SHINWOOKKIM

shinwookkim.com

THE NIGHT WATCH (2011-2017)


작가는 기억이라는 공간에 대한 새로운 시각적 언어를 생산 하고자 하는데 작가에게 기억이란 존재하고 있지만 인지하지 못하는 공간이다. 이번 전시장 중앙에 위치할 거대한 크기의 사진 작업 ‘뉴 포레스트 (New Forest, 2012)’는 작가가 ‘장노출’ 기법을 사용해 지속해온 <나이트 워치 시리즈, 2011~>중에 하나이다. ‘장노출’ 기법이란 빛이 적은 곳에서 인위적인 조명을 통해 특정한 장소를 카메라에 장시간 노출시키는 사진 촬영 기술의 하나이다. 이를 통해 작가는 눈에는 보이지 않지만 분명히 존재하고 있는 풍경을 드러내고자 하였고 이를 통해 기억이라는 공간을 재 정의하고자 하였다. 

The Night Watch

When I was nineteen years old, I joined the military. I had to be the night watchman two hours each night by the border between South and North Korea. During the night watch duty, as a young soldier, I was always exhausted. Due to my great tiredness in the daytime, sometimes I roamed from my night watch spot to everywhere else in an unconscious state.

One day I was dozing off and walking around at the same time. Suddenly I bumped into a man. Right away I realized that I had walked pretty far away from the night watch spot unconsciously and the ‘man’ I bumped into was a huge tree trunk. I visually got an idea for this series from the moment I bumped into the tree trunk, the moment I first experienced in an optical illusion.

The locations where I took pictures of a border never have an actual line. In Korea, a boundary meant frozen territory, a forbidden zone, a line between life and death involved an extreme tension, especially at night. Simultaneously, it was a picturesque landscape beyond the border.

However in Europe, physical borders no longer exist, only transitional sites exist. By taking a picture of transitional areas at night, I put in some of the emotional tension that I gained from my memories of the border. My gothic, uncanny, and mysterious memory overlays the specific transitional sites.


The Age of Darkness Seen through a Digital Mirror

Young June Lee <critic>

As night falls, darkness creeps in. Along with the darkness comes the monster. But the monster does not come from far away. It comes from within. You, the human is the home of the monster. The monster never stops, it never sleeps. If you fail to tame the monster, it will destroy you from within. Why fear the monster? It brings chaos. Like a naughty child, the monster unsettles what has been established and shakes what has been stable. The monster is not easy to detect as it hides deep in the darkness.

So comes the camera, the human tool to control light. The little machine that freezes time is hoped to help to tame the monster. The language of the camera was thought to be light. But it turned out that the language of the camera was darkness. Inside the camera was a circuit to channel the flow of darkness. The origin of the word camera has come from ‘camera obscura’, which means darkroom. So, it is very natural that the camera finds itself comfortable in the midst of the darkness of the night.

However, the camera must not be left free in the dark. In modern period the camera itself has turned out to be a monster. Indeed, in the society of abundant technologically reproduced images, the camera has always been a monster. Friedrich Nitzsche has already warned, “beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Fighting the monster of the darkness, the camera has become a monster. In the past, the darkness lay in ignorance and poverty. These days, the darkness sits in the midst of light. For too bright light blinds the eye.

So the camera should be put under control. So comes the photographer. Shinwook Kim intervenes in a scene otherwise chaotic in a monstrous darkness. His camera stares in the darkness. Tree branches and trunks shining bright are poised to stand on guard to the hell of darkness. But this light is artificial. What looks to be very bright is indeed the play of exposure time and aperture. This amount of light would have been ignorable in the bright sunshine of the day. In some photographs, the darkness itself is also artificial. It is tainted with the light of the city, with multiple colors mixed in it. Complex light sources such as street lamps, signboards and interior lights create darkness that is so biased to a certain color that it can no longer be called darkness. These days, there is no pure darkness. What has been polluted is not just the air but the darkness. So the photographer has set out to pursue the pure darkness but ends up finding himself caught up in the mixture of light and darkness.

What ever happened to Rembrandt, the painter of light and darkness? His famous painting <Night Watch, or The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq> (1642) has long been thought to be a depiction of a night scene. But when the painting was cleaned, it was discovered to represent a broad day. Indeed, it was a party of musketeers stepping from a gloomy courtyard into the blinding sunlight. Dark misunderstanding has been surrounding this painting for so long time. Although he was a popular painter and a rich man, he lived in extravagance and his life ended in a misery. Finally he was buried as a poor man in an unknown grave. After twenty years since his death, his remains were taken away and destroyed.

What would happen to the photographer of darkness? People talk about visual language. The photographer of darkness talks about the language of darkness. People have long thought that the contents of a photograph is what it portrays in a visual language. They have thought what can be perceived and deciphered in a narrative form is its contents. Even theoreticians and critics try to read what a photograph tells. From this moment, the contents of photography should be defined as the struggle between light and darkness. The history of this struggle is entwined along a complex line of technology, art, humanities and social practices. The age of darkness has succumbed to the age of light since the invention of light bulb in 1890 by Thomas Edison. However, darkness is still roaming large in the twenty first century, the age of LED lights. So comes Shinwook Kim, not just to tame the monster of darkness but also the monster of light.

The light in his photographs is a precious entity, as it is prepared and realized in so delicate a manner that it can never be mechanically reproduced. So Walter Benjamin had to wait until Shinwook Kim’s works were unveiled before he hastily concluded his famous essay, “The work of art in its age of technical reproducibility.” He wrote that the aura of traditional work of art was destroyed along with the emergence of the technical means of reproducing images. What he did not notice was that the subtle arrangement of technical means to make an image could not be reproduced. The circumstance in which a technical means is employed to produce an image is way more complex and subtler than Benjamin had imagined. There is no technical reproduction that produces an endless series of same images. There are only micro-scale differences that can only be detected using X rays, UV and infrared. Thus one must be cautious when talking about the all encompassing term of technical reproducibility. So is Shinwook Kim. His photographs were produced in careful footsteps that lead all the way into the depth of darkness. The viewer of his works should also be careful. One should not miss delicate details Shinwook Kim created with the help of camera devices.

So the photographer of the twenty first century is given a somewhat different task than those in the early twentieth century. He would put the technical means of image production on a different ontological basis. He listens to the sound of darkness. He listens to the narrative of the objective world of which nobody holds a total control. For so long, humans have degraded it as meaningless, ominous, murky and so on. Shinwook Kim revives the virtue of darkness. Can’t we see the contour of the things that are not visible under bright light? The virtue of this precious jewel of being that is so quiet and free of noise has long been forgotten. In the darkness we can sleep. That is when the siren inside us begins to work. We can find peace in it. Shinwook Kim’s photographs are historical in that he discovers the value of darkness anew. In his photographs a sleepwalker is happy. He knows his destination and every path he takes. We will just follow.

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The Night Watch

This series began when the artist worked as a night watchman at the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea. Straying from his post one night, and drifting in and out of wakefulness, he stumbled into a tree and mistook it for another man. The photographs that he developed out of his experience of the night watch suture the cleft between blindness and vigilance, recording the sensory experience of an artist with eyes wide shut.

In Shinwook Kim’s contribution to The Night Watch, the clarity of the camera flash counters the cloudy gaze of the sleepwalker. He exposes skeletal, swaying trees and wrenches them cleanly, without shadows, from their natural surroundings, abstracting them into two dimensions. Eerily and ethereally illuminated by his camera lens, they are flattened and fetishised, almost superimposed onto the night sky.

‘Long exposure’ is a metaphor that permeates the series. The artist himself, during The Night Watch, was pushed past exhaustion into a waking dream. His camera gradually gathered light to record this comatose nocturnal reality. It can be seen, thus, that night-time registers tangibly in these photographs, both in their conception and in their technical realisation.

In order to produce these images, the artist went in search of borders. The florae that he photographs have spread their roots at territorial boundaries across Europe. Yet, while the Demilitarised Zone is an emotive, contended and mediating space electrified by grand-scale political and civil conflict, the border sites that Shinwook Kim chooses to photograph are comparatively meek and unassuming.

In The Night Watch, he begins to build photographic identities for these otherwise uncelebrated slices of no man’s land.

Ralph Day