The androgynous protagonist of Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho’s participation in the 56th Venice Biennale – referred to by the artists as ‘it’ – is an anxious and frightened character. The house of ‘it’ – a prescient conception of the Korean Pavilion – is envisioned by Kyungwon and Joonho as a future laboratory: “the site no longer serves as an exhibition space. Instead, the pavilion is refurbished into a laboratory…here within this site, it wakes to its consciousness”.
And what is the consciousness that this figure awakes to? A post-apocalyptic world where the notion of history and progress is now redundant, its remnants now swim amidst the fluid mass of water which the protagonist surveys; a vision of a submerged Venice where the Korean Pavilion and its inhabitant (situated at the highest point of the Biennale) survive within a site of enclosed presentness: pure function and pure time.
The dissolution of past, present and future is enacted throughout this multi-layered installation. The title of the project – The Ways of Folding Space & Flying – refers to two Korean words: chukjibeop and bihaengsul. These terms largely remain within the realm of fantasy: the former referring to the ability to travel a substantial distance in a short space of time by folding or reducing the Earth, and the latter referring to the supernatural power to levitate and fly.
Certainly a sense of groundlessness flows throughout this image laboratory, where the notion of creativity and the artist’s hand are rendered redundant amidst the overload and future drowning of history. The multi-screen installation depicts the protagonist engaging in routine tasks with mechanical accuracy; a biolite implanted in the front of its brain allows us to see its thoughts via a series of fleeting light signals. In a smaller adjacent space we are confronted by another figure: the protagonist, played by Im Soojung, adopts the figure of an historical portrait, who in turn, confronts the version of it’s future self. This character from the past represents an archetype, an impenetrable figure of history that has become nothing more than an accented reflection within the sea of images that the protagonist excavates. In another scene ‘it’ steadily turns a hamster wheel of images. The historical figure is part of this cycle; steady roots become transient, watery data particles.
These references to collapse and folding are also embedded within the display structure of the installation itself, as the external façade of the pavilion is covered with screened images of the protagonist at work. Where the glass frontage of modernist structures would usually reflect the individual back onto themselves, Kyungwon and Joonho place us within the role of the protagonist, who is not only denied its own reflection, but is confronted by ‘other’ figures, ‘other’ images. What is unique about the artists’ adoption of these visual techniques is their return of this subject to the internal workings of creativity and emotional (in)stability. The anxious face of the protagonist is not coincidental; its expression captures an unease that is not only symptomatic of the future shock, but the contemporary inception of this apprehension has already begun.