It is easy to forget that the digital can be a poetic experience, an aura of interconnectedness that runs in the undercurrent of daily reality. In an early scene in Werner Herzog’s 2016 documentary Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, internet pioneer Leonard Kleinrock showcases the host computer on the UCLA campus that sent out the first message on the ARPANET, the predecessor of our current internet. As his student tries to transmit the word “login” to another machine located 600km away, the computer crashes after sending the first two letters, announcing the message’s arrival with the word “lo” as in: lo and behold. “We couldn’t have asked for a more succinct, more powerful, more prophetic message than ‘lo’,” says Kleinrock in the film. Today, the commercialist exploitation of every moment of our interaction online has shifted our attention away from the poetic potential of the digital.
Though not strictly about the digital, there are many parallels inJieun Gu’s work in the way that it maps one reality to another. Since 2017, the Korean artist has been working as a researcher at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, planning projects and exhibitions. “I mainly focus on solving problems such as human alienation and income inequality through convergent thinking and studying alternative social systems with experts from various fields including natural science, engineering, liberal arts and philosophy,” Jieun tells It’s Nice That.
Working with installations, Jieun initially was drawn to the medium of painting as inspired by the likes of Dana Schutz and Paul Gauguin, before being inspired to create installations by the Young British Artists movement that was active in the 1980s and 90s. “I thought that a three-dimensional rather than flat works is more suitable to express the subject of my work. It has the advantage of being able to further expand the scale and overwhelming feeling,” Jieun explains. “I mainly use materials that are commonly consumed in cities to express diverse urban communities that coexist.” In her work, she has used PVC vinyl, pipes and polycarbonate plates for example, to represent the consumer goods that circulate through urban environments.
“Through the process of printing various images of the city's living conditions on sheet papers, dismantling it and collaging it, the work weaves densely like a net. They are connected using tubes between each part, creating something reminiscent of city apartments,” Jieun describes. “A docking net is established through the concept of 'weaving breathing' in which individual breathing and communal breathing intersect and flow smoothly.” Jieun intends for her work to initially attract attention with shapes and vibrant colours that are familiar to people today, a metaphor for the flashy landscape experienced as you walk by show windows of department stores, or the bright lights of a commercialised city as factories, laboratories and neon signs stay on throughout the night.
A recent project that incorporated these works is her Cyborg Thinks project which takes the form of a fictional digital broadcasting station based in Ulsan and Singapore with four participating artists. The project matches 30 locations between Ulsan and Singapore to create a single urban island as data regarding urban development and its environment is collected to become the key points to be explored by the artists. “In a rapidly changing society, the artists refer to the interiority of a human being who is alienated and not meaningful to society as an island and focuses on something that cannot be experienced in a restricted environment with limitations on physical movement,” Jieun says. The fusion between reality and digital ambiguity is a way to “focus on places, relationships, and emotions that have been neglected and forgotten in the contemporary times in which we are living,” she concludes, “and hypothesise a variable-boundary docking net of breathing, flow and communication that is psychologically connected over the barrier of physical distance.”
Jieun Gu: Island of Sleepless Workers (Copyright © Jieun Gu, 2020).
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.