“YuonKi Baik: Working with Remnants”
Yuon Ki Baik’sdistinct practice operates within a line of thinking that treats the work of art less as a discrete object of consumption and more as one phase in the ongoing life of a particular material. In this sense, Yuon’s practice can be understood as following in a conceptual tradition of artistic practice that is seen in process-based tendencies as diverse as the house “Splitting” of Gordon Matta Clark to the stone compositions of Lee Ufan’s “Relatum” series to the refurbished rickshawsproduced by Theaster Gates—all of which transform existing materials into artistic compositions through a specific performative approach. At the same time, Yuon’s work remains singular and unique through the very particularrelationship that is formed between the artist and the work,which is based on a process of reflection and communion rather than production. The end result of this relationship, despite its aesthetic appeal, is not a finished object. Rather, the works that are exhibited are the remnants of an individualized ritual that takes place to unfold and reveal the hidden potential of materials whose use value in has expired in quotidian systems of economic circulation.
Yuon works exclusively with everyday vernacular objects that are often in disuse or discarded. By giving these objects new life through his artistic practice, Yuon advocates for the neglected and abandoned in two ways. First, by rescuing these materials from their former location (old houses, train stations, junkyards, the streets) and attending to them over indeterminate amounts of time, Yuon confounds mainstream value systems and the commonplace notion that once something is thrown away it no longer really exists—or at the very least it is no longer meant to be seen, but hidden away from plain view in dumps and landfills. He engages in a process of reconstituting value for trash through his process, which transforms them via the signs and symbols of art production. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Yuon’s work is a commentary on social history through the reclamation of these materials. He de-familiarizes everyday rituals of disposing unwanted items and, like an archeologist, reveals the history and attitudes of a society by what they chose to keep and what they throw away. An investigation into habit and memory leads to a social consciousness that is embedded in Yuon’s work, affirming itself through the poetic and contemplative forms he creates.
This affirmation of social memory through the aesthetic deployment of discarded materials is already apparently in “Slowness & Wait” (2007). The work is a sculptural installation that uses pieces of broken pots placed strategically on the floor so they can be seen in tension and relation to each other as well as with the viewer. The broken shards are not put back together in a way that would make them useful; the shards instead create a new composition that is whole in brokenness, their cracks becoming even more apparent as the pieces sit with each other in a single space. The artist’s process of spending long moments of contemplation with these objects to create new sets of relations outside of useful time and space is a key element of the work. Yuon’s individualized technique is transferred on to the viewer in “52-106” (2009). In the piece, Yuon wrote instructions in a book at a local library for participants to convene at a nearby abandoned site to talk and look at “unfamiliar things” with him. By instructing others how to look at objects in a new light, Yuon transfers his skills and techniques as an artist onto the general public, implying that such skills in looking can be applied to everyday life as well as artistic practice. In two new works from 2013, Yuon turns towards an investigation of both domestic and public environments, the different kinds of spaces they engender and what can be remembered through their material traces. In “A room with the south window that can see the In-Wang Mt,”Yuon peeled off three layers of wallpaper in an old room, slowly shaving off the material traces of memory and history in the house.
He then transported the wallpaper layers into a gallery space and reconstructed the spatial dimensions of the room with only the wallpaper suspended from the ceiling. The domestic space is now literally a shell of its former self, moved into a new context of the exhibition. The work’s title—“A room with the south window that can see the In-Wang Mt”—alludes to a sight that now can only be seen by the mind’s eye. Similarly, in “2nd spatial practice of chandelier,” Yuon refers to a space and a view that no longer exists, namely the pre-renovation site of the old Seoul train station. The work consists of chandeliers that were dismantled during the renovation in 2011. He installed one chandelier covered in plastic, as it was before the renovation. The other was kept in pieces but suspended from the ceiling or placed on the floor in a dimly lit environment.
In YuonKibaik’s work subjectivity, memory and personal perspective, on the part of both the artist and the viewer, are key to grasping the material on display. Yuon’s work presents new notions of wholeness from fragmentary pieces that have been discarded by others—it is in this process of reclaiming wholeness from a broken world that the character of Yuon’s practice is formed.