Walking along Yongsan, American Lake
Sim So-Mi (Independent Curator)
She takes a look at the map of Seoul. Searching places using the internet or smart phones is not a big deal. The map vividly shows not only where he is right now but the entire city on macroscopic and microscopic scales. But it has an empty space in the middle of the city packed with buildings and busy streets. The space is south of Namsan Mountain just above the Han River. It is 600 times bigger than Yeouido Square. What is this dark empty space? That is Yongsan located at the center of Seoul. The area larger than Namsan Mountain is now “blurred” on the middle of the city map for national security concerns as it houses the Yongsan US army base. Along the military installation that is invisible on the map, Shake, a Taiwanese artist, walks a trail of 348 square meters hanging a small camera on each shoulder. One is facing the US army base, and the other is looking onto the street of Yongsan opposite. The video seems nothing special for us, but it shows the current state of the military colony, which may make people anywhere in the world feel uncomfortable. This is also why the artist came to Seoul from Taipei. He conducted a wide range of preliminary research about the Yongsan US army base based on David Vine's book “Base Nation,” internet searching in English and Chinese, and Korean movies. The artist's interest in US military bases comes from his geopolitical identity as Asian above all. Like many other Asian countries did in modern times, Okinawa, Korea and Taiwan have gone through colonial periods. Korea was under occupation by the US Military government right after the Japanese colonial rule, and the country takes passive attitudes about international affairs surrounding China. This is why the artist named the video “American Lake.” It represents the Pacific Ocean which is bordered by the island chain, a military line of defense between the United States and China. The American lake deeply penetrates into daily lives in Asian countries along this imaginary military line of defense.
The artist follows the outline of US army base in Yongsan as if it were the American lake. The video showing the military base and the opposite street shot by two camcorders also runs script written by the artist. The script is like his narration. The sentences deliver objective information, subjective views, thoughts, and questions of her own in a monologic tone. The method of scripting her impression on Korean society is distinctive. The script is like a monologic montage of various thoughts created by the stream of inner consciousness. This takes the "écriture cinématographique" that he has been experimenting since his earliest work. What she tries here is a montage made of visual image and language and the narrative unfolds based on the stream of consciousness and inner voice. It modifies or disturbs the relationship between visual image and language, or creates intersection or intimate connection between the two, providing a sort of space for thinking. From personal narration of characters to depiction of scenery to description of the artist’s mind and delivery of historical facts, a mixture of writings in different styles engage in the video image. Her work of Yongsan US army base this time also provides a space for various thoughts and questions on private, public, historical or geopolitical situations including impossibility of geopolitical intervention, flow in daily life, Korea’s modern and contemporary history and circumstances surrounding East Asia through “cinematographic writing.” In describing this, a Korean movie that he watched holds several clues to her digging into political aspects and social reality of Korea. The view of the artist who observed diverse social problems in Korea such as trauma caused by military situations, and resulting irrational events and polluted land is more vividly depicted through fictional reality of the film. While she moves northwards along the wall to the military post, the images of social aspects presented in the Korean film are overlapped and scattered on the video.
One question that the artist raised through the film "Address Unknown(2001)" is felicitously consistent with the geopolitical context facing the Yongsan US military base, and it requires us to ponder deeply. “Like a girl who lost one eye, living on the other side of the wall that separates and hides us from the scene is the only choice we can make?” The existence of the US military base which is invisible but deeply entrenched into our daily life turns people into a girl who lost one eye. The intersection between the character of the movie and the geopolitical situation of Yongsan is also linked to his another video work “The Private's Letter.” This video that shows only script on a black screen is based on written interviews with Korean men who have experienced military service. The interviews were about how the group experience is remembered and thought. The memories in their twenties when they were oppressed by war ideology are implied and condensed in their short handwriting. The memories that each handwriting reveals are all about the reality of everyday life, which is thoroughly hidden by the wall. From the handwriting of those who have come back to daily life beyond the wall, we encounter "cinematographic writing" made by the second artist, the audience. Shake brings the scattered silent voices of individuals, that is, others’ monologues on the prohibited area or hidden zone into the world beyond the wall. This is where the artist’s work overlaps and mediates silence of history, politics, society and individuals fragmented around the “American Lake” and seems to create a topographic map of place in Yongsan stretching beyond the Korean peninsula to Asia and the Pacific Ocean.