by Dilpreet BhullarMar 28, 2022
The last one-and-a-half year of the pandemic has been long enough to suggest that the human connections communicated on the digital platforms could not be a fruitful substitute for the interactions shared through the physical presence. The world entrenched in the digital world and its pros and cons have been a fecund site to explore its consequences on human life. Before it became an interesting subject for discussion and speculation with the onset of the pandemic, the Korean artist, Jieun Gu, had been navigating this terrain since 2017. As part of the research for the science and art convergence project Science Walden, based in the Department of Urban and Environmental Engineering, Ulsan Institute of Science and Technology, Gu has extensively worked with experts in various fields such as scientists, engineers, and humanities to solve various social problems, and study the alternative social systems.
In an interview with STIR, Gu shares, “I have been working with interest in individual and collective breathing,” through the experiences shared between a variety of specialists across the fields. “The overlapping breaths between individuals and communities were laid out in a multi-layered structure and expanded into works such as the Garden of Data God and The Nest of Night. The various breaths visualising the images of the new city in digital painting, image collage, and spatial installation are woven tightly like a net.”
The hyperconnectivity over the digital platform has a direct effect on the psychological alienation experienced by humans over the years. Gu mentions, “In a very short period of time, the vast amount of data information and allegorical filters have deepened, and they have come to define the relationship forged between people.” As the world became globalised and feverish development engulfed the societies, the humans receded inwards. The isolation took over the community: the act of sharing heightened the practice of selection and objectification devoid of the gravitas value instrumental for emotional development.
The phenomenological change in the reception of human bonds, with the surge of the digital demand, has informed the video installation the Garden of Data God which talks about this role of the overpowering nature of digital connectivity. The work, as a story set between 2020 and 2030, starts from the setting that the vast data collected without human knowledge has already become a god, which can predict the future of humans. Gu explains, “The work is based on the testimony that recalls the past through analogue recording left to humans. The installation dotted with the images symbolises civilisation, capitalism, and labour. Even when the Data God collects vast data without human awareness only to disappear after 2030, and artificial intelligence replaces labour, the installation attempts to confirm that a certain part of the human beings will not be replaced by data in the near future.”
It was the visual art practice of Dana Schutz and Paul Gauguin that drew the attention of Gu towards the field of art. However, it was the Young British Artists movement that prompted her to make installations that would speak her mind. The art installations of the series The Nest of Night highlight the shape of a nest where various breaths are weaved densely like a net. “Intricately laid out are the images of factories, cities, forests, and islands of sleepless workers, who do not turn the lights off during the night also. These visuals indicate the overlapping shape of invisible thin membranes of breath.”
The PVC vinyl, pipes, and polycarbonate plates used as the main materials for the work are representative of the consumer goods and symbolise the support system of the city. “I met people, interviewed them to write brief stories about their various surrounding. The variegated aspects of the city are captured in the form of pictures that can metaphorise the content into a digital painting.” After printing on film paper, a collage of images is made through the process of reassemblage – the process she defines as “the journey of weaving the breath.” It is an effort to discover the breath as a sustainable boundary yawning between the organic connection and separation. It reveals how the natural act of breathing is lost in the age of absence and deprivation of human bonds.
Gu rightly argues, “It is difficult to become aware of personal alienation without facing a crisis or special situation. We are physically connected all the time, but at the same time, we live with a sense of alienation.” When people forget to look inwards, what she calls “self-breathing”, they overlook the prudent acts of communal sharing also. Well-acquainted with the nuances of the urban environment and the thriving presence of digital technology, Gu does not ask for escapism. But through her work, she considers, “The cities are formed by the movement of people: the trajectories they follow and breathing patterns. I hope that there will be time for each of us to think about the important elements that make up the city we live in.”