'no mountain high enough’
Audio Visual Pavilion
Nov. 28, 2013–Jan. 25, 2014
Eric Reeder (assistant professor, Graduate School of Architecture, Konkuk University)
Gallery Audio Visual Pavilion located in Tongin-dong under Inwang-Mountain.
The mountain cresting around Seoul tends to disappear under the opaqueness of flat grey January skies. In some ways, this accurately gauges the distance between Seoul’s boundless peaks and the daily bustle of urban life. What manifests itself visually and that which is concealed, appear in fact metaphorical, as is our unfortunate distant relationship with landscape today. I recently visited the mountain and offered my thoughts on the ‘no mountain high enough’ exhibition hosted by the Audio Visual Pavilion (AVP). This was an opportunity for me; as a reminder of out partial relationship to, and the obscurity of our interpretations of, landscape.
The gallery is located in the Tongin-dong neighborhood just west of the Gyeongbokgung palace. It’s inaugural show opened in November of 2013, and wrapped up in late January. The Hanok-converted-gallery was for me, in some ways, as revealing as the exhibition itself. Subtle modifications throughout the last sixty years, reveal moments across a significant expanse of time; its recent boundary defying transformation in the making room for the evolving gallery activities. The curator pushes it further, suggesting its geographic placement, with respect to the mountain peaks to the west, promoted a seamless dialogue with the exhibition’s overarching topic – the Inwang mountain.
Since construction in 1947, the Hanok had remained a private residence until last year when the curator-owner acquired it. I was pleasantly surprised, upon arrival, to be greeted by its compactness, composed of three very small spaces around the central court (madang). The main area, what used to be living quarters (now a gallery space), a freestanding laundry/ utility room, and a small sleeping space to the left of the entry gate which, now serves as exhibit room and future workshop. The compact totality of the exhibition area was clearly influential in what the artists presented, although as I was to discover, no less substantial in creative delivery.
The AVP conveys a pleasant feeling of pause along one of the longer urban journeys, perhaps similar to a quaint warming hut, where we discover brief repose while hiking. Its compact stature tucked away at the inner urban block, takes shelter amongst the mixed commercial businesses and nearby residences. AVP’s near invisibility amongst its adjacent buildings is soundly congruent with the mature neighborhood. We can imagine its future activities, as its integral ‘support systems’ and interconnected actions are situated within the diversity of daily local life. AVP is suitably positioned for active future engagements.
Landscape as Collaborator
I am interested in the Korean landscape as phenomenally influential. ‘Mountain’ in fact, has nearly always featured in my horizons, establishing vistas and vantages; in a large part having shaped memories from my youth. My work, to some extent now, focuses on landscapes relation to the built environment in South Korea. It’s pervasive influence, having long been an intertwined component of urban and rural life. Builders, artists amongst native citizens, have followed its lessons and flowing forms. A landscape is an organic foundation, even derivative of the very free-form streets of the Tongin neighborhood around the gallery, as sloping ground flows downward towards Cheonggyecheon and leaving in its wake a tangle of narrow street passages.
Here, landscape is a curiously seasonal right-of-passage in cyclical ebbs and flows, both unbridled in the joy of colorful transitions, and the polemic tug of deeply sorrowful remembrances of time and people lost. The Korean landscape has been shaped to accommodate these experiences and we discover many emotions in that. As the late writer Virginia Woolf once enumerated, in landscape there exist links between ‘what we were and what we have become’. In this vein, Inwang mountain is perhaps an exemplar, as Seoul has crept up its steep slopes and divided its apex ridge with fortifying city walls. In light of the exhibition’s intentions, the ‘mountain’ was interpreted as experiential, phenomenal and in some cases, seemingly without regard at all.
Park Kiljong, Hangout at Inwang-san (Mt. Inwang), Wheels on plywood, a paper designed by Donghyeok Shin, a rock brought from Inwang-san, 50×50×36cm (height is getting lower), 2013
Works in Two Places
How do we consider and respond to landscape as part of our contemporary life? Eight artists particip
ated in reactionary installation to Inwang mountain, including two performances as part of ‘no mountain high enough’. The exhibitions working intentions envisioned ‘overlaps of disciplines’. Archivists, graphic designers, performers, poets, assembled specifically in curatorial experimentation and collective research. The documentations, as I will refer to the installations, were written, typeset, sketched/mapped, laser-cut, forged and photographed, capturing fragments of memory; shard-like, as some suggested, with filtered and digested points of view. In retrospect now, my tendency has superficially organized the arrangement of works throughout the compact gallery spaces. Those closest to the Hanok’s entry gate being somewhat responsive to Inwang’s physical presence, and overtures to being there.
‘no mountain high enough’ for me was less about the factual realities of Inwang mountain; I took from the show evidence of recorded experiences, not necessarily sequential in continuity, but rather disparate fragments tending to scatter aspects of fact and time. Thus, a body of work as an archival task, making note of highlights, while the totality of being there, and recognizing place in nature, becomes diffuse.
As an example, artist Hwayeon Nam’s work entitled mountain mama reveals a transitional gap between going up the mountain and descending back to the city. Her journey is portrayed in halves, with the first leg becoming unrecognizable in comparison to the return. The delicately framed and preserved paper documents, pressed between glass were presented in abstracted photographs, single line phrases and line sketches and accompanied by audio loop. Each clipping a snap-shot out of context, when combined in unison with the sounds of footsteps and labored breaths while hiking, the reenactment of motions become something else entirely.
The proverbial message of a boat high atop a mountain (in Korean language) implies too many participants for a single task. Boat by Jackson Hong sat perched atop the galleries oddly added utility space in the centre of the courtyard, staking a claim for the object as of proverbial reference. Passing through the entry gate of the gallery, the boat installation, a striking yellow, powder-coated steel form was first to capture my attention. A visual collage of time in high-contrast. The tailored perfection of metal material echoed off of the laundry rooms white tile walled, utilitarian semblance. Boat’s implications rest on lasting advice and for the artifact itself, seemingly fixed in comfortable and immovable permanence, in where it stands now.
Of the Mountain
Iconic representation or mere decoration? The iconic image of the mountain has been portrayed as mythical, almost ‘imaginary’, in contemporary society. The notable graphic design team of Sulki and Min oscillate between iconic image and tactile realism as they explore notions of topographic representation in their work. Experimenting with colour-coded layers, the abstracted laser cut felt fabric, materializes unfinished, as a technical measure. Titled Decorative Information, each layer of the topography is draped loosely from a vertical, wall mounted orientation, as though to distort what we think we understand of land form representation. The work was one of the few that responded to the specific geographic conditioning.
We might also consider the subtle attempts at genuinely reaching out beyond the boundary of the AVP gallery space. For example, the artists of the Okin Collective installed Rocky Waves-2, a self-made weathervane designed to capture and indicate air-flow as it rolls down off the adjacent mountains. The weathervane, attached to a fashioned metal radio antenna, and also part-installation, represents ‘futile’ attempts at communication connection in today’s digitally driven world. Its innocuous placement at the southern most projecting eave of the Hanok, viewed from the outside street, established a moment of foreshadowing. Illusive connections abound, with obsolete antennae no longer in use today, as it ceases to exist amongst the visual cacophony of a congested urban neighborhood.
Okin Collective is an artist group recognized for urban negotiations that border on demonstrative performance and spatial appropriation. Interestingly, their collaborative work at AVP offered compelling links both in urban situations and of distant mountain reference. In capturing wind from the mountain and staging a faux antennae, conclusions could be drawn, and for me, establishing a gestational moment, presenting a ‘mountain’ as physical entity.
Subjective observation and mapping of Inwang mountain divulge a long history of creative representation. The painter JeonSeong, was one of the first recognized artists to draw Inwang from visual observation in the year 1751. Inwang’s revered place in political, social and intellectual history, as part of Seoul, have been subjectively traced and recorded through centuries.
Hangout at Inwang-san by artist Kiljong Park, reconciled a collection of memorable experiences in mapped format. Two hikes up the slopes of Inwang allowed the artist to gather information in constructing a new map of the mountain. Absolved of accurate measure, the mapping evolved to formulate personal recollections of experiences and perceptions. The paper-printed collaged outcome, distributed in the gallery to visitors, reminded me of Seoul’s historical maps. Drawn through centuries of formative years, as an agrarian
village in which, symbolic proximation’s took priority over accurate representation.
Words combine to formulate afterthoughts in our drawn out creative processes. Words in combinations pose questions and sometimes reveal answers. ‘no mountain high enough’ presented words framed (literally) and suppositions in both places beyond and places immediate in proximity. This aspect of the exhibits outcome appealed to me. Hanok, as a place once home to a family, with words and phrases hung in suspension like domestic reminders in everyday lives.
I receded further into the darker shadows of the gallery space, towards a projected video installation by Okin Collective, entitled Operation-For Something Black and Hot. Members of the artist group stand posed in responsive stance to emergency distress signals. The disconnections and resistances we now face collectively as a society; by need, desperation and even desire, resonate in the works implication.
I am reminded though of emptiness, perhaps in what we face regularly as a society, driven exclusively by the promises of ‘image’.
Rocky Waves-1, also by Okin Collective was framed and hung in a far corner of the exhibitions collection. Its exquisitely hand written words in graphite on paper was a poetic ensemble announcing disparities between our experiences and how we live today. In the end though, notions and memory of mountain are displaced and fill-in words are all that remain.
Have we relegated landscapes and nature to territories of memory alone? Clearly though, as our natures are swallowed by city and society- these places remain unmoved in our sensual memories. ‘no mountain high enough’ points to symbolic interpretations of what landscape has become, both individually and perhaps suggesting collective notions in society now. What the exhibition has managed to catalogue and chart is ready for future access and in this respect the archival forethought has been successful.
The curator indicates 'limitations' that have surfaced in combining the various trajectories in response to framed intentions. None-the-less, we are faced with times now, in our moment of history, as we look back in hindsight. Perhaps in this, a surprising future for the AVP can emerge from recent results. And fascinating hypothesis of things now (and to come) reveal 'works-in-progress' within the neighborhood fissures and resounding peaks of a dynamic city.
Hangout at Inwang-san with Park Giljong
Eric Reeder is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Konkuk University in Seoul. He acquired a Master’s degree in architecture at University of California Berkeley, co-founded of CO|RE collaborative and is a licensed architect in California. He regularly contributes to various publications and exhibitions as a writer, artist and speculator on Seoul. Recent works include Preservative Measures_Saewoon Market and Earth_ work at Gangwon Environmental Installation Art Invitational Exhibition.
materials provided by Audio Visual Pavilion (unless otherwise indicated)