W&C
Watch and Chill: Streaming Art to Your Homes
The Tales I Tell
Intro

My Secret Story is an exhibition-related satellite project in which texts containing everyday stories or critical perspectives on experiencing on-line platform Watch and Chill according to writers’ own tastes are produced and shared on the platform. The project was planned to examine from a personal and private perspective how artworks can be viewed on on-line media platforms in accordance with the rapid changes in video content viewing methods brought by the appearance of diverse media platforms. Like the exhibition itself, the project will last for three years, continuously producing discourses in consideration of the direction and expansive potential of the themes of later exhibitions.

The project consists of three parts.

Part 1: ‘The Experienced Museum: Arriving Folded into Private Spaces – Watch and Chill Streams Art to Your Home’.
Yoo Hyunjoo (professor, Yonsei University)
Today, thanks to media platforms, we are able to watch video content with ease, any time and anywhere. The viewer no longer goes to find content in its location; rather, the viewer’s location becomes the venue for viewing. In this text, Professor Yoo Hyunjoo attempts to examine ways of viewing cultural and artistic content on on-line media platforms from a critical perspective.

Part 2: Platform experience diaries of cultural figures: ‘On Privacy’
Yoon Hyangro (contemporary artist), Jo Eunbi (independent curator), Lee Gi-ri (poet)
In the age of COVID, the home has become not just a place of dwelling but a multipurpose space of work, childcare, friendship and more. In On Privacy, contemporary cultural figures using their homes for a variety of purposes share the diaries they kept while experiencing the on-line Watch and Chill platform. Their diary entries offer a glimpse of how experiences and viewing methods differ according to factors such as personal taste and environment.

Part 3: ‘Journey’: A novelist’s short platform travel essay
Baek Min-seok (novelist)
Watch and Chill allows users to wander around a website in accordance with personal taste. In this sense, it can be seen as similar to the modes of experience found in travel. At a time of restricted physical travel, one novelist experiences an on-line platform as if on a journey of his own, then conveys the outcome in a short essay, sharing his new artwork viewing experiences in long breaths.


Part 2


Yoon Hyang-ro (Contemporary Artist)

Yoon Hyang-ro explores the possibility of abstract painting based on contemporary imaging technology. Her representative “Screenshot” work series have been presented in various medium such as painting, print, sculpture, video, furniture, and installation under the name of “pseudo painting”. Recently, she is attempting works that deal with images of historical works of art in multiple layers. She’s had solo exhibitions such as (Hakgojae Gallery, Seoul, 2020), (P21, Seoul, 2018), and (Doosan Gallery, New York, NY, 2017), and participated in group exhibitions such as (Gwangju Biennale, 2018), (Atelier Hermes, 2017). She has also co-curated exhibitions and events such as (Sejong Center, 2015) and (Gallery 175, 2013).


A note on 'home'
The Home Is Not Prepared

To me, home was just home. During my teens, I always came in at dawn because of the entrance exams, and in my twenties, I often slept at the school's or personal studio space. It was more exciting to spend time outside with colleagues and friends than to stay at home. Hence, to me, home meant nothing more than a place to sleep, and I regarded any place home as long as I could sleep in it, such as my studio and artist residency.

I got married in 2019, and thought about making a home and for the first time. I was actually at a loss, because I had never thought about what kind of home I wanted until then. As I was the one that got to choose our first house, I chose one of the apartments near my studio based on two criteria: An open view, and a size easy to clean. Even when choosing furniture, while my husband who had at times collected chairs and lighting equipment didn’t have any difficulty, I was somewhat unrealistic. Somehow, this whole process felt like logging into The Sims* and choosing a pre-built house. Okay, now you picked a house, need a chair to sit on? Then let's put this chair here, like this.

I gave birth in November of that year. But the same year on December 31st, I saw an article on consecutive cases of pneumonia of unknown cause occurring in China, and on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures from all over the world shouted: Stay Home. The World Was Not Prepared for Covid-19. Besides my infancy, I was staying at home longer than at any other time in my life, without knowing how long this would last. Stuck at home, I clang to my smartphone. Was it because of the short sweet breaks between the high-intensity full-time labor that I was encountering for the first time, or was it because of the anxious feeling that I was lagging behind? I obsessed over real time online news, and this dropped my concentration and increased my anxiety. Though I was with my family in the house of my choosing, the longer I spent at home, the more painful it became.

Time passed by, and the miracle of one hundred days that parents speak of finally happened to me as well, and I came to my senses and quit some of the social media. Finally, I had time to look around the house. I tried rearranging furniture, and there came to be things I wanted to fix or buy. It seems as though while I’m still inside the Sims' architecture, I am finally giving it wholehearted thought and playing the way I want. Of course it's still crazy. The baby constantly resets the household chores, and if the schedule with my husband gets messed up, I have to do study, meetings, lectures, and even work sketches at home. It can be stifling to be home, but there are also many instances when I feel the sense of life.

Recently, I talked with my family about the home we will live in. Before getting married, the only ideal home I ever knew was Donald Judd's 101 Spring Street. But its stairs are too steep for comfort, and should I work on the first floor, I would be stressed out just like Judd because of people peeping in. Its many windows would raise the heating and cooling costs, and would have to be good glass to prevent damage to the artwork. Would it be weird to have a lot of artwork by friends in the bedroom as did Judd? Guess it's too much like an artist’s home. So what other forms of houses are there? My husband says we should build a house, but what will such house look like? And would I be happy in that house? With the ongoing pandemic, my home is still being prepared.

*Life Simulation video game series developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts

Friday, September 17, 2021
W&C next available video work by Koo Donghee
Available at 4 PM KST, September 17, 2021.


I received an email while I was at my studio, saying that I could watch Koo Donghee's (2016). The video installation and sofa I saw in Koo Donghee’s solo exhibition, held at Gallery Royal in the Royal&Co multi-cultural space in the fall of 2016, came to mind. Up the stairs after passing the showroom where bathroom products such as toilets are displayed, stood a screen and a multi-seat sofa in a darkened space on one side of the wide floor. The place where, when I went to the bathroom while at the exhibition, I could clearly recognize I was inside the building of a company specializing in bathrooms. Watching Koo Donghee's work where the boundary between daily and non-daily life is considered unimportant, in an unfamiliar exhibition space, made me feel as though the images in the work were sitting close together with slightly exposed skins.

Being a conservative audience, I didn't like watching videos on platforms like Vimeo or YouTube. I have never imagined selecting a subtitle language like in Netflix or watching a work of art on a TV or a computer that I ordinarily use. Though there have been various attempts for viewing works online since the early days of COVID-19, I believed it best to view works in a physical space directed by the artists and curators. I thought that the form of installation was a determining factor of the level of the work, that the physical and bodily appreciation of the exhibition was the completion of the work. That is why I particularly remember this exhibition and work by Koo Donghee.

It’s been a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Today, after waking up at 5am, I felt like watching just any video work for the first time in my life. I opened all the windows in the house and sat on the sofa listening to the distant horns, the wind and the chirping of insects. This is the time and space where I can best focus these days. The moment I press the play button of the video work with the MacBook on my lap, the main picture extracted from somewhere in the video disappears (unlike at the exhibition space), and the work is played from the beginning. Surprisingly, all my inner senses sharply come to life, and the totality of these senses allow me to experience the work in a very three-dimensional and realistic way. The experience is a lot deeper and electrifying than I expected.

Viewing video works in a setting that is not the exhibition space, feels similar to reading a novel to me. Diving into the medium, with the space-time in which I sit or stand altered to the sense and place that I set up. Accessing the net. The immersion may easily break or may last for a long time, which is the kind of sense whose settings can be changed at any time according to your experience and concentration. In addition, the viewing method of entering through various paths while changing the surrounding settings showed me the possibility for different directions and interpretations of the work, becoming a way to expand the senses.

Just as it is impossible to set a linear path and method of seeing by controlling all situations when presenting a work to the audience, it is now meaningless to control the entry point for viewing works of art. The methods of viewing that have diversified than in the past, make it clear that the most important thing is how to make each person fully absorbed from their own respective worlds, the immersion of the audience in any condition. The experience of viewing inside the exhibition space that felt like entering a huge bathroom with a sofa to see it, and viewing through the 'Watch and Chill' web service while sitting on the sofa of my living room, was like watching a scene that was cross-edited inside Koo Donghee's work like fraternal twins. Just like Koo Donghee’s work that converse across blurred boundaries, the works and the viewers have come to engage in various forms of conversation wherever they are.

Friday, September 24, 2021
50 Ways to View Art Outside of Physical Exhibition Space


Watched the work in a web browser without subtitles.
Turned on the subtitles,
changed the language,
slowed and fastened the speed,
increased or decreased the sound,
muted,
used MacBook at home,
and iPhone while moving or resting,
iMac when at the studio,
with noise canceling earphones,
Bluetooth headphones,
or the computer’s built-in speakers,
on a 60-inch TV while sitting or lying on the sofa,
doing squats or lunges,
riding an indoor exercise bike,
or at the gym, walking fast on the treadmill with my iPhone on its phone stand,
secretly on a muted iPhone at 9pm next to the baby after putting it to sleep,
as loud as possible when no one is at home,
resuming a work on hold,
drinking hot coffee, or drinking coffee with ice,
eating the salad prepared for lunch in front of the monitor,
viewing in Safari’s default web screen, then changing to full screen,
reducing the screen as small as possible,
viewing alone, then with friends,
sharing the video link with friends via text,
sharing the video link via social media,
rewinding it as much as the time that passed while at the bathroom,
sitting on a bench while taking a walk,
suppressing the urge not to see with a loving mind for art,
repeating again and again,
replaying the part that I don’t understand,
with all windows closed,
with all windows open,
while watching on my iPhone, thinking I should watch this on TV,
while watching on my laptop at home, thinking I should watch it at the studio.
waiting for a better time to focus,
sitting at Starbucks, wearing a mask,
back at the studio, without a mask,
washed up back home and in comfortable clothes,
after suddenly remembering before going to bed,
mirroring to another screen from the iPhone,
re-watching work from an exhibition in a different medium,
only the sound without looking at the screen,
taking sneak peeks while doing something else,
looking for a different device as my MacBook battery has run out,
waiting for recharge as all other devices have also gone out,
Cleaning coffee that I spilled, startled by a sudden doorbell while watching video,
opening the door to receive laundry and temporarily hanging it somewhere,
returning after locking the door to prevent sudden visitors,
and somehow back to it again.

Thursday, September 30, 2021
Yuan Goang-ming, 2014


Time floats in the submerged living room. Having lost its function, the clock on the wall ticks at the same section, interfering with the operation of everyday senses. It's like hearing in water. Following the movement of the screen, you can see that it was shot with a high-speed camera, and that the furniture that might be from Ikea are not to scale. Objects in the submerged living room drift around in suspended time, then explode. And the explosion shrinks again, as though trying to hold on to time or cancel everything. The living room under water keeps exploding and reverting back as though nothing has happened.

This work reminded me of the last scene in Michelangelo Antonioni's movie (1970). The beauty of explosions and their fragments, romantically depicted irrespective to the flow of the story or reality. A certain delight felt by the sense of distance that the object is beyond the screen rather than in front of me. Gorgeous visual effects and the aesthetics of destruction that have perhaps become too close to us.

Real explosions are different. If the explosion site is one that isn’t ventilated, it cannot be entered for up to a week. You can't see even with a gas mask, so all soot, smoke, and toxic gases have to be removed. If the cause of the explosion is unknown, it needs to be waited until the National Forensic Service finds the cause. There are too many things to be resolved following an explosion, not to mention having to deal with financial and mental damage as well as time loss. But the moment I actually experienced such an explosion, I too felt a certain beauty in front of the charred ashes.

The explosion sequence inside the dream designed by Ariadne, played by Alan Page in the movie , was filmed in Paris. It is said that since real explosives could not be used in downtown Paris, high-pressure air was used to expel objects to look like an explosion scene. Perhaps for this reason, the explosion in this film is further from reality than in any other film, and it is perfectly clean and beautiful. It looks like a picture completed by using tweezers to pick out only the beauty of something being destroyed. Why do humans find beauty in destruction? Is it a matter of immersion? Or visual desire? A shrinking explosion leaves no damage. It simply hides the sense of reality behind it.

Monday, October 1, 2021
Memo Diary


People think of intangible things, then actualize them in some kind of form.

How precious is the experience of being completely immersed in an object? The experience of being able to view works of art at any time and place was unimaginable just a year or two ago. It actually feels a little abnormal, like an electric car of the present that seems to have been created by deliberately going back in time to imagine the future, but its usefulness and unknown possibilities lead to a different immersion.

Driving a convertible really doesn’t make your hair blow? Well, those pictures of hair blowing on sports cars were by people who have never ridden a sports car.

“If the world isn’t fun, that means you’re no longer fun.” The reason I was quickly absorbed by what my friend told me was because a lot of things were no longer fun since the Coronavirus. Isn't it real scary for you and me not to be fun? Think about how many things the word fun can connote.

When I think of ‘watching a movie at home’, I am reminded of (1999). Having missed The Matrix in theaters, I rented a VHS tape from a video rental store. But for some reason, unlike with any other movie, I kept falling asleep every time I watched the movie so that only my younger brother who initially watched it with me got through to the end, and I only finished it after about 15 attempts as though constructing a mosaic. It was so difficult to watch the movie in one sitting that I ended up paying a lot of late fees.

The good or bad of a work that exists in physical form, such as a sculpture or a painting, can usually be judged within five minutes at the exhibition space. Walk close to the work and face it, look right and left, up and down, front and back, read the image, and discover the meaning of the signs. This process is simultaneously carried out through multiple sensory organs in random order. (Of course, nothing is more important than first impressions.)
    However, video works take up more time. By default, there is a running time. In addition, it is rare for the video to start just as you enter the exhibition space, so you have to start from the middle and go through the end credits all the way round to the scene where you began. I occasionally stop watching after seeing the composition and structure of the work, but as I aim to be a modern audience, I watch until the end if possible.
    Compared to works that exist as physical matter, viewing these video works makes me feel like I am racing along for the completion of the work. Not as a main character, but as an assistant or supporter, and sometimes as a new coach that haven't even said hello yet. As though checking the target time upon getting on a treadmill and continuously checking the remaining time while running, I check the running time by looking at the floor plan of the exhibition, put my body in front of the work, and run with my eyes and ears open.

Monday, October 8, 2021
To Jeamin


Hello Ms. Jeamin

Today I watched (2013) at home. I served a meal to a guest in my house yesterday, so today my husband took out the kid for me to spend some time alone, giving me free time all of a sudden. As I was contemplating how to spend this afternoon, an email I received a while ago came to mind. “Available at 4pm KST, October 8, 2021. Cha Jeamin, 〈Fog and Smoke〉, 2013.”

Was it when we participated in 《The Song of Slant Rhymes》 exhibition held at the Kukje Gallery that I first saw this work? (2009) was your first work that I saw, and as with the , I was impressed by its tap dancing scene. The sense that my body temperature seems to drop lower the louder the sound of metal striking the asphalt or the building floor becomes, unlike that of the sweating dancer. The feeling of being left alone in the cold air, on a midsummer morning at 5am, when all the streetlights are out just before sunrise. I got goosebumps by the sound of tap dancing reverberating through the empty city, but I think it was closer to joy than fear. Multiple senses fit together simultaneously like pieces of a puzzle, so I came to wonder how tenaciously this artist looks at the world.

I think I began to like your work from then on. The sounds and scenes of tap dancing have become an image that often comes to mind in my daily life. Oh, and come to think of it, it is said a skilled person dancing in tap shoes can make four different sounds depending on the movement, and hearing that makes the recurring appearance of Songdo New town, the person performing a tap dance, news sounds, and the voice of the interviewee in the work each come to mind as a note.

In September, I went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul to see the exhibition, 《Watch and Chill: Streaming Art to Your Homes》, and the only work I saw again multiple times was (2020). The two channel video installation seemed to show how technology related to visual perception develops and what kind of desire exists behind such technology, and through the two gazing eyes facing the same direction, how visual perception and awareness cannot exist separately.

Actually, while watching , I thought of my dog that passed away 4 years ago. Sunnie was blind for half of her 16 years with me due to cataracts. It was difficult to suppress my emotions as I remembered me and my family’s failure to preserve her eyesight due to ignorance, and her sufferings from many diseases until the end.

I think I'm drawn to the kind of beauty and solidity that I’m unable to create when watching your work. A refined way of expressing anger, an effective expression that conveys emptiness, an attitude free of raw desire. Was it at TIFY in Buam-dong that we last came across? I would like to hear more about the loneliness and emptiness, cities and humans that you think of. I hope to be able to talk with you someday.



Jo Eunbi (independent curator)

Eunbi Jo has worked as a curator at KT&G Sangsangmadang Gallery and Art Space Pool. She has curated many exhibitions, including A House yet Unknown at Art Space Pool in 2013, Floating and Sinking at Gallery Factory in 2015, The Art of Not Landing at Cake Gallery in 2016, and Mobile at DOOSAN Gallery Seoul in 2017. She is also a co-translator of the publication Self-Organized (mediabus, 2016).

Five diary entries on on-line platform experiences

My first thoughts, when asked to write “a diary about my experiences of on-line platforms,” were of voyeurism and exposure. With regard to reading someone else’s diary, and writing a diary to be read to someone else. I see these two desires as a well-matched yet mutually treacherous pair. In other words, I wonder if showing people what they want to see brings a combination of satisfaction and disappointment. An undermining of the emotional foundation of wanting what you don’t want. The reason I accepted the proposal despite these risks was a hunch that the device of an “on-line art platform” corresponded with this ambivalence. It also seemed that this resonance would be well-suited to the unique vibes that I felt in the space I call home. It follows that the content of this diary may be nothing like that desired by the reader, and may even seem irrelevant. But, as you know, I believe that was the inevitable fate of this text. Because its immutable core is the contradiction of a public diary, one that would never have been written if it had not been proposed by someone else.
*
When you’re asked to talk about your home, you inevitably find yourself looking around it. In the last few years, since giving birth to my child, I’ve spent most of my time at home. During the two years I spent in the Netherlands, I did nothing but look after my child without relying on the country’s exotic childcare system; this entailed limits to my movements and actions. When I and my child were alone together, it seemed as if “we” and the outside world were separated completely. Moreover, for my child, who needed looking after at every single moment, the home acquired a greater diversity of uses, from playground to workplace, research lab, and meeting venue. Perhaps, at the time, I was looking for some kind of possibility within these limits. But that was short-lived; straight after start of the pandemic, we returned to Korea and I was forced to feel yet another kind of frustration. Noise from my child, penetrating all the way through a thick mattress, caused occasional tension with our neighbors, while I found myself leaving home less often amid the hate and hostile social climate that lumped women and children together to produce labels like “parasite mums” and spaces like “kid-free zones.” From the start, our home was merely a place of refuge. The educational curriculum kept on “locking kids up” at home with measures like emergency home care and contactless classes, but within the home there was no way of avoiding contact. The effective impossibility of non-contact within a confined space merely highlighted the irony of social distancing, a notion based on the public realm. In childcare, with its endless physical contact, physical distancing was impossible. The public library where my child and I used to go now only allows borrowing, as part of COVID-19 prevention measures, while school grounds and the playground in our apartment complex are closed. Public art museums are operating reservation-based systems to ensure social distancing, but children were never particularly welcome there in the first place. The emptiness of the phrase “stay at home” lies in the fact that home was the only space completely permitted to them from the start. So if we want society to start thinking in different ways after the pandemic, I would like us to pursue these transformative imaginings in the space of here-and-now that is the home. Since we need to distribute work in the home and use outside the home. Art museums, too, bear some responsibility for this distribution. This platform will also be one embodiment of our imaginings. The following diary entries, therefore, are daily answers to the question: Can I become someone within these imaginings?

Thursday, September 9, 2021

This afternoon I got a message from the nursery that I had been classified as a close contact of a COVID-19 patient and had to quarantine at home. I fetched my child straight away and got my fourth COVID test. For the next two weeks, I’ll be stuck at home with my child. Childcare has completely changed my sense of time. Its daily routine is one of repeated repetition, so that memories as recent as yesterday’s are quick to evaporate. Perhaps it’s because, for kids, the present is more important than a past to look back on or a vague future. Together, we rely on each other alone, and live only for today. And the sudden sight, one day, of our rapidly grown and unfamiliar looking child, gives time visible form. Time thus flows differently for adults and children. Last year, when I returned from the Netherlands to Korea, my four-year-old was quarantined without even knowing it, but, in the space of barely a year, he has grown up so fast that he understands quarantine completely. When he pronounces clearly that he wishes COVID-19 would disappear quickly, his voice is full of sincerity. But now, I am more worried about my work than about the frustration my child is going to feel. If I am to get the work I have planned done, cooperation from my child and role division with my husband are important. The thought of the fatigue that is set to build up is already wearing me down.

Of course, the contactless systems that have become part of daily life since the start of the pandemic don’t seem to disrupt my work, which I generally do at home anyway, that much. Looking back, I’ve taken part in several projects in the year or so since returning to Korea, but most of that work has taken place on-line. Sometimes, the convenience of non-contact has naturally replaced in-person meetings under the pretext of social distancing. One cultural foundation conducted a judging process, and I only held one single meeting with a member of the foundation staff from beginning to end. Abstract judgments of artistic character and works (which are hard to digitize) are smoothly rationalized through new technologies and systems. And my life seemed to be safely continuing within these various virtual networks.

I try to weigh up the difference between confined here and not being so. I don’t know. No, I know only too well. About having to endure the noisiness of childcare in the space of a small apartment. Even more ironic is the way the series of “childcare labor systems” that come into operation to divide this caregiving. Outside our windows comes the sound of delivery vehicles being loaded and unloaded, day and night. We hear loud metallic sounds trolleys being wheeled down the corridor outside, the mechanical sounds of big trucks taking away the sorted garbage, and even sounds of renovation work, which have become more frequent since the pandemic began. Some childcare makes itself visible through its noisiness. So even if COVID temporary brought the market to a halt, there is no complete stopping under this system. Because the platform economy now supplies diverse proxy services in all human areas, from our bodies to our thoughts. From meals to shopping, news, cleaning, laundry, films, music, and artworks, it replaces me as curator of my own desires, telling me I can rent anything or have any service provided—as long as I can pay for it. Suddenly, I am curious. Are humans now beings that can make their own choices and decisions? And, even if they are, do they have opportunities to do so? Watching the works displayed so nicely on my monitor, it occurs to me that my own isolated situation is no different from theirs. Removed from reality and genuine objects, “we” constitute a proceduralized, circular economy. Thus, for the next two weeks, I am set to become a series of targets and results.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Every Friday, I get an email notification from Watch and Chill telling me about newly updated artworks. I’ve already missed two emails. One, I accidentally overlooked due to a load of other annoying emails, and the next time I didn’t have time to read it amid my daily schedule of postponed events following artists’ liberation from quarantine. But, even if that wasn’t the reason, it’s hard for me to write about the platform. Why does a text about “institutional experiences in accordance with systems and proposals” fail to create a narrative about those experiences themselves? Even as I watch the videos on the platform and write my diary, it’s somehow hard for me to talk about the works I have seen there, or the platform interface. This doesn’t seem to be just a question of the system that makes up the platform. Perhaps the cause of this failure is, in part, my fault. Why, you might ask, am I not becoming absorbed in the appreciation of art?

Of course, some people might be able to discover and enlarge upon the platform’s good points as they enjoy the works on display. That’s more than likely. But personally, this thought just makes me end up reconsidering the art museum as an institution. The possibilities and limitations of an on-line platform may tacitly exclude certain individuals—those, for example, who work in caregiving or who lack the motivation to view art. Now, I have nothing to say about any artwork or website. Which leaves me with no choice but to replace today’s diary entry with some notes I made during my last home quarantine period.
*
Currently, we’re all at our wits’ ends. Faced with postponed appointments, meetings put off indefinitely, discontinued daily life and cancelled plans, time becomes impotent. Ultimately, the only possible thing now is waiting. To be honest, all we want is to escape reality. Thus, the non-present is erasing the present. We are unable to live. A linear arrangement of time, oriented toward the future, forms the basis of modern capitalism. The clearly-defined points of past, present and future made clean cuts in the cloth of time, superimposed with helpful legends of regular intervals and periods. We used the present, for example, as our reference point for looking back on the past and predicting the future. This hierarchical, future-promising temporality, then, was a motivation for living in the present, and a reliable condition for preparing for times to come. The fantasy of progress let us imagine a tomorrow that would be better than yesterday. I’ll never forget, for example, those moments of delight every four years when we transcended the limits of the human body, setting new records without fail. But what about life today? At some point, I stopped feeling the waves of time that had rolled in with such regularity. The rhythms that had echoed out from the norms and institutions of the past have broken into inconsistency, and familiar tempos have been swallowed up by the vibrations convulsing hierarchy and randomness. As a result, what has now lost its certainty is not the single future that was always yet to arrive, but the many inert presents that prepared for and greeted that future.

Amid this helplessness, the authority of the system actually appears as strong as the irony of “social distancing.” The technocracy that contains reason and rationality under the unshakable regime of science, or the paradigm of “prediction,” are controlling individuals in yet another way to modernity. Individuals who have lost the present surrender their own agency amid their uncertainty and depend on institutions and authority, passing on responsibility for the future to the latter. Yet institutions and authority effectively take responsibility for nothing. On the contrary: they merely hold individuals responsible for passing on the buck to them. In the winter of the year before last, the young wife of a man who had taken his own life in protest at the unfair employment structure of a publicly-owned company set up an incense-burning altar and a hearse for her late husband, but these were soon forcibly removed in the name of “COVID-19 prevention” measures. I really couldn’t understand how she was threatening “public safety.” Even less comprehensible was the explanation from the authorities that tolerating such injustice would in turn function as an excuse for other “illegal assemblies.” But the bigger problem was that I simply could not find any grounds for arguing against such plausible statements. How must we accept the fact that suitable language for responding to public power that limits the wills and autonomy of individuals is disappearing by the day? How must we regard the paradox of a reality that rationalizes the shrinking of the individual and actually makes it a positive thing? Officially proclaimed standards clearly call for “social distancing” from others, but no one is now actually sure how much of a “distance” they must keep when meeting others. All situations are exceptional, and no one is excepted from them.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Maybe it’s because my child had a nap during the day. He is totally unable to get to sleep, and as I pat him, I think of the list of video works to watch tonight once I’ve put him to bed. But it’s hard to continue this train of thought as he grips my hand and refuses to let go. When he is uneasy, just before falling asleep, he has a habit of grasping my fingers and flicking their ends with his fingers. It’s a habit of attachment and stability. And it’s a highly infectious habit, so I often catch myself doing it these days, too. When I’ve been patting him for more than an hour, I feel irritation slowly rising inside me. In the end, I give up trying to get him to sleep and my husband takes over. Barely escaping the boundary of exhausted patience between sleep and sleeplessness, I go on-line again.

After my child was born, I learned a host of specialist terms such as lactation period, sleep consciousness, and sleep patterns. How on earth did people use to raise kids? You often hear parents ask that these days. Child raising may be as old as history itself, but the personal experiences it brings every different individual within the circumstances of contemporary life and conditions is a perpetual series of surprises. That’s why, when I read a recent article on how the government is developing four types of childcare robots, I couldn’t help laughing. Not only could the idea not have come from anyone with actual experience of raising kids; it was based on dubious intentions from the start. It was problematic, in other words, both for undervaluing “women’s work” in a gender-based society that saw childcare as the innate gift of women, and for regarding that work as something that could be replaced by machine technology.

In an interview that I read, the late Mimi, a Kenyan refugee rights activist who had been living in Germany stated that she had been trained as a nurse in a geriatric hospital, regardless of her own wishes, in accordance with the German government’s refugee naturalization policies. In Africa, old people received voluntary care and respect from others, but in the German geriatric hospital they were traded as parts on “a factory assembly line,” and “patients were products: no more, no less.” To Mimi, the medical system of a developed country, standing in for absent communities, came as a culture shock. Unable to bear it, she ultimately fails to adapt to German society. When we recall this inhumanity of systems in “civilized” countries, the state policy-level solution of a childcare robot seems like no more than a piece of cunning techno-capitalist rhetoric aimed at stripping away the last drop of human individuality and achieving control.

In my experience, childcare is based on constant reciprocity. My child’s fingers meet my fingertips, and we look after each other. The futuristic optimism that holds that human vulnerability, old age, dependence, relationships and powers and empathetic powers and contexts can be institutionalized threatens the present and forces the “fantasies” of the system upon it. Childcare must be restored through the values of all humans, which cannot be replaced though proceduralized means such as institutions or technology.

Suddenly, the bedroom door opens. My child, half asleep, is crying and looking for his mum.

Monday, October 1, 2021

A notice has been put up in the elevator announcing interior work on another floor. Yet again. Constantly ripping down and rebuilding your home in order to stay there longer and in better conditions. Perhaps the biggest side-effect of the pandemic is the way it has snatched away even the chance to reflect on its causes. Unable to stand the loud noise, I end up taking my work, going to see the off-line Watch and Chill exhibition, then going to work in a café. I’ve only been away from Seoul for three years, but in that time the neighborhood and streets I knew have changed completely. Cafés have appeared throughout the alleyways in residential areas, and the number of young people doing temporary work without a steady job has risen just like the number of cafés. And of young lovers watching Netflix on shared laptops. Watching them take endless photos of each other as they watch their films, I suddenly find myself wondering how an on-line platform presented by a museum could every reach them.

The contemporary art environment, by way of new media, has brought change both to exhibitions and works and to the nature of viewers. To the new generation of “viewers,” perhaps, an off-line exhibition is merely about re-confirming things seen on-line, or re-arranging things seen at an actual museum, via the internet. Reading a review by a blogger, which describes the exhibition in more detail than the texts at the museum, I fall under the illusion that I have viewed the exhibition again. Thinking about the sense of tautology I felt when viewing Watch and Chill’s on-line platform and its corresponding off-line exhibition once again reminds me of the ambivalence faced by contemporary exhibitions.

Exhibitions today are like single organic entities, and the artworks displayed within them are their organs, interacting, assisting, competing, and sending and receiving signals. In so doing, the life-filled character and conditions of the works bring the exhibition, to some extent, “to life.” And the resulting animal is clearly one that feeds on viewers. Viewers walking into the exhibition venue and making their way around it are digested and absorbed by the works; ultimately, each changes the other. The skin of this species known as the “white cube” is, generally, white.

But at a certain moment—around the time when viewers began carrying smartphones and being constantly logged on to their accounts—the white cube began to retch. Its violent vomiting not only spewed out viewers from the exhibition venue into online space, but expelled its own organs from within its skin. Inside and outside were reversed, like something from a Junji Ito manga. The exhibition’s organs (artworks) are individually conveyed into the on-line space outside the white skin, where they truly are “exhibited,” “distributed” and “sold.” But even more creepy and disturbing is the fact that, despite all this, the beast does not die. That the empty white cube remains alive, wriggling around.

This calls to mind reversible clothing. Practical garments of this kind can be worn in at least two different ways. Clothes with the same silhouette but two different patterns. This switching of lining and outer fabric is dramatic. Because until a reversible jacket is reversed, there’s no way of knowing what its inner (or outer) surface looks like. But after a few of its “dramas” have played out, the switch tends to lose its effect. We are no longer curious about its inside (or outside). In the same way, works vomited out of the exhibition venue are judged and deconsecrated according to image-capital standards alone.

Just like, as Benjamin noted, art loses its aura in the post-ritual age, works spewed outside the skin of the white cube lose their original animate qualities. Or at least appear to. At this point, institutions and viewers sometimes try to bring works back to life by cramming them back into the mouth of the white cube. Reversible. Turning back the other way. Because they don’t want art without an aura or organic qualities, either. Artworks today thus move constantly from inside to outside and back, like a rabbit’s liver, as the white skin is reversed again and again. This is reminiscent of the way on-line space opens and closes the private realms of individuals. The aesthetic animal that is the exhibition has its hidden inner side repeatedly plundered, then returned, by social media. Trade continues endlessly according to the exchange rate between aesthetic aura and capitalist secularity.

Within this cycle, the white-skinned beast, as everyone knows, is a metaphor for the situation faced by art and exhibitions today. The steady feed of feelings that reaches us via contemporary media platforms sometimes provides an experience akin to an actual exhibition, replacing or even transforming experiences of reality. In short, why has it been possible for exhibitions to continue since the beginning of the pandemic, and why have artworks returned to exhibition venues to face viewers? Ultimately, artworks return to physical space, and contemporary art/exhibitions/capital hide behind abstraction that cannot capture concepts or commercial value.

Friday, October 10, 2021

We moved into this home last summer. It’s an old apartment located next to a new apartment complex built as part of a large-scale development project. I joke that it’s convenient because we get to benefit from the facilities of the new complex, too, but in fact my child and my favorite place in the neighborhood is the streets of the “less” developed market opposite. I have to pass through the lanes of the traditional-style market each time my child and I go to the children’s library run by the district council. We pass by low-rise apartment houses surrounded overbearingly by huge apartment blocks, then thread our way through the network of alleyways. The reason I feel an unfamiliar emotion amid the familiar backstreet scenes I have known since childhood is probably the feeling of strangeness produced by their contrast with the clean, new complexes right next to them. Today, real estate capital ends up sniffing out and colonizing every last inch of surplus space in Seoul. In a situation where the cashability of apartments is bringing uniformity to the middle-class living environment, alleyways pushed aside by development represent not threadbare nostalgia but perilous desire.

When I walk through these streets with my child, we cannot simply walk. To kids, with their instinct for running at all costs, Seoul is a dangerous city. “There’s a motorbike! Stand against the wall! I check my child’s walking and he looks after himself. Which way shall we go today? Faced with the spreading, non-linear branches of the alleyways, our five senses come to life. Sounds of a radio and an old woman’s voice coming from a house somewhere; children running around. Suddenly, a shop owner cleaning up in front of her store turns her gaze to my child, and he covers his face, overcome with shyness. He watches and experiences these streets intensely; they must seem new even though he walks them every day. By contrast, the “boundaries” between each facility in the new apartment complex are clearly defined, making it a pleasant place for a walk. The landscaping in the well-ordered complex presents you with a familiar “natural landscape” every bit as familiar as a bonsai tree. But it somehow feels as if we have been exposed to more limitations in order to experience these things. We’re not allowed to touch the landscaped features, and the water in the artificial waterfall only flows at set times. In order to get home, we have to pass the barrier at the entrance to the complex, open the door to the shared lobby, get in and out of the elevator, then, finally, unlock the apartment door. The number of gates to be passed is steadily increasing. And that’s not all. I feel ashamed to see the various “Outsiders Prohibited” signs around the complex while in the company of my child. Outsiders must not be allowed to enjoy the landscaped gardens and facilities maintained using the fees paid by residents, they are saying. Boundaries exist between people, too.

The reason I have contrasted these scenes with such extreme subjectivity is that the landscape of urban life today is not that different from the way we experience art. Since the start of the pandemic, institutions in the art world have swiftly re-imagined the accessibility of art, making it more convenient and systematic than before. Meanwhile, the number of stages required to gain access is also increasing. Isn’t it actually easier to just go to a museum and view works there? To access on-line platforms, you have to enter personal information and acquire an “ID.” After that, you are made to go through several more stages before you can access the artworks. Perhaps the last of these is clicking on the triangular play button. This new and unexpected mode of operation—as if intended by the financial backers of the platform—may elaborate the consumption patterns and tastes of viewers into clearly-divided categories. But, paradoxically, such devices actually decrease our moments of “encounter” with artworks. Just as I, after passing through each prescribed gateway, am unable to meet my neighbors.

Last year, I encountered Gerard ter Borch's Mother Combing Her Child's Hair (1652-1653) at Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. But it’s clear that few people in the museum will pay much attention to this painting and its tranquil indoor scene. That’s because it hangs immediately to the left of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1655). Located just next to the famous painting and surrounded by people crowding in to get a glimpse of the latter, this work is not only hard to see properly but in a situation where it can hardly expect close attention from viewers. I stood in front of the dismissed work for some time, thinking how perverse its location was. All the while, viewers were telling me to get out of the way so that they could take photos with the girl with the pearl earring. But given that platforms like Netflix preclude even the possibility of such an encounter, the fate awaiting the mother combing her child’s hair may be even harsher.

Of course, experiencing art only within a “system” that posits the existence of viewers will markedly reduce the possibility of individual contextualization. On the institutional path that delivers us to content in accordance with guidance provided, there are no “side” streets. And this linear frustration also affects my condition when viewing works on platforms. Despite the thought that the power of “scrolling” bestowed upon me may be a discourtesy to the artworks, I kept dragging the scroll bar to jump to the points I wanted to watch. Then, at a certain moment, I got used to the sensation of scrolling, and even managed to delude myself into thinking that I was controlling time. Anywhere other than inside the black box of a cinema, where there’s no choice but to watch the screen, I end up becoming an overly distracted viewer. And, on another hand, the power of the artist to rupture defined temporality also caused me a certain feeling of discomfort. It was a sense of burden, deriving from the fact that I alone was responsible for properly appreciating the works. I wasn’t entirely glad to find this personal flow of time completely at the will of my fingertips.

But this feeling also brought new experiences: despite the ironic autonomy, I also encountered works that made me obediently follow the intentions of their creators. It was a kind of declaration of surrender. “I hereby return the power of the scroll bar.” Once was not enough, and I found myself viewing these works several times. I saw this as a new way of discovering the unique power of works—a power upon which institutions could not encroach. In this way, on-line platforms can become an option for some citizens, in conditions created by some circumstances. Yet at the same time, this also means that the on-line “migration” by art museums should not be just an easy reaction to the pandemic. Because alternative approaches are no more than attempts by the art museum system to escape the relationship of tension that exists between artists and viewers. Clearly, when art museums imagine this future, it remains a fact that their top priority is including the things they have previously omitted and excluded.

In this sense, the fact that an exhibition of works posthumously donated from the collection of a chaebol industrialist is proving an enduring hit even amid the pandemic is deeply meaningful. Reservations for viewings closed a month ago, revealing new and previously hidden Korean art lovers. But, faced with this ironic scene, I want to ask: If young children don’t go to contemporary art museum, will museums go under? Of course they won’t. Will museums go under if they show no works by foreign artists? Not completely. Will art museums go under without Lee Kun-hee? Perhaps they will. These questions and answers will have to be re-written by the art museums that we must now newly imagine. Who, here and now, are we, and what are our shared experiences? Who do we have to be, and what do they have to be?

The incidents described in this diary may be real and may be fictional. But whichever is the case, it won’t make much difference. Because the thing I experienced most fully on this platform was a feeling of experiencing the new and the unfamiliar.



Lee Ki-ri (poet)

Lee Ki-ri began his poetry career as the winner of the 39th Kim Soo Young Literary Award in 2020. He has published the poetry collection I Like That Laugh Too. He enjoys spending his time reading and writing as he sips coffee underneath the sunshine in a café during the afternoon. He is someone who believes in the ability to travel anywhere through writing. An extrovert. He doesn’t have a wealth of interests, but the ones he does have he pursues tenaciously—hoping the poems he writes can show a different extension of the world.

Reflecting on “Home”
Between the Balcony and the Living Room

Not long ago, I started to see my home as cramped. I’m not finding fault with the place or trying to hold it to account. It’s not a matter of the place, but one of the person living in it. My bedroom is just about to burst at its seams. I have no place left there to put my books. It’s the norm for me to have some books in my bookcase, and then other books wedged in over top of them. There’s also a pile of thick books in front, so that I can’t even see which books have been shelved in the first place. I needed somewhere to put books outside of that jam-packed bookcase, so I got another smaller bookcase, but that one too filled up almost immediately. I emptied out one of the three drawers under my bed and started using it to hold the books I’d finished. I thought that might have taken care of it, but you can still see the manuscripts I’m working on and the unread books strewn out over my bed. Even the sight of my desk leaves me feeling dizzy. My bedroom is turning into a cemetery for dead books.

When I find I can’t breathe in there, I head out into the living room. Outside the window, the clear skies are outstretched. In front of me are trees that sway, the white light casting their rippling shadows onto the side of the road. Sometimes a sparrow will perch in one and then fly on its way. As the branches release the birds, they quiver momentarily before coming to a stop. Even in the tranquility of my home, I can see all of the landscape outside, sensing the force of the wind as I notice the trees’ movement. The world that I see from my house around two in the afternoon is unreally quiet, the sounds disappearing until it seems to like a single remaining scene that has come to a stop. It is as though the people have gone without a trace. I act as though I am the only surviving person in this world between the balcony and living room—which is to say that I perform music. I sing and play instruments. I play the electronic keyboard on the balcony, and I strum the guitar in my living room. The piano and the guitar, and me in between them. There is another “me” standing on the light in between the me who plays the piano and the me who plays the guitar. An empty stillness between music and more music.

As I spent more and more time hanging around my house, I became interested in the objects arranged inside of it. It comes as a fresh horror to me, the way they have come to occupy space, situated by their user in the most familiar of places—like the world outside my window, devoid of anyone. Like me as I embrace the feeling that I cannot escape from this place, and as I lie on the sofa and suddenly start imagining myself after I have died.

The boundary between “inside” and “outside” was growing increasingly clear. Before, I had sometimes thought of the home as an interior suffused with external habit, but it seems difficult to express that view anymore in this day and age. Today, the “home” is the safest, most thoroughly isolated place. And so it is that I find myself sensing total isolation. I send out sounds, one by one. There is only me. Nobody else. I am discovered by no one. So what have I become as I live in the world at this moment? Am I a corpse, drifting between the balcony and living room with my drowsy eyes half-raised? I need some music.

Thursday, September 9, 2021
The Most Destructible Space ― Upon viewing Yuan Goang-Ming’s Dwelling


It’s the first time I’ve left something alone for this long. Even the photo albums wedged under my bed I will sometimes take out to wipe off the dust and reminisce over my childhood. But I haven’t played my guitar even once through three changes of the seasons; it just sits there on my living room shelf. Did something happen to me in the meantime? I guess something did. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I began truly working as a “writer,” publishing collections of poetry after winning the kind of literary award that many people recognize. I wasn’t a writer before. I was more the kind of person that others referred to as a “guy who writes poems.” I had always postulated my identity as that of a “poet,” but I was always too inadequate—professionally or in terms of social standing—to accept that. Even after I had graduated, I was still referred to as “student.” It was as though I still had a lot to learn—as though I would have to spend my life learning. And the analogy was a fitting one. After the pandemic had been spreading throughout the world for about a year, I made my “dazzling debut” and began working as a writer; another ten months or so have passed since then.

You could say that I’ve more or less gotten used to life as a writer. I’m more intense about my life than anything I’ve done in the past. Ironically, this virus that has been menacing the world has allowed me to devote myself to work as I’ve remained almost entirely confined to my home since last year. Thanks to a lurking pestilence, I’ve become a poet. A few months ago, I transformed my bedroom into a kind of studio so that I could write at home as much as possible. This situation has made the world I thought I knew take on a new meaning for me, leaving me with the inevitable sense that the world itself has suddenly changed. Ever since I put my book out into the world, I’ve been intensely busy. I sometimes need to spend time with my hobbies or with culture to look after myself, but I simply haven’t had the leisure. I’m just not very good with managing my time. I’m quite proficient at procrastination. There were reasons for me losing my taste for the guitar.

I said goodbye to last winter, and to spring and summer of this year, and now we find ourselves in fall. As busy as I am from one day to the next, I have not forsaken my vow to take the time to get my guitar fixed. I insisted that I could not let this fall pass without honoring that promise. My precious guitar is already as good as dead, and if it’s still in that state by this winter, I just know that I will end up disappointed in myself, despairing over the fact that I let a year pass by through my neglect of an object I treasure. That was something I couldn’t allow. I wanted to personally preserve an object that I love. I couldn’t just watch anymore as my guitar fell apart.

So I decided to devote all my energies today to tending to my guitar. I got up earlier than usual, had a light breakfast of cereal, and called up the guitar store. “Can I stop by sometime this afternoon?” “Sure, whenever. I’ll be waiting.” After this short call to confirm our business, I diligently put on my clothes and went out—the guitar hanging from my shoulders for the first time in a long while. That old feeling seemed somehow odd, and I grimaced under the warm sunshine, my hands thrust in my pockets. I walked to the station and got on the subway, murmuring to myself along the way: “Obviously it’s a different world from before. I’m changing too. I need to live a good life. I need to live a long life.”

The guitar was severely damaged, they told me. The neck* wasn't just bent, they said—it was becoming increasingly deformed. A guitar is made of wood, so some changes are going to happen, but you can slow them down a lot with good maintenance. Before, there hadn’t been a single day that I hadn’t touched my guitar. This was the first time I had left it untouched for so long, and it pained me to think of how it had been suffering under its own tension. It was one of a very few objects that I truly loved—an object that could not speak or act on its own, but acquired its own meaning when my fingers touched it. That had been my relationship with the guitar, so it was inevitable that I would feel a kind of duty to it. I strummed some of the other guitars in the shop as I watched my guitar being repaired. It may not work as well as when I first brought it home, but it can still be there with me. I wiped it down and restrung it. It has a rough machine head and worrying tension, so I tried flat tuning as I tested the sound. It’s okay. That’s right. Stay with me a little longer. You were lonesome, weren’t you? I’m sorry.

I filled the bathtub and lay down in it. I looked down at my own half-submerged body. The parts that were not underwater had defined shapes, while the rest of my body underneath the water was slightly warped by the ripples. When I close my eyes and bask in the languor, there is a feeling of anxiety that suddenly comes over me. How long will this peace last? Maybe this isn’t peace. I’m living in my own house, somewhere where I’m not witnessed by anyone. In other words, I’m trapped in my own home. In other other words, I am now being left alone by the world. Since I have the ability as a human being to bathe myself, I can only care for me. I don’t see it as something to be thankful for. It feels like I’ve been warned of some horrible pain to come. Outside was a mix of sick people, unsick people, people who were sick and are not cured, living people and dead people. I stuck my head under the water. I breathed out. As I breathed in, it made bubbles. The bubbles rose toward the surface of the water, where they popped.

Residing is a human way of living; dwelling is a human way of being. The way I’m living feels closer to “dwelling” than “residing.” Heidegger replaced the concept of “dwelling” with “existing in the world,” contemplating the time that humans spend on this ear in terms of its “temporariness.” Simply put, we’re fated to live briefly in this world and then pass away. There is no room for other possibilities to intrude. The longer you spend in the home, the more your exterior and surroundings contract. The narrower your exterior and surroundings become, the more alienated and neglected “you” become. It is no longer family or friends who tend to you. This is your home, where you live until you can’t stand it anymore. But is it even really that safe? If I stay here, will I be free from disease? They say the best way to keep your guitar is to play it often whenever you get the chance. The instrument sits alone in the place designated by its owner, awaiting the chance to play. It just needs to be some kind of music. From the instrument’s standpoint, the world is something it wants to experience through music. When there is no music, when sound disappears—that is a death sentence for the instrument.

I seem to have long held the false belief that my home was a “safe place.” A home can always come crashing down. A home can always be destroyed. The bookcase in front of my bed could suddenly fall over one day and crush me while I sleep in my bed. Inside, I am like that house. For that reason, there are times that I might destroy my own house because of the turmoil inside of me, like in the film Demolition. My home and I are both being neglected together. We live just enough so as not to get coated in dust.

*The part of a stringed instrument that includes the head, the fingerboard, and the frets.

Saturday, September 11, 2021
How Are You Today? ― Upon viewing Wantanee Siripattananuntakul’s Everyone Is…

They don’t seem to get along very well. What kind of problems are they carrying around that make them fight like that? Don’t they want to make up? I wish they would stop, but the fighting just goes on, even on weekend mornings. This morning was the same. I opened my eyes, looking at the window where it still feels very much like summer, even though it’s already September. I can hear everything through the walls as they argue. It’s as though our problems were out there for anyone and everyone to see.

Fortunately, this latest argument was over quickly. Unlike before, I couldn’t really make out what they were saying. There were just their two muttered voices creeping over the ceiling, until suddenly mixtures of words began proliferating and swarming over the walls. The trees were green, the weather very clear. As the trees caught the light, their thin shadows appeared on the walls with every sway. I sat at my desk and thought about what I was going to do that day. Looking to my right, I saw the movie posters on the wall. “GO FOR A WALK,” it read, with a card underneath showing a woman and dog walking in a grassy field one green evening. There was a little Post-It with my goals for the year (1. Read 100+ books, 2. Write 50+ poems, 3. Writing 30+ essays, 4. Study English). Obviously, I won’t be reaching those. The “Lee Ki-ri weekday schedule” that I sketched out on a sheet of white paper may end up being an almost total bust—a failure. I’m someone who deliberately sets goals and makes plans that are far beyond my capabilities. It’s so I don’t achieve them. I’m supposed to fail. But as I pass by, I see that I’ve actually done a surprising amount. In a word, I’m driving myself to the brink. I’ve pushed myself to my limits, so that even if I failed in my wildly implausible goals or plans, I did at least spend that time intensely. While my time was passing within these walls, fights were going on inside those other walls. This morning, I found myself thinking about what a diverse world there is inside the walls of my room—yet when I reached out a hand to touch the wall, it was so very hard that I was sure it would never crack or break for as long as I live in this house.

After briefly washing up and brushing my teeth, I changed from my pajamas into my workout clothes. Even though all I’d done was to change clothes, it felt like my day had truly begun. I work out four or five days a week, and I try to do all of my scheduled exercising on weekdays. For me to be working out on a weekend morning like this, it seems like I’m really struggling with responsibilities to myself. In my living room, on my balcony, underneath the warm sunshine, I goad myself on. Why can’t I just let myself go and relax on the weekend? When you keep putting off the things I enjoy, they start to seem dull and distasteful work, which plunges you into torment. Repeating this mantra, I end up doing repetitive exercises, my soul having fled my body and face. I have all sorts of odd thoughts while I’m working out; today’s were about the noise I hear through my walls. I wondered what had caused the two of them to fight so loud I could hear it all from my bedroom; I suddenly became curious how they were together on the days when they weren’t fighting. It was all just pointless rumination—this curiosity about other people’s home life. If anything, I’m happy it wasn’t like the past, when I would have flown into another rage. If I was having these kinds of thoughts, did that mean I’d gained some kind of “enlightenment” when it came to the noise the two of them were making?

A few months earlier, I’d stuck a notice on the apartment door. At the time, I was just about to explode with fury over the voices I kept hearing from the two of them. I might have understood if it had been the kind of noise you can’t help making when you’re going about your life. But it was another thing for it to happen constantly. It was as though two intruders had shown up in my bedroom, and I, the actual owner, was being shut out of that space. When you have different voices mixing and roaming around the room, my own voice becomes silent—since I’m focusing on them now. It isn’t just voices that infiltrate my room, either. The most common thing is footsteps. It’s been quite a long time now that everything about my downstairs neighbors’ life has been coming into my room. Their very life has intruded. One day, I went outside to see what was causing the noise. I live on the second floor, so I figured it could be anywhere from the first to the fourth floor. After knocking on my neighbors’ doors (and begging their pardon), I came to the tentative conclusion that it was a unit on the first floor, just below mine. It was the first time I became aware that downstairs footsteps can sound like they’re coming from upstairs. The most conclusive bit of noise was the aforementioned fighting. One day, I could hear the argument so clearly that I could have sworn I was standing right there watching it. I heard the sound of plates being thrown in the kitchen; one of them would curse at the other, who told them to stop cursing. You couldn’t really call it a “conversation,” but I had to sit through it for over an hour—which means that for over an hour, I couldn’t read or write. I could only sit there in a chair listening to them arguing.

I’ve gotten used to living with a mixture of sounds. That’s all the more true on those days when I never leave the house. As I start to write, I can hear the sound of the keyboard. I turn on the music, and the sound of music fills the room. Sometimes my chair creaks as I straighten my posture. The wastebasket catches on my foot. Drawers open and close. I hear the clomping of feet downstairs. The two of them soon start fighting, and a stupefying symphony begins to play. Every kind of noise comes together to fill my room. I wander around my cramped quarters, my mind in a haze. Maybe my way of life is intruding on someone else’s space. Perhaps I’ve been branded as more of a threat than I realize. I may be the object of someone’s loathing. I certainly haven’t intended it, but it’s not exactly pleasant when your life has an impact on other people’s lives and minds. That’s even more the case these days. Since we so rarely go out, we want to enjoy our time at home as much as possible. We’re looking for our own private space, quiet and safe.

When we imagine someone there beside us, we don’t just imagine a particular form. We also live with indistinct forms. For me, it’s the sound of pets. As an example, I gave the animals’ voices. It’s not one voice but two of them, which come and visit me usually between the hours of 6:30 and 7 in the evening. I invite them into my room, and when they leave, I say, “I hope you have a pleasant tomorrow. May your day be free of worry.”

In the evening, I stopped briefly at the convenience store. On my way back home with something to eat, I saw a street light blinking. I took out my phone and shot a brief video of it. At this particular moment, I didn’t hear any noises around me. It was very quiet and still.

Sunday, September 12, 2021
Like Formwork ― Upon viewing Chai Siris’s Four Seasons


As nice weather continues, I start to get nervous. I get the sense that a storm is about to come, arriving suddenly with thunder and lighting. I worry that someone might sicken and die without a word. After the good things, there are things that are bad or sad. So I record my fears and worries every day in my journal. It’s a record of struggle through my flesh alone, where I must learn about life while also letting some lives go entirely. The rain hasn’t yet started to fall, and the hot feeling doesn’t subside. When September arrives, I think about the poem “Two Days in September” by Ryu Si-hwa, which gives me a sense of the season and how we are passing into the autumn even as the green of summer remains. Poetic words linger in my mind: “forest,” “trail,” “trees,” “birds,” “sun,” and “ice age.” When the rain starts to fall, all of that summer gets soaked in water, the huddled bodies forced into the cold. At the thought of winter coming, the black of my pupils only deepens, as I close the book of poems I had been reading that morning.

Going into the living room, I walked over to my father, who was sitting on the couch. Rather than a “How are you?” I asked him, “Do you want to play some badminton?” He laughed and said “sure.” There weren’t any rackets or shuttlecocks in the house before. At our home at least, we had tennis and badminton rackets with balls and birdies. As a child, I’d play catch with friends and family members whenever I had the time. If I was playing with friends, we’d go to the tennis court in our apartment complex, or to the park or gymnasium. With my family, it was mainly badminton. I played a lot of it with my father in particular. There was a narrow street in front of our house, and in the dim evening after my father got home from work, we would go there to play badminton under the streetlights. My father really let me have it when I was growing up. He’d ruthlessly jam me with the ball when I was just in elementary or middle school. I could never catch it. Sometimes one of them would hit me in my solar plexus, and I’d curse my father inside for his brutality. He’d look at me and give an innocent smile. I could never understand him. We often played together, but it was just yesterday that I started reminiscing over the past and suddenly decided to drive with my father and sister to get some rackets and shuttlecocks. Out of nowhere, I found myself really wanting to play badminton, and we no longer had the equipment at home. As we left to go buy some, I felt absolutely giddy. It was like I was going back to my childhood, like I was in middle school again, like an elementary school student. I’m sure my father would love to be that much younger himself. We decided that the obvious place to go was Times Square in Yeongdeungpo. They had all sorts of exercise equipment there, and we could have a look around. Who could have imagined that such a huge building would appear in Yeongdeungpo? These days, it looks suitably grand, as though it was always supposed to be there. It’s already been about 12 years since Times Square went up. It feels like only yesterday that I was looking at its formwork.

“The weather only really starts to get cool around six o’clock. We can go then with your sister,” my father said. We each went about our businesses as I waited for six o’clock to arrive. I wanted to hurry up and play some badminton. I felt so excited that I was finally going to play badminton with my family. I imagined my father and I having our spirited games in the street by the evening streetlights, and my mother and sister coming outside to see what we were up to. The two of them would sit down on the stone pavement below the wall, squeezing their knees between their arms as they watched us play. I’d get hit by the shuttlecock again, and the evening street would ring out with laughter. When did we stop going out into that street? We were all too busy—busy with living. We lived through some tough times, finding and chasing dreams. Trying to save a sinking home. Trying to calm every kind of feeling. We were busy crying. Crying was a daily occurrence.

In the local ecological park, we were met by swaying trees and plants, now grown up as if they had somehow found their place. As we walked along the gravel path, I’d sometimes shorten my strides because I liked the crunching sound. The more I visited this place, the more marvelous it seemed. How were they able to simply tear down a cluster of buildings and put up a work where happy families and dogs could run about under the warm sunshine? I also clearly remember the formwork for the park. A fence surrounded it to prevent people from going inside, where there wasn’t anything at all. There were only piles of stones left over from the fractured buildings, and mounds of earth brought in from who knows where. This was going to be an eco park? My friends and I talked about how absurd it was as we passed by. But these days, there are living things swimming in the water, senior citizens exercising awkwardly on the equipment, and families putting up nets to play badminton. What once was mere formwork took on its final form, and now here we were. It was a place to meet people. Marveling a bit at the notion, I struck the birdie as hard as I could. It hit my father right in his fishbowl-shaped belly. The birdie dropped sweetly to the dirt. I remembered all sorts of things from the old days. It was great to be alive. I hoped time would pass slowly.

Situated in a forest of apartment buildings, the eco park is sometimes a refuge for my mind. I can remember it. Even the house where we live today was once a model home. Nobody lived there at the time—it was just a space set up temporarily for people who might want to move in. Back when it was a model home, the only thing in our house was a sofa. I’d run wildly over the sofa, and my cousin next to me would pick me up off the ground. Spaces have their own “old days,” when they were structures and foundations. Why shouldn’t time have its own? In other words, even the time we are living in today had its own past when it was just formwork. Perhaps there was a shape that had to be prepared so that this current time could arrive. The same goes for minds, and for songs. All of them were once formwork, structures and foundations that had to be prepared so that they could flow by. I don’t know what had to be torn down to make way inside of them. What used to fill that time and those minds? What did they have to carve away and demolish to make new forms there? What did they have to add and build?

I was once formwork myself. More precisely, I renewed a whole body, and now I am returning to the formwork. I see time as a shape that is returning to formwork. Someday, I will start to shrink. All that will be left of me is bone. My skin will droop and grow thin. One day, I’ll be reduced to a handful of dust in a matter of just a few hours. I’ll be placed in a little box. I will be gone, but there will be a few people who live in this world a bit longer than people—kind people who will see me as not being gone, who will think that I live on in their hearts. I hope that in the place left behind when I am torn down, they will build a beautiful setting where lots of people can gather. That’s my only wish during these difficult times, along with the things that I write in this room. To achieve that, I’ll need to wash away today’s sweat and clean up the books strewn over my bed. I need to promise to live more cleanly rather than letting things get scattered all around. I feel dizzy.

Monday, September 20, 2021
Where We Must Return ― Upon viewing Koo Donghee’s CrossxPollination


I’m back in Haenam after two years. Haenam is the town my family comes from. Both my mother and father were born and raised there; they both graduated middle school in Haenam and met in Haenam. Those ties originating in Haenam bore fruit when they had a son and a daughter, and their ties to Haenam continue to this day. I was born and raised in Seoul, but when I go to Haenam, it feels like I’m going home. With the pandemic, it’s become more difficult to go anywhere these days, but I took the time for extra precautions this time. I was able to do it. I wanted to see my family, both the living ones and the ones who have passed away.

I left Seoul early in the morning two days ago, and the roads were very crowded. It’s something I should have been prepared for when I decided to go to Haenam. Traveling from Seoul to Haenam means having to spend the better part of a day on the highway. You can’t be sure when you’re going to arrive. You just travel until you get there. The movement only stops when you arrive. You have to let go of your emotions. It’s enough to make it seem strange that I don’t need to pack a passport. If I did, it would have been stamped all over by now. My sister and I can both drive these days, which means my father doesn’t have to do it all on his own. There was one time when we were very young that my father drove us for more than 24 hours. At the time, there was a helicopter flying over the expressway. You could see drivers getting out of their cars and smoking cigarettes in the middle of the road. The siren kept blaring from the helicopter—something the state did to make sure people drove safely and didn’t doze off behind the wheel. It was not uncommon for us to leave in the morning, only for the sun to already be coming up again by the time we reached Haenam, or for us to leave in the evening and only arrive when it was already getting dark again. The traveling times got a lot shorter when they built the Seohaean Expressway, but Haenam is still quite far. Even when the three of us took turns driving, it was still quite physically taxing. I was in charge of the stretch heading from the Gochang Dolmens rest area into Mokpo and on to Haenam. This was a less strenuous section, but I approached my driving diligently with a sense of responsibility.

After our difficult journey to Haenam, we spent two days ahead of the Chuseok holiday. But we were scheduled to go back up to Seoul on Chuseok day, so we decided to do everything that we would have done that day ahead of time. That meant paying respects to our late grandfather and grandmother. My father’s mother and father are buried together on the middle slope of a mountain in the village of Godang. My mother’s father is buried next to his parents in front of their house in the village of Songjeong.

To properly pay respects, I went yesterday to clean up my great-grandmother’s gravesite. The cleanup also provided an excuse for taking the truck out, with my father riding shotgun for a change. But it had been a long time since I’d driven a vehicle with a manual transmission, which made for awkward driving until I finally just handed the wheel back over to my father. My head wasn’t working—like a machine that comes to a stop when one very tiny piece comes loose. In reality, I’d lost the moment I started driving with my head. Arriving at the ceremony, we were overwhelmed by a truly staggering scene. It was no joke: the plants had grown as tall as my father and I. We could barely see in front of us. It was so bad that we ended up wandering around for a bit because we couldn’t find the entrance—which should have been visible as soon as we arrived. Fortunately, the entrance had a section with some kind of a boundary, so we decided we should start trimming there. My father was in charge of the machinery, while I would stand next to him, raking up the trimmed leaves and limbs and gathering them up neatly to dispose of. The morning was brisk, but soon the sun started breathing down our necks with its intense heat. We’d come fully dressed for the occasion, but the country mosquitoes managed to get a few bites in. It was like a ritual: going to Haenam and coming home in ointment. At any rate, we were able to finish the clearing and go home much faster than I had initially feared.

During the Chuseok holiday, I had paid respects to my living relatives, so this was a day for paying respects to the ones no longer with us. Our first stop was the middle slopes in Godang. I don’t know how much longer my mother and father are going to be able to make this hike. The path up is so steep that even I might drop off to the side if I relax. I went up ahead, clearing away the branches and brambles that might pose a threat to the rest of my family. Wiping away the sweat, we arrived to find the two tombs awaiting us. One was the joint grave of my grandfather and grandmother; the other belongs to my great-uncle (my grandfather’s older brother). We walked up before them, paid our respects, and poured out some soju (a distilled alcoholic beverage) around the graves. We then sat down where we usually do, looking at the sprawling landscape around us. The sea is right next to Godang, and my grandmother would often cook our family seafood dishes when we came to visit. I liked her oyster dishes best of all. I never had a problem with oysters, perhaps because my grandmother made them for us when I was very young. There’s been reclamation work, and you now see land where the sea should be. You can see the entire village. Here is where my grandparents and my parents had their meals, went to athletic meets, got chewed out by their teachers. What sort of thoughts and feelings did people have at the time? These are the questions that crossed my mind. I got up, looked at the scenery for a while, and then suddenly burst into tears in front of my grandparents’ tomb. I turned my back so that no one would see me cry, but my shoulders started shaking uncontrollably. It was too late. My grandfather, my grandmother… Now I’m a writer. I even have a book out. They would have been happier than anyone to have seen it. I wished they could have seen. It was too late. I’m sorry.

As I paid respects to my mother’s father, the twilight settled in the distance. The setting sun stretched out thin like a horizon, shining over tile roofs and hills. Inwardly, I told my family: Look at that, the landscape is a gift to us. As long as I live, I will never forget when we were alive.

We went home and had some grilled pork belly. The older family members had their choice of alcoholic beverages; I swigged some water. It really felt like I had returned. “I’ve finally come back,” I wanted to say. I’m alive now, and I know where I will have to return someday. You can’t live your life in reverse to see whether it will be somewhere open to others or somewhere closed off. Perhaps it’s not something you can share after you die. But for now it’s all right. I’d like for things to continue like this with my family. I’d like to laugh and talk away. I may return to Haenam once again, but I can never return to this moment.

Monday, October 8, 2021
Doing Well at a Necessary Distance ― Upon viewing Oh Min’s ABA Video


The person I love is in Pohang. When she wakes up in the morning, she sends me photographs of the seascape outside her window. I look at the same landscape, imagining myself there with her. But the landscape she is watching moves in real time, while the one I see is frozen. In her landscape, she can see how fast the clouds come moving in, the rippling of the free lace curtain in the wind, the water splitting apart as it strikes against the rocks. In the landscape I view, everything is still—like it does not feel like moving anymore. Like it wishes this curse upon the world. When the two of us are apart after spending several days together, I can feel the distance. It is the space between her and me today. What am I doing, standing here in between the vibrant world and the still one? What can I do? It’s still clear where I am; she tells me it’s already raining where she is.

We each spend our time separately. We need that. It’s time that we must pass through for us to meet again. We have to be apart for us to meet. “Meeting” cannot happen without presuming some separation. When we promise to meet again, that’s hope. When we insist we will meet again, that’s confidence. And with both hope and confidence, there is always a feeling of instability. There’s always the question: “But how?”

The clearest facts given to us are these: I’m in Seoul, and the one I love is in Pohang. It’s about 350km from Seoul to Pohang. If I decide to, I can buy a train ticket and go to Pohang to see the one I love. Like a character in a movie, I could get in my car and race down the rainy highway. But I don’t do that. Now is not a moment for our times to overlap. And it is quite far.

I’m at home alone. I look around. Things are scattered all around. The cushions that should be on the sofa are on the living room floor. There’s a vat of kimchi on the dinner table. Some kitchen scissors are sitting on a delivery box, and the remote control is on the seat of the exercise bike. And that’s to say nothing of my room. Dozens of books are still piled up on my bed, which is starting to sag a bit under their weight. There are a few more books on the chair, and even more on the desk. At this rate, I’m going to end up crushed underneath them. The poster on the wall is about to peel away. The masking tape doesn’t appear to be much of an adhesive. It’s pretty enough, but it’s never really served its purpose. The Bluetooth speakers sit on the desk slightly askew. I haven’t used them to listen to music for a while now. I’m not even sure they’d switch on. I put the speakers back in place and orient them so they face forward as much as possible. I’ve got no reason to look at them in profile. I’m the sort of owner who is pathological about noticing these changes and trying to correct them. I can’t bear a change unless the object is positioned the right way to suit my perceptions. “Am I being too sensitive?” I wonder, but then I think that the sense of stability in this house may come from projecting consciousness onto objects as I create the desired spatial sense. Consciousness, of course, is harmful to objects.

When you live in a house, you start to define its objects. The aforementioned kitchen scissors, for example, have also been used to clip the tags off of newly bought clothing—but not to open packages. Even as I impose those sorts of semantic constraints, however, my guitar—my most precious possession—must always be played at the time and place I desire. Otherwise, it is left alone. That’s a universal constraint. I also give names to particular objects. A clever-looking stuffed rabbit is called “Socrates,” while the six dumbbells neatly positioned below the electronic keyboard are called “health watchdogs.” Those acts of naming signify my affection, but there’s also an aim of internalizing and territorializing the objects I care for. Too self-conscious? Perhaps. But whenever an item gets away from where I think it should be, I notice it immediately and put it back in place. If it’s the fate of objects to pass through human hands, then one way of living is to get used to a particular spot with a good owner.

The more important thing here is the gap. I leave ample gaps between objects so that they are not stuck close together. If I have two different remote controls on the sofa, I’ll place them some distance apart. As far as the cushions and books are concerned…there is some inevitable closeness. Objects look healthier when they are positioned independently rather than close together. Intact scissors, intact cosmetics, an intact guitar, an intact keyboard, intact shoes, intact nail clippers, intact shirts, intact eyeglasses…it gives the appearance that things are going well. They are doing well, separated from each other by the necessary distance. So is the home made up of so many gaps? If so, is the world itself made up of so many gaps? Like me being in Seoul now, while the one I love is in Pohang. Is that also “doing well”?

In my journal, I wrote down the things that happened “today”—but why did I put the sentences in the past tense? If today is still happening, why should I have recorded it in past tense sentences? When you keep a journal, are you writing down a process of confusing past and present? I’m aware that I should obviously emphasize the “happened” part. So I write about today in the present tense. I want to hold on to today.

Is the person I love doing well? Are my friends doing well? Are they doing well in Daejeon, in Busan, in Incheon, in Suwon, in Ilsan, in Japan, in France? Are my family members doing well in Mokpo, in Haenam, in Chuncheon, in the US? Are we all separated by different distances? Are they really different? Does “distance” really just refer to physical distance? Today is a Friday. Friday is passing by. When Friday is over, that means that today is over. Friday returns. I can see Friday again. Today returns. I can see today again. The more we confuse things like this, the more present becomes past and past becomes future. Time overlaps. In my journal, I add distance by grouping individual events in daily units. In my journal, the days are doing well.

When the days are separate, that is the promise of some future meeting. All of us have the days we will meet. We will all meet. I need to get through today well so I can see the one I love. I should call her up in a bit.

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