Video explores elusive concepts
If you’ve emerged recently from a screening of Alien: Covenant or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 you might be flummoxed by Yeondoo Jung’s Documentary Nostalgia.
Where are the special effects? The chase scenes? The battles? The action, for heaven’s sake?
Jung shot the 85-minute silent video with one camera in a single take. With an unflinching stare it reconstructs six scenes from the South Korean artist’s memories as stage hands clad in orange jump suits methodically assemble then dismantle each scene. For long minutes, nothing much happens.
Despite the comfortable seating and big screen, you might be tempted to desert the darkened gallery at the Norton Museum, where the video is exhibited in a show titled Yeondoo: Behind the Scenes.
But hey, it’s summertime. What’s the hurry?
As with last summer’s Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden, Mark Fox’s video installation documenting the change of seasons underwater in the lily pond famously painted by Claude Monet, the video transforms the gallery into a “meditative, quiet and cool spot,” said curatorial fellow Kristen Rudy.
For Jung, the inaction is the point. The artist deliberately violates the expectations of video and photography in pursuit of elusive concepts such as the irretrievability of memory, the boundaries between fantasy and reality, and the unreliability of so-called realistic media.
His first video, the 2007 work brought the artist worldwide attention.
“Documentary Nostalgia is a documentation of memories, but the word itself already contains a contradiction,” he said. “Nostalgic feelings cannot be documented unless you take a camera to the past.”
Jung, 47, found that out years ago.
“When I was 20 years old, I climbed up a mountain and hiked for 30 days,” he said. “I thought it was a most beautiful landscape and vowed to come back when I was older. After 15 years, I bought a map and marked the places I thought to be those beautiful places from my memory — but I couldn’t find them. It is partially because the landscape has changed and developed, but also because I perceive it differently as I get older.”
In the video Jung re-creates the living room of his parents’ house, the street outside his father’s pharmacy, a rice field, a cow pasture, a forest and a mountaintop using handmade props such as artificial trees and grass, and painted back drops. The deadpan re-creations are interrupted by occasional whimsy, including a rainstorm simulated by stagehands bearing watering cans.
Instead of mimicking reality “I would like to reveal the stitch marks,” he said. “... We are so used to and trained from childhood to suspend disbelief. I want to invite the audience to find themselves pulled into the scenery, all the while knowing that it isn’t real.”
As they contemplate the scenes, Jung hopes the initial boredom viewers might feel will mutate into a more participatory experience.
“During the awkward quietness, the audience will realize that time is still running and have enough space to think about what will happen next,” he said. “I want to create a video work that has plenty of space for the audience to draw out their own memories to fill the emptiness of the scenery.”
His advice: “Enjoy the slowness!”
Yeondoo Jung’s inspiration for his video, “Documentary Nostalgia,” was a hike he took in the mountains of his native South Korea when he was in his 20s.