East Contemporary

Suwon Museum of Art: Gary Hill “Momentombs”

Suwon, November 26, 2019 – March 8, 2020, https://suma.suwon.go.kr

Another two years passed, and another visit to the Suwon Museum of Art appeared on my schedule. First of all a pleasant formal change, the “Ipark” name (Suwon Ipark Museum of Art) disappeared from the museum’s name. Ipark is the name of a prominent apartment brand (developer) of Hyundai Development Company. Now it is simply called Suwon Museum of Art. Credit must be given to Hyundai for building an edifice that is really beautiful and pleasant to move around.

The solo exhibition of Gary Hill, a prominent media artist of the first generation (who prefers to be called a language artist), was a very positive surprise to me. The educative aspect of introducing a well-known U.S.-American media artist to a Suwon audience is undisputable. But even for those familiar with Hills work, the show brought new insights. And so it did for me.

Generally speaking, Hill came across as a West Coast beach boy interested in surfing and new (at that time) media appearing in the world around him. He used those tools to express intimate observations drawn from mundane situations. Language as a tool for creating a relation between one’s own self and that of others plays a crucial role in his works. Often the works come across as materialized poems. There is a beauty in them.

However, without wanting to diminish Hill’s contribution to the history of media art, I could not get rid of one thought nagging at the back of my head. How come that his approach to technological media (video, audio, photography, digital image manipulation, 3D simulation…) was so uncritical, so positive(ist)? In my thoughts, I related it to his location on the U.S. West Coast, where many of the 1960’s hippies moved over to Silicon Valley to saw the seeds of today’s tech companies that provide tools for the government-military-corporate complex to rule people’s emotions (post-fact epoch, remember?). Today’s media/video art take an approach that is either ironical or critical. Hills position appears as if from a different time, which, in fact, is true.

Strangely, this positive and poetic approach to media might be well attuned to the “traditional” view of media that the older Korean generation or the sophisticated and eco-friendly image of the Ipark brand. The idea of art as beauty. Technology as an extension of humanist ideals. But how would a young Korean that grew up inside of a smartphone read Hill’s artworks? Someone for whom digital media are a second nature that is not questioned, but nevertheless recognized as an agent delivering social pressure through information and social interaction. What would Kim Heecheon think about Hills works? Can the speed and hallucinatory nature of his creation be related to the meditative simplicity of Hills works? Would they just think it’s boring? Would they put it in the same category as Na Hye-sok’s paintings? Something that makes sense when packaged into an art-historical narrative, but that has little relation to the lived present?

I found it good that the exhibition generated this kind of thoughts in my mind. It means it worked. It did not try to entertain the visitors. I saw this as a very positive aspect. It gave a space for Gary Hill’s ideas to unfold and it gave space for visitor’s ideas to unfold.

In the few sample visits I took (previous were in 2016 and 2018), I could definitely see an upward trend at SUMA. The exhibition team gathers experience it goes and SUMA is developing into a worthwhile and constant part of my Suwon itinerary.

Comments are closed.