maltabiennale.art 2024
Thematic Pavilion
Hybrid Isolated Landscape
2024.3.11.–5.31. National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta
Curator: Jieon Lee, Artist: Gijeong Goo

Hybrid Isolated Landscape” directs attention to a novel form of isolation within the vibrantly dynamic contemporary landscape of South Korea, emanating from the intersection of its technologically advanced status and the resultant dialectic between physical reality and virtual realms. This inquiry underscores the emergence of a distinct typology wherein both non-human and human entities find themselves isolated amidst the evolving socio-technological landscape. Malta and Korea share experiences of being dominated by neighbouring nations and are composed of several islands with unique terrains. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is constructing an artificial urban environment, transforming islands into mainland and mainland into islands, thereby inscribing the history of artificial landscapes. This process simultaneously confronts another dimension of isolation, including digital/media isolation, amidst the prevalent physical, social and cultural disconnections commonly experienced in island environments.

The artwork Hybrid Isolated Landscape (2024) posits South Korea as a de facto island nation or maritime state surrounded by the sea or waterways, due to its physical, social and cultural disconnect from the northern continent, effectively serving as a ceasefire line. In the island nation, the rapid onset of Digital Transformation heralds the era of ‘Digital Isolation,’ where individuals confront a phenomenon leading them to perceive the world through images constructed by fantasy(reverie) and imagination. Consequently, nature is artificially produced and consumed, evolving in a manner accessible to individual ownership. In particular, landscapes unseen in reality are interpreted through cropped datasets encountered on screens. This not only physically isolates the body further but also leads to encounters with the opaque unknown. In the 6-channel display, scenes from Malta beyond the screen and landscapes of Jeju captured by the artist animate and intertwine, forming a hybrid landscape against the backdrop of a nonexistent ironic ecology. This setting constructs a mixed landscape alongside artificial life (Artificial Living).

PAVILION CURATOR: Jieon Lee, a curator, adeptly connects scientific images—both factual and fictional—with the emergence of new normality. Focused on various media and technologies utilising the “body” as a medium, Lee explores the intersection of scientific representation and societal shifts. Lee was part of the Busan Biennale exhibition team (2020-2022), and worked for the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (2023). Lee curated and co-curated the exhibitions including A Deliberate and Rapid Transplant (Art Space Mullae, 2023), Contrology (Hall 1, 2022), Underwater Hibernation (PLACEMAK3, 2021), and Emerging Landscape: A New Normality (Royal West of England Academy, 2019), among others.

ARTIST: Gijeong Goo explores the intricate interplay among humans, machines, and nature by transforming actual landscapes into digital imagery through 3D rendering and translating them into images and installations within physical spaces. Real landscapes, replicated by digital technology, converge with virtual elements of augmented reality, giving rise to an ambiance that dwells on the borderline between reality and virtuality. He has featured in the solo exhibition Contrology (Hall 1, 2022) and group exhibitions A Deliberate and Rapid Transplants (Art Space Mullae, 2023), SeMA Anthology: Ten Enchanting (Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, 2023), Dutch Design Week Get Set (Strijp-T, 2022), among others.

A Deliberate and Rapid Transplant
2023.11.3.–29. Seoul Art Space Mullae M1
Curated by Jieon Lee
chatbakers, Dae Hong Kim, Gijeong Goo, Hyojae Kim, Seongil Choi, Sungju Ham

Hosted and Organised by Jieon Lee
Supported by Seoul City, Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture

“A work of art has value only if it resonates with the tremors of the future.” 1

André Breton declared in the Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. This statement still rings true in the realm of contemporary art in 2023. If we deconstruct this sentence and apply it to reality, we come to understand that when our (optimistic) hope for technology glimmers through a work of art, these tremors indeed translate into artistic value. To embrace this perspective, referred to as ‘the future,’ is to defamiliarize the ‘here and now.’2 As Fredric Jameson summarizes, this is the “unthinkability” of the future, marking the death of utopia. Consequently, do viewers derive aesthetic satisfaction from a scene that betrays familiarity while resembling the future? If so, this exhibition achieves its aesthetics by presenting unfamiliar, bizarre, or uncanny scenes.  

A Deliberate and Rapid Transplant attempts to assess the elusive nature of the ‘future’ and the present’s (deliberate and rapid) approach toward it. To serve as a gauge, I propose employing the term ‘transplant’ with its multifaceted connotations. Within many contexts, transplants are often perceived as a facet of internalization. Specifically, within the framework of posthuman discourse, this is evaluated through the ‘presence of non-biological elements’ and is further determined by the manner in which subjectivity is constructed. Let’s examine transplants from a broad range of viewpoints outside the confines of established systems. I aim to explore the following question by delving into open-form movements, encounters, and transplants, as well as scenes and endeavors that can be realized or expanded.

How will we progress with the multitude of transplants, recombinations, rejections, and approvals that we have undergone, and what experiments and compromises are required for this journey? 

For a more comprehensive understanding, certain fragments have been put together to create three intersections.

1.          Crossing: Strange Cartography
2.         Bonding: (Ghost) Intelligence
3.         Embracing: In and Out of the Body

These intersections do not lead to straightforward, unambiguous, and unquestionable answers through the (direct or indirect) acts of crossing, bonding, and embracing. Instead, they aim to disrupt the dialectical struggle for dominance between the dichotomy of the technological and the organic. In essence, their purpose is to reconcile the plethora of embodied and impassioned perspectives, creating an opportunity for shifting one’s mindset and fostering respect. While the difference between the state before and after the journey following this question may seem minimal, it is my hope that it leads to more than merely reverting to the prior mindset.

1.          Crossing: Strange Cartography
When envisioning the path traced by the equipment known as the ‘human body,’ it feels more constrained than what one might unwittingly anticipate. Crossing: Strange Cartography starts with an exploration into how bodies and technologies chart divergent trajectories. The subtitle ‘Strange Cartography’ derives from deliberating whether to look for an intersection of differently charted paths for resolution, or to examine the difference in the ranges traced from the same origin. Subsequently, it dawned on me that a shared destination - which is to say a common goal - exists.

Hyojae Kim’s Parkour (2021) finds its etymology in the French term ‘Parcours,’ meaning “journey.” Beginning with the body, it engenders free and unique movements, spaces, and accessible trajectories, culminating in an expansive and heightened performance. Within Parkour (2021), a temporal gap sets apart the first generation of athletes and contemporary practitioners. Their bodily trajectories have been distilled into digital data, and the map beyond the screen reveals the replicable target points that lead to the same landing. Her recent piece, Burning Shell (2023), delves into the bodily structure of the ‘foot,’ employing the mobility and landing techniques of ‘Parkour’ - a bodily methodology that leverages human, non-technical senses. It gives rise to the ‘Shell,’ a rehabilitative shoe capable of accommodating various foot types, from parkour athletes to those recovering from foot injuries. Through this exhibition, we seek to unveil a pilot study on the parkour shoe ‘Shell,’ which incorporates tactile sensing, and a sensory perception experiment that captures the sensations of foot impact and transmits real-time pressure. This will serve as a seam line bridging the movement traced by the human body and the world beyond the screen – the virtual reality map - upon which the paths are drawn.

Daehong Kim’s latest work, Space Dancer (2023), assembles discarded items commonly found on the streets. They are integrated as major components of a robot alongside cheap motors, transforming into a newfound driving force. This robot, which inhabits a realm somewhere between non-human and organic, can adapt its form even when confronted with subtle disturbances and pressures. It endures the somewhat predictable near future that stems from having a body with a prolonged lifespan, maintaining its flexibility in charting its course. Somehow, these works, each possessing their distinct and unique perspectives, converge in their implications and collaborate. This collaboration gives rise to unfamiliar, thinly weaved cartography where intersections and destinations intricately overlap, created by the collaborative effort of the body, robot, and the virtual world. 

Hyojae Kim (b. 1993) is an artist who travels between Seoul, New York, and France. Her other ‘vocation’ is as a Parkour researcher, and her work Burning Shell, featured in A Deliberate and Rapid Transplant, further extends her ongoing work by gathering pressure data from the foot, an extremity of the human body, as it meets the ground. Her focus lies in exploring methods for future humans to coexist with technology and navigate the challenges of climate change. Her works have been shown in ‘Frieze Film Seoul’ (Insa Art Space, Seoul, 2023), ‘flop: dialectic of rules and counter-argument’ (SOMA Museum of Art, Seoul, 2023), and ‘Right to Mother’ (Hessel Museum of Art, New York, 2023). In 2022, she participated in the NARS Foundation's International Residency Program in New York.

Daehong Kim (b. 1974) centers his work on robots, new media, and small-scale kinetics as he travels between Busan and Vietnam. He has incorporated painting into his body of work, and most of the narrators in his work on screen are simple robots from the 1990s and early 2000s. He crafts small scaled non-human/organism entities and closely observes their movements.  His work has been featured in his solo exhibition ‘People Singing Songs That No One Listens to’ (Flag M, 2022) and in group exhibitions such as ‘My Sleep’ (Culture Station Seoul 284, 2022) and ‘On Technology’ (Busan Museum of Contemporary Art, 2020) among others. In 2015, he participated in the residency program at Künstlerhaus Bethanie in Berlin, where he presented his solo exhibition ‘Zoo/Lab.’

2.         Bonding: (Ghost) Intelligence
In January 2018, the artificial intelligence humanoid robot known as Sophia – notably was even granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia – made a visit to Korea. Going further back in time, during the 18th century, the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson designed an automaton duck capable of ingesting and digesting food. This duck could produce sounds, swim, and give the impression of swallowing and digesting its meals. However, this experiment was later revealed to be a deception, as it relied on the discharge of prepared contents as part of an effort to trick the audience.

In simple terms, the distinction between artificial intelligence and human intelligence arises from human intelligence interpreting a four-dimensional world shaped by four nucleic acids, while computers operate within a two-dimensional realm. Many errors and miscommunications within relationships stem from this fundamental disparity. In particular, these errors can infiltrate and occupy the human body, significantly diminishing intimacy with (ghost) intelligence.

Introducing the reproduction piece Dear Sophia by Chat bakers (f. 2023), the work comprises a video, installation, and a recipe book. The video unfolds as a conversation that begins with a recipe from an artificial intelligence entity named ‘Sophia,’ sharing the same name as the aforementioned ‘Sophia.’ The work delves into the physiological process of ‘digestion’ – a bodily phenomenon that runs through various organs, and the human-specific social event that commences with ‘eating.’ The accompanying recipe book, crafted by Sophia, who lacks the senses of smell and taste, endeavors to convey and analyze the flavors of dishes like pepperoni pizza to the two bakers who are highly attuned to their senses. As the conversation continues, it creates false memories by inventing menu items, such as condensed milk soybean stew. This piece highlights the sensory limitations and misunderstandings of intelligence devoid of a physical body and simultaneously evokes ambivalent emotions, which may be interpreted as an effort to maintain a connection.

Seongil Choi presents a module designed to enforce the most comfortable sitting posture proposed by artificial intelligence. In Ergovision #1, scenes that may be considered somewhat risky or beyond the capabilities of the human body structure are depicted, and the argument put forth is that these unconventional gestures are harmless and will eventually lead to an improved posture. However, the artist’s module, having accepted this suggestion, insists on a form of “ordinary sitting” that seems impossible and resembles kneeling. While these errors and misunderstandings may widen the gap in terms of ‘bonding’, they hopefully can also usher in unexpected developments through the establishment of a relationship characterized by friction.

Chat bakers (f. 2023) is an artist duo consisting of Sangha Kim (b. 1999) and Yumin Lee (b. 1997). They first introduced a prototype of Dear Sophia in Forking Room 2023 ‘Adrenaline Prompt’ (Post Territory Ujeongguk, 2023). Both artists, who share a background in photography, sought to establish a form of communication with intelligence without physical bodies, drawing inspiration from their mutual interest in baking. Their artistic focus draws a parallel between the ephemeral nature of exhibitions and the act of baking, which generates smells and flavors meant to be swallowed. In ‘Unlimited E15’ (Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, 2023), they unveil a recipe book containing their conversations with Sophia.

Seongil Choi (b. 1984) divides his time between England, Berlin, and Korea. He challenges the conventional boundaries that distinguish ‘designer’ from ‘visual artist,’ aspiring to create a harmonious fusion of genres. Formerly, he operated ‘Studio ilio’ in Berlin and now oversees an independent studio. Choi focuses on the exploration of fresh possibilities, functions, and designs through his research into production processes. He has participated in various exhibitions, such as his solo exhibition ‘Soft to Hard’ (Supply Seoul, 2022), and group exhibitions ‘Touching Lines, Hearing Shapes’ (IEUM Gallery, 2022), and ‘Seating, Seoul’ (Studio Ark, 2020), and curated ‘Again, Letters to Nature’ (Culture Station Seoul 284, 2023).

3.         Embracing: In and Out of the Body
What are prosthetics? They are often defined as devices that serve as substitutes for body parts when they are lost. The sight of a machine that emerges from the human body no longer feels unfamiliar. I too cannot escape the use of prosthetics. In October, two crowns were placed on my broken teeth, and I have since scheduled an appointment for dental implants. Models of prosthetic legs, prosthetic hands, canes, and hearing aids are displayed along the way to Seoul Station, the center of the city. From the leather prosthetic arms presented to veterans and others produced by James Gillingham in Chard, England in the 1870s to the ‘Hero Arm’ (developed by Open Bionics), which allows five robotic fingers to move freely with only fine muscle control, prosthetics have evolved to take on a wide and diverse range of forms. In contemporary times, individuals can live their daily lives through collaboration with both internalized and externalized devices that function as prosthetic extensions of themselves.

Gijeong Goo shifts their approach in his latest piece, Crossing Bodies. Motion capture technology became a part of our collective awareness with the animation of female robots in the 1985 television commercial ‘Brilliance,’ produced by Robert Abel. Presently, it finds applications in diagnosing bone and muscle issues within medical institutions. The motion-capture suit featured in the video clumsily mimics the performer, using magnetic fields to maintain (in)complete contact between the body and technology, resulting in a haphazard replication of the performer’s movements. Swift hand gestures or peculiar poses made by the performer lead to the complete distortion of the replicated bone joints. You can witness the moment when the movement is tracked and cross-synthesized. The performer’s data is converted into volumes, presented as a video alongside an assistive device needed for the later stage (a walker) of human’s standing years. This portrayal highlights the limited integration of technology with the human body while emphasizing its role as an outward extension that aids the body. Crossing Bodies serves as an annotation to Facing and Strolling, attempting to unify various movements by weaving together 3D skeletons, documented performer movements, and 4D animation.

Sungju Ham’s Power Glove resurrects early VR game device imagery that once ignited great anticipation onto a canvas.

The image above is an early model sketch of ‘Power Glove’ produced by Nintendo. It bears a resemblance to the aforementioned ‘Hero Arm’ (developed by Open Bionics). Through games and Internet-based interfaces, their work preserves the three-dimensional sensations of the past, where a hand could feel the pressing of protruding buttons. The path of optimal evolution departs from the notion of ‘seamlessness’, and as we navigate a somewhat unsteady present, we embrace elements both inside and outside of our bodies.

Gijeong Goo (b. 1991) explores the intricate interplay among humans, machines, and nature by transforming actual landscapes into digital imagery through 3D rendering and translating them into images and installations within physical spaces. Throughout this process, real landscapes, replicated by digital technology, converge with virtual elements of augmented reality, giving rise to an enigmatic ambiance that dwells on the borderline between reality and virtuality. His work has been featured in the solo exhibition ‘Contrology’ (Hall 1, 2022) and group exhibitions ‘SeMA Anthology: Ten Enchanting Spell’ (Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, 2023), ‘Get Set (Dutch Design Week)’ (Strijp-T, 2022), and ‘Super-fine’ (Ilmin Museum of Art, 2021), among others.

Sungju Ham (b. 1990) is a painter based in Seoul. He is inspired from growing up with a father who operated an arcade, and his work often feature game images and devices that were immensely popular in the 1990s. His paintings capture moments of contemporary digital normality, giving them depth and dimension. His work has been featured in his solo exhibition ‘We are not strangers to love’ (Boan 1942, 2021), and in group exhibitions ‘Histeria’ (Ilmin Museum of Art, 2023) and ‘Drawing Growing’ (Post Territory Ujeongguk, 2023), among others.