Illusion,Disgrace, Alienation and Body, Motion

(Sang-Yong Shim, Professor of Art History at Dongduk Women's University )

Illusion,Disgrace, Alienation/ Sujin Ahn implies his own identity as `a rash on the tongue'. The inflamed rash, loss of appetite, being in no mood to speak... These are the artist's mind from what I have read. His work, <Shame, False Image, Alienation>, gives us those clues.

Disgrace/ Ahn says that his work was nothing great but a recollection of the time when he was tired in his innocent fight against form and material. He does not say much. However, what I understand of his feelings is suggested in one verse of a poem he wrote in the early 1990s.

"Looking at the transparent eye of a walleye pollak
On a crumpled yellow wallpaper,
I have nothing more to wonder about.
When the hidden shame becomes large,
I expect an unknown alibi
To come quickly in secrecy with strength."

This was the philosophy and the main principle that was so strong at one time. An artist has to strengthen one's soul with pride and nurture resistance to keep oneself from giving in to solitude. He has to become friends with only solitude in order to be free from conventionalities, become original, and follow the knowledge which are not that of the past. (Ahn remembers the atmosphere of the 1980s as something opposite to the present shame that he feels. To my recollection, this was due to the fact that he accepted such instigations. He believed that an artist has to stand up for oneself and create art following one's rule no matter how insecure he may be. He wanted to believe (at least) that the artist should not give up one's individuality.) However, the artist's foundation based on pride, resistance, and solitude has long been broken down. The 1990's encourage the artist to remain silent, not to fight nor to escape. Is this because it is advantageous to give up oneself to continue one's art? Now, artists have to be in favor of groups and institutions, must have a name for oneself, be well-mannered, and speak and act in the most prudent way in order to get support from art administration, innumerous groups of art lovers, and the government.
The artist claims that `the harder you try to hide shame, the more it is revealed' and an evidence is given in another writing he wrote around the same time. "This is because I, myself, am well aware that I am another small existence in this anonymous world. And this indicates that the society is shadowed by a conspiring atmosphere due to a strict contract."

Illusion/ The French Revolution and Enlightenment were not a victory of freedom nor the people's voice. Rather, they aggravated terrible fear and pressure, forced agreement, and dishonesty. The Marxist Utopia ended in abominable oppression, alienation, and poverty. The Russian Revolution continuously brought on more severe oppressive systems. And Adam Smith's `the invisible hand' obviously led to the creation of Super 301 and IMF. (Things were always like this...)
Adorno and Marcuse's high-quality culture has now come back like a boomerang in the form of `paralysed critical function', in other words `culture industry', which they abhorred. Art had declared a break from the world, but it is now a `bridge connecting the world' in the speeches of the politicians. The poets and artists' avant-guarde that asserted to disregard Bourgeois Realism and do as they pleased has become a `system of the bankers'. All the promises, predictions, and declarations have proven untrustworthy. As Ilya Prigogine once complained, "humanity itself has reached the end of certitude".

Alienation/ Therefore, Ahn wants to alienate himself from the person he is in this world.

Modernism of Machine and Body/ He is a modernist according to Daniel Bell who considered aesthetic modernism as a rage against order. Here, an artist's rage must not be interpreted as a challenge to the mainstream trend of the times or a means to shock the bourgeois. The artist's modernity has to be understood in the opposite sense of `post-modernity'. For example, being mild-tempered, a post-modern person does not get angry nor does he feel shame in his life. He laughs at Faust and he does not wait for Godot.
There are other reasons why Sujin Ahn's world may be classified as modern. But, before we go into them, the problem of superficially attempting to limit his world in a generalized kineticism needs to be brought to light. We must call to attention the fact that motion is not the sufficient condition of self-satisfaction and that the system which causes motion, the metallic body (which is more than a supplementary device) and its formation are important. The body, in other words the foundation of the existence of parts, is still in existent. His world is in constant motion, but, paradoxically, his partial consciousness becomes clearer with each motion. The motion, which has no volume, no weight, and no smell, works more actively on his partial consciousness, or his mechanical body.
Ahn had once mentioned that his work required physical effort. (Of course, money does lessen the burden.) While more and more contemporary writers are taking the easy way out, he is proving the `existence of the contrary' physically. Existence of the contrary! In an age of three-dimensional movie and virtual reality, machine aesthetics is indeed an outdated language. Machine forms the framework of persecution complex widespread at the lower levels of post-industrial society with the tragedies caused by its civilization. Ahn's identity can be found in the regressing consciousness of the times, his counterflowing consciousness, and above all, the retrogression to the body based on the machine and himself. The burdensome body makes his motion more like a rash on the tongue, more `rough', more `moanful', and less conceptual. Only then, it can be called Ahn's own movement.
Then what's the difference between his and Tinguely¡®s motion? Tinguely¡®s motion snickers and cries, but Ahn's motion lets out a single scream. Calder's motion flutters optimistically, but Ahn's tracks the pessimistic history painstakingly. Rebecca Horn¡¯s motion ridicules lightly, but Ahn's is still caught as a pawn in this solemn world.

Machine + Poetry / Nevertheless, Ahn's body has no problem of being confused with material. Because although material (machine) is consumed, it contributes to the production of meaning. Furthermore, the meaning is not a proof of pure motion, but a connection of the machine's beginning and end with the recognition of itself and the world. At a glance, Ahn may seem to work with steel and machine with assurance, but machine is something utilized and not worshipped for him. Then, for what end?
I once asked him whether he was attempting inappropriately to wrap the piece of machinery, which is liken to skepticism, with innocent poetry. (I had asked him at the time how a work based on machine's severe mechanism could be regarded as a member of the romantic bloodline of `poem'.) The question was asked for confirmation and not out of doubt. It was my way of agreeing to his way of depending on paradox and retrogression. Ahn's way possesses the ventless anger of the people without a mind of their own, who cannot help but fly in the opposite direction when they cannot endure the pressure anymore. In his way, I can read an existentialist confession as great as the pessimism of Tinguely, who analogized the requiem of the 20th century through his self-destructive machine. It is like Sartre's confession made in the concentration camp. In the same sense, his <Fly Swatter> also reveals the allegory of helplessness and anger swishing through the air with no direction. (I can not forget his work <then> of 1994. It was a rocking chair with oars about 220cm long, one on each side, repeating the empty elliptic motion. Once again, we can see the comfort of the rocking chair suddenly turning into solitude, and as the rowing becomes more vigorous, the despair of not being able to move forward increases. In Ahn's slow and empty motion expressed in machines, we can find a text better than poems which are written in symbols.)