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Like the full moon, flock of owls, and humans, only the insane are restless.

In the past the night of humans, as recited by Charles Olson(1910~1970) in his poetry, was not of humans but of nature. What lit the terrifyingly dark night of nature was the light bulb known as civilization. And so began a city keeping awake 24 hours, a tireless city night brighter than day. The brilliant neon shop lights endlessly solicit passersby. Cars with headlights speed into the late night without any signs of slowing down. Each year the number of over crowded street lights and security lights increase immensely. The constantly lit fluorescent lights of skyrises seem like evidence of a carefree life.

Because of artificial light, the city gained the night scene. The fleetingly breathtaking city night scenes captured in postcards have million dollar price tags. Like diamond dusts on black velvet, prime prospect rights are what cities desire the most. To see the breathtaking night scene one must climb endlessly, and to gain a distinctive prospect right one must pay an obscene amount. In the night where starlight is extinguished and civilization shines brightly with artificial light, we must not only discuss our desires that keep growing bigger but also of 'ourselves.' To some the city is a tourist attraction full of things to see, to others it's an investment opportunity too good to refuse, but to those who live in the city its their place of living and livelihood.

So what does city mean? PARK Sanghee's (1969~ current) work begins with this question. The artist is born and bred Incheon native that continues to work in Incheon. Incheon, a place where the past and present co-exist, functioned as an open port in our tormented modern history. Incheon is also where today and tomorrow conflict over development plans toward a futuristic city. This issue is not limited to Incheon but in most cities. The weary present is either forgotten or it coexists with the restored past. The busy today continues together with a planned or reserved tomorrow.

With the past glory behind us, we standstill in a space of ruin. We reminisces the scent of strangers before our time. Their past makes me review my present. I am standing in the center of an endlessly high building construction site that is busy with new city developments. Fear precedes like the one day during my childhood when I recklessly walked in getting lost. I recalled my pledge back then to never succumb to splendor without clear mileposts. I stop by the antique brick building. I am drawn to the age-old new. Yesterday's traces become the energy of today that will last abundantly into tomorrow.

You can see Walter Benjamin (1892~1940)'s definition of the city - a space where layers of time of several generation are tangled together like a labyrinth - in the artist's drawing. The adhesive sheet paper used to create shop signs on the canvas has been pasted several times, cut with a knife, and drawn with acrylic. Through this process the artist created a space of overlapped time layers. She embraces the past, reveals the present and foretells the future in one canvas. The present in the drawing only becomes real when it's related with the past and future. Despite the fact that the artist dubbed the city 'treasure room' and has created a layer to the city to give character, the artist is not a spectator enchanted by the sea of neon lights. She is also not a passerby trapped in a web of relationships cut off from the world. She is simply another person experiencing the city. She is a city stroller walking slow aimlessly along the busy streets enjoying the simple pleasures. The reason why affirmation of life and conviction of being gained from the city can be a windfall or why an unfinished game of hide and go seek or returning empty handed may not be a disappointing journey, is because one is prepared to enjoy the city without any special expectations or agendas.

I recall reading a Japanese novel that mentioned 'bohengjae(步行祭),' which means a walk festival. In the novel the only event for the co-ed highschool was the annual walk festival. The walk festival begins at 8am from the school and students must return the next day to the same place and time. The highpoint is when night arrives and the plain storyline becomes emotional. Stories that couldn't be told during day exchanges in the dark. Students mindlessly walk in line for the 80 kilometer walk, where the start is the finish, and begin to communicate wholeheartedly with me, the stranger.

Just as the objective of 'bohengjae' isn't a simple walking festival, PARK Sang-hee's drawings are not simply canvases of city scenery. Urban assimilation is not the only thing recovering from the different dimensions of space to time, time to being, and losing historical and regional characteristics. It is also the main feature.

When feeling hunger or melancholic in the midst of cars in the 'clamourous city,' we recall the images of nature from our travels. We rely on the trees by the streams, the daffodils by the lake and it dulls us slightly from the powers of 'anger and superficial desires.'

Alain de Botton (1969~current) advised as such in 『The Art of Travel』. Despite chronic hunger in the middle of the city or melancholy grabbing at you by the ankles, one can never truly leave the city. One may leave for a brief periods but will always return to live in the city. Perhaps the best thing for urbanites is 'the art of life' where the repetitive life transforms into daily walks.
* This essay was published in the exhibition catalogue, IAP.

GONG Ju-hyung Art Critic

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Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine


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