Hwa-yeon Nam: Caught on the Net
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