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
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
"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
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.)