Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho’s science-fiction narratives transcend time and space to address current pressing issues and the role of art in society. The artists see the future as a mirror of the present, a space for reflection on our existence. We have a closer look at their collaborative efforts on their project “News from Nowhere”, now the subject of a solo exhibition at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan.
TEXT: C. A. Xuân Mai Ardia
IMAGES: Courtesy of the various
South Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho met while participating in exhibitions together as individual artists. Following a couple of years of discussions, they decided to join forces in 2009 to further explore their shared concerns, thus giving rise to their collaborative effort as we know it today. First debuted at dOCUMENTA(13) in 2012, the project “News from Nowhere” came to life because both artists were sick of art and the art world, and of “holding the wine glass [at] a big party without any audience”. They felt that art had lost its ability to communicate with the public, to make a real impact, and to deliver social value.
Looking Back Into The Future
“News from Nowhere” comprises three elements, with the film El Fin del Mundo (2012) as its original core component. A collaboration with architects, designers and fashion designers, Voice of Metanoia I displays a collection of future basic supplies and residential environments that shift away from contemporary aesthetics. Voice of Metanoia Part II includes conversations with notable scholars and intellectuals in a wide range of different fields compiled in a book, discussing their vision of the future and today’s values. The conversations explore recent trends in each field, discuss the meaning of art, and explore different interpretations of the future.
The film’s main characters—a man and a woman—are respectively artists from the present and the future. The work poses questions about our future survival and the need to adapt to a new, possibly less hospitable environment. The artists ask: “Will today’s social systems still be relevant in this future? What values will sustain our existence? Will art still be around? What will we eat and wear? Will sunsets still be beautiful?”
The film quite tangibly manifests their project’s inspiration from William Morris’s 1890 sci-fi utopian novel of the same title, in which the English author described a future agrarian society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, where all known values had been erased. While the rest of the project attempts to find “solutions” to our future predicaments, the film, in a similar vein to Morris’s novel, depicts how the future might look like, with a focus on art production. The two-channel work depicts the artists just before and after the apocalypse, as the rebirth of art with new aesthetics takes place in the post-apocalyptic world.
For its 2013 Chicago iteration, “News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory”, the project presented an expanded version, with a new film titled Avyakta (2012). Similar to the original edition, the work used sci-fi to explore a future, post-apocalyptic society facing questions surrounding creativity and the role of artists and free will. Like in Morris’s novel, the film sees a man travelling back in time to explore and learn from the past. The exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) also hosted contributions by six of the artists’ collaborators: architect Toyo Ito, fashion designers Kuho Jung and Kosuke Tsumura, mime Yu Jin Gyu, and design firms MVRDV and takram design engineering.
Moon described this edition as “an open platform where everyone can have a look at our current situation, not only in art, but also in science, religion, humanities, social and education, and carry out discussions … We start from the gallery, but we expand our sight to the real world”. The artists’ wished to attempt to offer possibilities and perhaps even find solutions to our current problems, while “borrowing the future to look at our present time”.
Fast forward to 2017, the “News from Nowhere: Zurich Laboratory” was a collaboration with architecture collective Urban Think Tank and architect and professor Gerhard Schmitt. Held at the Zurich Migros Museum for Contemporary Art in Switzerland, a seminal component of the show was the kinetic Mobile Agora, a reinterpretationof the Agora—a public square that was a place of assembly and democratic discussion in ancient Greece. Developed by the artists and UTT, Mobile Agora travelled around Zurich as a public performance, offering citizens an opportunity to share their views on the city. The video documentation was made part of the exhibition, where a programme of seminars, workshops and discussions took place around an agora installed in the museum.
The Ways of Folding Space & Flying
Moon and Jeon represented their country at the 56th Venice Biennale, “All the World’s Futures”, curated by Okwi Enwezor. The South Korean Pavilion’s title, “The Ways of Folding Space & Flying”, comes from two Korean words—chukjibeop and bihaengsul—with origins in Taoism. Chukjibeop is a hypothetical method of folding space to travel over a long distance in a short time. Bihaengsul allows one to levitate, fly, and travel across time and space to reach other realms. Both supernatural powers stem from the human desire to transcend both its mental and physical limitations. They find their origins in meditative practices, which train the mind to reach an alternative, higher state of consciousness beyond the present mind and body.
The artists stated that “both chukjibeop and bihaengsul are an archetype of using mental practice to overcome human limitations through the power of the imagination. These rather ludicrous and illogical ideas closely echo the basis of artistic practice in that they are both a creative manifestation of human desire to surpass the barriers and structures that bind us. Within this context, we intend to show the human endeavour to constantly break new ground and challenge the self and also envision the future of art.”
The exhibition presented a collapsing of space, where it seemed as if the film had been shot inside the pavilion. The space in the film was almost a simulacra of the pavilion space, where the life of the protagonist from the future could be directly experienced in the darkened environment, creating a continuum between the fiction and the reality.
From Freedom Village to Kanazawa
The film Freedom Village (2017) marked a turning point in the artists’ oeuvre with a renewed interest in Korea’s political history. Inhabiting the liminal space between reality and fiction, the artists shed light on the peculiar identity of Daeseong-dong (Freedom Village), the only civilian centre within the southern portion of the DMZ (Korean Demilitarised Zone). The Military Demarcation Line—the border between South and North Korea—is only 400metres west of the village, and 1.8 km away lies Kijong-dong, a village in North Korea’s portion of the DMZ.
Crossing the boundaries between truth and fabrication, and transcending time and space, the film is set in an ambiguous timeframe, neither past or present. The work ultimately examines the political anxieties and conflicts resulting from the division of the Korean peninsula, offering a space for imagining alternate realities.
News from Nowhere: Freedom Village (2021), the latest work in the Freedom Village series, was created for the Hyundai Motor series 2021 in collaboration with the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (MMCA). First shown at MMCA, the film installation is now part of the duo’s solo exhibition “News from Nowhere” in Kanazawa, alongside two new works created for the show.
Two characters from the Freedom Village, one from the present and one from the future, intersect in a narrative across time and space, depicting two not-so-distant worlds dominated by ideology. The artists refer to this work as “an introspective look at institutions and social systems” and “a metaphorical space that opens up new perspectives in order to evoke richly imaginative concepts”. Projected on both sides of a large LED panel, the two-channel film is accompanied by sound, painting, photography and text.
Through science-fiction narratives and an interest in contemporary issues that will shape our future, the artists create works that make us reflect on our current situation and suggest how to better cooperate to improve our chances for a future, peaceful existence on Earth. As the artists once wrote about “News from Nowhere”, its aim is not about “envisioning a utopia or a dystopia”, but about putting forth questions about the future that will “lead to discourses and a series of thoughts surrounding life”.
MOON Kyungwon and JEON Joonho: News from Nowhere
3 May – 4 September 2022
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
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