­line re­por­ting on the 2009 stock mar­ket crash, de­cep­tive ad­ver­ti­se­ments about ri­sing stock prices, a swarm of bees and a cho­reo­gra­phed dance for two per­for­mers. Their sta­ged bo­dies link the se­ven­teenth-cen­tu­ry tu­lip cri­sis and the stock mar­ket crash. The dance of the bees (in their de­sire to find nec­tar) connects with the dra­ma­tic voice of bu­si­ness pu­bli­ca­tions (the de­sire to make mo­ney), heigh­te­ning the im­pact of the cho­reo­gra­phy. The strange en­coun­ter bet­ween a bio­lo­gi­cal de­sire and a so­cio-eco­no­mic de­sire is a me­ta­phor for hu­man be­ha­vior—people ex­haus­ting them­selves in cha­sing af­ter phan­toms. While The Bo­ta­ny of De­sire takes off from tu­lip ma­nia, the star­ting point of Ghost Or­chid (2015) is the or­chid de­li­rium that swept ni­ne­teenth-cen­tu­ry En­gland. The theme is still the de­sire to pos­sess, with a fo­ray in­to the world of col­lec­tors. Nam skill­ful­ly stages the sto­ry of a col­lec­tor of rare plants and an or­chid hun­ter. Du­ring the ni­ne­teenth cen­tu­ry in Eu­rope there were ma­ny or­chid lo­vers who did not he­si­tate to send ex­plo­rers off to the four cor­ners of the earth in search of the ra­rest spe­cies. While re­sear­ching this to­pic Nam came across a let­ter by the ce­le­bra­ted Ger­man or­chid hun­ter Wil­helm Mi­cho­litz to his client Fre­de­rik San­der. In Ghost Or­chid the per­for­mer reads the let­ter aloud in the Ber­lin-Dah­lem bo­ta­ni­cal gar­den. This rea­ding is ac­com­pa­nied by a cu­rious dance du­ring which pic­tures of or­chids are pro­jec­ted on stage. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of odd mo­ve­ments, exo­tic flo­wers and per­cus­sion ins­tru­ments conveys the strange ob­ses­sion with col­lec­ting.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

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