by Sukanya GargJul 31, 2020
Korea-born London-based artist Yiyun Kang was recently chosen by K-pop sensation BTS to participate in a global public art initiative called ‘CONNECT, BTS’ which involves 22 artists from across the world to create exhibitions, experiential art and immersive installations around the band’s philosophy in five locations including London, New York, Buenos Aires, Seoul and Berlin. While the overall project is being directed by Daehyung Lee, former art director of the Hyundai Motor Company, others like Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director at the Serpentine in London, and Stephanie Rosenthal, Director of the Gropius Bau in Berlin, have been roped in. In a list that includes names like Antony Gormley, Tomás Saraceno, and Ann Veronica Janssens, Yiyun Kang can’t hide her excitement about being chosen as STIR speaks with her.
A visiting professor at the Royal College of Art London, Kang is known for her site-specific projection mapping works. Describing her process, Kang says, “I prefer to begin by writing a short piece of statement. I did my Phd and since then I just feel more comfortable finding some theoretical critical background for my project. So, I start reading something - articles, books or papers - and then I condense my idea in the format of writing. Then, I start to visualise it and draw it, understanding the connections between the fragments of ideas. In terms of the visualisation, I think why people find my work interesting is because I not only make digital animations but I mix some videos. I would like to call it hybrid. For example, in my BTS project or most of the projects that I did, there are human performance parts and then there is digital abstract animation and I really love to mix the two. Digital, analogue, film and computer-generated animation are completely different, but for me the most exciting thing is mixing them. So, that’s how I develop my idea.”
While most artists begin with an abstract form of inspiration, which they later give a concrete form to, interestingly, Kang’s work seems to follow the reverse route. Starting with a more concrete idea, Kang’s visual aesthetic oscillates in the space between the material and the immaterial. Describing the source of this sense of in-betweenness in her work, Kang says, “My position is somewhere in between as a minority. I am a woman. I am a female who works not in painting but in new media arts and then I teach at the Royal College of Art in London and I am the only Asian staff in my school, in the school of communication. And then, I was born and grew up in Korea and I did my BA in Korea, MA in the States and PHD in here (London), so as a whole, I myself am an entanglement of multiple cultures and influences. At the same time, my BA was painting and then I gradually moved to video and then to digital and at the moment I am working with projection mapping. So, the whole immateriality of medium itself, it’s also very in-between.”
Kang further explains how the narrative of projection mapping or new media artists is distinctive from the cinematic narrative owing to the lack of linearity in the former. The space and context are indispensable aspect of the visual aesthetic. Describing the same, she says, “For me, it’s not just the temporal, but also spatial. New media art particularly is becoming more and more experiential. That’s the reason why I always study a lot about the context of the space that I am working with. Sometimes, it’s the existing structure of the museum. It’s not just a blank canvas; the space itself has a lot of layers within it already - the situations, the locations, whether it is a museum or a public space, or do I design the space or was it given with conditions. It’s all different. If you merely treat your canvas as a blank white page, then the audience cannot find the connection between your moving images and the space.”
However, for Kang, the connect between the audience and the work shouldn’t be limited to a “fantastical illusion”. She is, therefore, specifically focused on what is the theoretical and practical meaning of this medium in the continuum of arts. Kang explains, “Most people think that project mapping is a really new medium, but for me, having a background in painting, which is fine arts, I can see that there are a lot of similar practices that have been done before in the 70s and 80s. There were a lot of building projections, dome projections with film projectors and thanks to the technology we enhanced the previous practices into more hybrid ones. So, for me the point is not just about the fancy immersive illusions that projection mapping can generate but to focus on the narrative side of it. Other than that people will think projection mapping is mere surface decoration, which I highly object to.”
She further adds, “People think of digital as mere technology. You can just hire a technician and make something of it. At the moment, majority of new media art is pretty much technical demonstration. We need more conceptually driven new media art practices. Then we can probably further discuss its theoretical and philosophical background and how new media art can be connected together.” For Kang, she wants people to not just enjoy the artwork, but also question what the images mean and “why do the images have to be delivered in the form of projection mapping, and not through painting.”
It is no surprise then that for the BTS project’s installation, Beyond the Scene, she interviewed 15 foreign fans from various ethnicities and different backgrounds to provide context to her work. Talking about her experience of working on this project for over half a year, she says, “The art is higher than the K-pop, there’s nothing like that. That moment for me was such a cathartic experience.” For her, this project bridged ethnicity, cultural and language differences, in the process synergising the fields of pop music and contemporary arts for a much larger audience than would be possible to achieve through the sole medium of visual arts. As Kang describes, “Artists are people who want to deliver messages, which we cannot do in this really tiny exclusive world. So the essence of this project is all about connection.” Considering that the exhibition sold all of its 40000 ticket slots in the first three hours of pre-booking, 90 per cent of these being to fans of BTS rather than contemporary art aficionados, the project has opened up contemporary arts to an entirely new audience!
BTS or Bangtan Sonyeondan (Korean for Bulletproof Boy Scouts) is a seven-member South-Korean pop music band which was founded in 2013.