Support for Images of Distance, Made of Surface
As of May 2020, Covid-19 has turned what had been taken for granted into something extraordinary. An art exhibition was one of them. At the end of February, an explosive surge of Covid-19 infection broke out. Public art museums were temporarily closed, and small exhibition halls also canceled or postponed the scheduled shows. With the pessimistic predictions of art officials swelling in the art world, Hauser & Wirth took a lead of virtual reality (VR) tour, and the SWAB Art Fair released a digital tour demo where one can wander along the walls of a labyrinth-like virtual exhibition hall and click to purchase an artwork.
Hwang Won-hae’s solo exhibition <The Fourth Wall> had a cautious opening when people were somewhat accustomed to the social distancing practice, and shortly before the industry showcased virtual exhibitions for the post-Covid-19 era. At the exhibition hall, which had been prepared according to the Guidelines for Prevention of Covid-19 Infection Prevention, visitors entered wearing masks, with their distance apart from each other, and using hand sanitizers after filling out the personal information form. And as always, they started taking photos of the exhibition to post on Instagram.
Photos of the exhibition posted on SNS are considered as meaningful documentation of the exhibition far beyond as an effective measure of popularity or a marketing method. Pictures of the viewers, well combined with the artist's images and photographer’s pictures, expand the viewing experience and even arouse viewers’ imagination.
And it is interestingly reminiscent of Hwang Won-hae’s work. Hwang mobilizes an extensive list of visual materials, such as sketches of architects or urban planners, photos, and street views from map applications, so she can transform the impressions of a city blended with the architect of the past and the present into artwork. “I cut out parts of photos on Photoshop and combine them, try some esquisse, then take pictures of them again. I repeat this process to lay the foundation for the work.” None of the images selected for her work fully represents the artist's experience. However, the images captured by the eyes of different individuals are woven into the coordinates in the third-dimensional space and replicate the city from the artist’s view.
As soon as entering the exhibition space, one immediately notices that not only the canvases but the entire surface of the space were used as a template. Hwang Won-hae covered the long and narrow hall of Artspace Hyeong with her works. The high and low resolutions expressed by different media such as paint, canvas, and sheet paper make viewers feel the sense of metropolis while realizing that their photoshoots must be fragmented.
This process is a recurring experience for the artist from the moment of preparing the exhibition. The exhibition plan that she illustrated in cabinet drawing cannot sufficiently depict the exhibition. It is a compressed design based on a single point of view, which acts as a programming language to help builders perform their tasks. Therefore, 17 images of exhibition foreground captured by photographer Shin Ji-hye and 28 detailed images captured by Goh Jeong-kyun are considered as the result of high-resolution renderings of the constructed coordinates by Hwang Won-hae’s drawings. They all succeed in capturing the truth of parts, however, they fail to explain all the relationships in entirety.
Such experience is not so different from my case of writing the review for the exhibition. While practicing social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I visited the exhibition only once and analyzed the exhibition by looking at the plan drawings, visitors’ photos on SNS, and the photographer's images for a long time. All of these images are fragmented shots, revealing a completely different reality from my viewing experience. However, I can imagine how the artist or the audience may have experienced at the exhibition through the process of layering images of others’ on top of my experience and extracting interpretations from them. This pseudo experience can be regarded as a temporary episode caused by isolated space and time. However, it seems like a predetermined procedure that viewing experience at the exhibition hall in the post-Covid19 era is transformed into the screen.
The VR exhibition is just the beginning. Exhibition halls in the future will be set on virtual stages that respond to devices in real-time. In other words, it is not long before the audience will call an exhibition FPS (First-Person Shooter) gameplay where his or her avatar wanders in the hall taking pictures. We may already be living in the era of pseudo experience. Indirect experiences such as watching music videos and movies, as well as direct experiences such as eating, farming, and raising pets, are available as popular online content for some people to experience and some to watch.
<The Fourth Wall> symbolizes the distance between an unreachable object and our experience of looking at it. Hwang Won-hae reconstructs the city she saw with a pattern created by collecting images that transcend time and space, which encompasses everything from canvas to the exhibition space. Also, viewers encounter similar experiences as the artist, looking at the unreachable work. Subsequently, pictures taken by the audience become fragmented images of the exhibition, becoming a tool to recall the work of Hwang Won-hae.
This recursive system signifies the very city that Hwang draws. However, it may be incorrect to say that Hwang Won-hae’s work is the art of criticism that reveals the history of cities and architecture. That is because she has daringly chosen to stay on the surface rather than going deeper. However, it is not quite true either that she focused on capturing an object by looking at the surface. Her images have become meticulously constructed space, eroding the surface of the structure beyond the canvas. It stands as a substructure for the unreachable image, solely made of the surface.