Display of Different Signs from Foreign Countries

Yongsung Paik

1. Eyes on the boundaries

Artists always have the air of a stranger or an outsider. Of course, that spectrum is very broad starting from the look of a peculiar outsider or a mysterious man to an ordinary fellow townsman. However, an "artist" always has the "eyes of unfamiliarity," which is something inevitable but that's what makes them artists.

Well, that only works when artists are in their home country. What happens in a foreign country? If an artist hasn't lived long in a particular foreign country, then the unfamiliarity coming from geological and cultural differences will overwhelm the artist's intrinsic eyes of unfamiliarity. Therefore, the artist will probably feel that he/
she cannot feel or delve into it the way natives do, and might hover about between the unfamiliarity of exoticism as a traveler or even as a tourist. In other words, the artist is placed on the boundary of becoming a native and becoming a foreigner.
As an anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro says, we cannot view 'natives' through 'our own perspective' or view things completely with the eyes of a native (for that to happen, you have to be a native). What's important here is the effort to see the 'unknown'.

This exhibition is the result of artworks created by artists who are exactly on that kind of boundary. The participating Korean artists Hyungi Park, Soyung Lee, and Sangbin Im worked for about a month in Myanmar as resident artists, and the works of Myanmar artists Aye Ko and Myat Kyawt are displayed in the exhibition. All three artists capture the boundary between a native and a foreigner.

2. The boundaries between
real existence and symbols-or icons

Artist Sangbin Im's icon work and simple installation strive to stay neutral in their status between being a native and being a stranger. He captures and crystallizes the records of 34 days
in Myanmar in the form of a massive 210 icons. Transforming trivial incidents of every-day lives into icons, the artist delays immediate judgment (including prejudice) about natives as well as brings the effect of diminishing the feeling of being a tourist.


As illustrated in Peirce's Theory of signs, iconsmean icon signs created based on similarity but the artist's icons include both icon signs (smoke is an index sign which indicates that there is a fire), which are relevant to adjacency and causality, and symbols (customs like the language that we use or logical relations). For example, the symbol ☂ reminds us of an umbrella instantly (icon sign). However, the artist interprets it as an index sign which indicates that people have to prepare for
an umbrella as there is a lot of rain in Myanmar, or a symbol of a rainy season. Some of this kind of mixture icon work might seem quite familiar but some others might seem ambiguous. That is the aesthetic effect of <34 days in Myanmar>.
It is difficult to stop in front of every single icon to check the details, but some do grab the eyes. For example, icons, ⧛,  ,  seem ambiguous at first, but as you read the explanation of the icons, you'll find the details playful and witty (they 'symbolize' noodles, receipt confirmation and men chasing a beautiful woman). As such, icons are expressed neatly in symbolic forms with familiar icon signs and deep within them lies the vivid and real in- depth experience of the artist. We get to see or 'read' them in a unique way.

Is this the work of a tourist? Yes indeed. It
is since it is not of the natives, but it is not of
an ordinary artist either. This is because there aren't any exaggerative photographs or words, and only simplified icon images are waiting for our interpretation. It is an act of remembrance (journal), the artist's effort to reinterpret the boundary between a stranger and a native, and an "invitation to a new journey."

3. Time play between disappearance and growth

Expressions of icons and arbitrary signs aside,
we might as well penetrate into the landscape of Myanmar. How? There are probably millions of ways of doing so but the video work of Hyungji Park, , displays a very unique play of time. Against the backdrop of quite an extensive tropical garden, a picture of garden balsams is placed outside. Garden balsam seeds are scattered in front of the picture. As you can easily imagine, the seeds will grow into ripen garden balsams whereas the garden balsams in the picture will fade away. The video clip shows this in a casual and tranquil manner.

According to the artist, when pictures are disposed, they are often destroyed way too quickly than the time she takes to paint them. It doesn't even take a minute. Some may ask, "Why do you dispose them instead of selling or storing after all those efforts?" Well, unfortunately the reality is not that easy.

The modern society is simply uninterested about the negative or the unproductive. So many are so easily lost within the propaganda of pursuing "only forward." The very crystals of our blood, sweat and efforts are ignored simply because they are useless just at a single moment. We don't have to go so far as to mention love and breakup but so many things are "so quickly" disposed. A good example of that is a modern funeral. How neatly and cleanly are a funeral, a person's life and death, and lamentation over that death processed? How embarrassing is it for the mourners who must pay a quick short visit because of their busy schedules?

Artist Hyungji Park resists such disposal of time. Slowly, extremely slowly, she reveals her work which vanishes and diminishes. At the same time, the time play of garden balsams' slow sprouting and growing are visualized.
Technically speaking, what's in the video could have been shown in 2 short minutes. Then, can't we describe this as the artist trying to resist and overcome the dry sense of time we are all too familiar with?

4. An interview and unique observation

Artist Soyung Lee chose people. After all, what can be more natural than the desire to meet people and communicate with them when you're in a foreign country? However, the approach is not just ordinary curiosity, but it is very sociological and anthropological. "What are you being deprived of?" Whether it is a wise answer to a silly question or a wise answer to a wise question, the answers bear no hesitation. Come to think of it, it is a wise answer to a wise question.

The youth in had a lot to say. The experience of a young man while he installed chandeliers as a part-time job during his leave 8 of absence and the story of another young man who is currently unemployed after he was self- employed, are all very interesting. They don't seem much different from Korea, but you cannot erase the feeling that capitalistic human relationships fill the corners of Myanmar like capillaries. At the same time, a woman of age says she can simply let go of everything. This means that the teachings of Buddhism or traditional Buddhist culture still remain in their daily lives. Difference between various time frames stemming from the process of modernization in Myanmar intersects.

Questions about their historical and social context as well as flow are extremely significant. The approach taken to answer those questions
is viewing the relationship between "depriving and being deprived." How long is the history of "depriving and being deprived" as well as Korea's history of tragedy? One of the positive attitudes of the artist is making such different aspects in common contexts face each other.

The unique observation on street dogs in could have been made through micro- sociological eyes. This is because the attitude of dogs (even more so than cats) reflects the color of a particular society or atmosphere. For example, dogs or cows in India rarely care about the attitude of humans. It is as if they're thinking that humans, dogs or cows are the same. They have the look of transcendence. What about street dogs in Korea? There may be regional differences, but they are certainly different from those of Myanmar. They have wary or suspicious looks, or even charming attitudes. In France, it seems like dogs know all too well that they are being loved. How about in Myanmar? Dogs are "interested" in something,
and though they may be a bit busy, they either don't demand excessive affection or are restrained. That's how we get to observe the world inside Myanmar, through the attitude of the dogs.

5. Moving beyond the country

Aye Ko and Myat Kyawt may be taking the stance of a foreigner from a native's perspective. This is because they are artists always keeping
a certain distance from their own country, and creating new intuition and senses. This is clearly demonstrated in Aye Ko's installation, . He put out the image of national flags that represent various countries and installed them outside in the wilderness. There are flags here and there whose country of origin is difficult to recognize, and some of them represent unknown countries or such communities. Maybe some of them are boxes with some strange patterns. The boxes are randomly arranged, as if the differences between countries and their roles do not hold much significance. This is, in fact, the reality of Asia itself viewed from the perspective of the people standing on the boundaries.

Myat Kyawt exhibits the performance art he did in Myanmar through photographs, and the mask of an exaggerated smile is enough to break the rules of our everyday lives. He engages in activities or
a normal daily life such as walking on the streets, greeting people and making orders at restaurants, wearing the mask. The air of a stranger here enables the experience of a new and peculiar satire through cracks in routine habits by exaggerating and fixing a smile, which is a rule of safety people use to maintain human relationships.

The works of the three Korean artists may do the same, too. I sense it when looking at their artworks. It is because as mentioned above, artists have the eyes that "constantly move through the world." Obviously, they don't just pass by forever.

Recently, mutual exchanges within Asia are vibrant. It is somewhat different from the past where all were focused on Europe or the United States. Against this flow, what direction should
art seek? First of all, careful mutual approaches should be made. In other words, mutual learning of cultures should take place. That is where artists are at leverage. This is because learning a culture involves not just superficial exchanges, but the exchange of perspectives, efforts of trying to be both a native and a stranger, and even mutual penetration of the two different perspectives. That is a process of creation which goes far beyond knowing.

In that sense, this exhibition certainly created a new color distinguishable from the western- oriented contemporary art through unique perspectives.

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