Reading Myungseop Hong as a Monster or Without Interpretation
Wonbang Kim

Mimicry - Pretending to Look Like Art
  Andre Breton called a prototype for Surrealistic beauty, ¡°convulsive beauty¡±and suggested mimicry phenomenon as an example. Here, the mimicry phenomenon refers to an eye pattern on a butterfly¡¯s wings, sea corals of vegetation patterns, and strangely shaped sculptures found in natural caves. The mimicry in a larger sense can mean namorphosis. For example, a person stations his or her level of vision at a certain angle, and the shapes of surrounding objects blend together to reveal totally unexpected images, a typical phenomenon seen in a game for finding hidden images. Thisphenomenon can be explained as an establishment of an unstable self-image by projecting the self-image outward or by seeing through a vision of the other. The image lives not within the self, but elsewhere. Therefore, the concept of socalled ¡°intimacy¡±becomes invalidated as the meaning of intimacy refers to the inner spiritual world or the property of a closed individual. Instead of the concept of intimacy, Jacques Lacan has proposed ¡°extimacy¡±(extimite, outer center) as its alternative term. The reality exists in an outside space, and the inside is made of the outside. Although residing in the center of oneself, the absolute other(l¡®Autre) is a totally unknown being. It means that the center of the subject resides outside the subject. If a mimicry image wants to see its own imago or mirror image, it is possible only through a reflection of a mirror placed far away from the outside of the self. In addition, the reflected image will be something that is totally irrelevant to one¡¯s original image. Such situation is very similar to the strange psychopathological state of Narcissism. The mimicry bases itself on the outside subject¡¯s level of vision that performs the mirror¡¯s functions. If art itself can be mimicked, what would it look like? Especially if there was no art in its place and only variable or selective life that can be considered as accidental art in a real life situation is inevitable destiny. We encounter such example in the work of Myungseop Hong. His work has been a consistent investigation into ¡°the ontological deviation¡±in such art. In doing so, he has touched upon the blurry boundaries in art, such as ¡°para-art,¡±¡°infra-art,¡±or ¡°lack or surplus of a kind of relevent art¡±. It is true that Hong¡¯s art appears to be difficult to understand. Some even complain that it is difficult to figure out what it is that the artist tries to achieve. Although Hong has written much about his own work, I will attempt to propose several passages to understand his work¡¯s core meanings without dealing much with Hong¡¯s own writings (since the object of criticism is his work, neither the artist himself nor his writings).

Category, Interpretations, and Beyond
  The first passage to understand Hong¡¯s work is the notion of ¡°category¡±or ¡°beyond interpretation¡±. This refers to
the spaces in-between categories and interpretations, rather than their total absence. Further, it could also be said that Hong¡¯s work lies upon the investigation of the category itself that is called ¡°art¡±. An important characteristic of post- Modern art has been its interest in categorical mechanism among arts and between art and the reality, rather in the content of art itself. In a broader sense within such context, we can examine Hong¡¯s work as an endless reflection on the processes of ¡°meta¡±(transcendence or regression) with regard to categories. Instead of providing the viewer an affirmative statement about the concept of his work, it allows the viewer to question what the work is all about (a ¡°performative¡±rather than a ¡°constative¡±work to borrow the concepts of Austin.) Hong¡¯s reflective and critical passage, which has been claimed here as ¡®meta,¡¯does not try to reach the final language of meta; on the contrary, it approaches toward the disappearance of linguistic reason and the impossibility of critical interpretation. First, let us examine Hong¡¯s ¡°As¡¦If¡±series (to be strictly speaking though, we should try not to apply the term ¡°series¡±when examining his work), such as ¡°Looks like a..,¡±¡°As if a ghost has tricked..,¡±¡°As if a mutation¡¦,¡±and ¡°Like Homeopathy¡¦.¡±For this series of works, multi-colored ropes are placed both inside and outside to mimic snakes. Here, we have to focus on the artist¡¯s intention of staging the work to look like snakes rather than confirming to the viewer they are snakes. It is important to notice Hong¡¯s interest to touch upon presenting underlying potentiality. Hong¡¯s objects are the mutated versions of ordinary objects, and they emulate to be something other than themselves. Hong has not just reproduced the form of snakes, but rather made them to be mistaken for snakes. Other examples of similar works that transformed shapes of everyday objects include Hong¡¯s Politics of Colorful Patterns (1996), where numbers of umbrellas have been painted to resemble poisonous mushrooms and Mimicry of Mimicry (2004), a kind of egg painting, which has been exhibited in recent solo exhibition at Pyo Gallery. These works provide the possibility of interpreting the works in different ways, and conflicts and indecisiveness aroused by the different interpretations end up dominating the surrounding situation as a result. In other words, they draw attention to blurry boundaries in forming art, surrounding environments, and coincidental contacts among artistic objects and between art and the viewer. Marcel Duchamp has adapted the concept of ¡°ultra-thin¡±as his subject of aesthetic research. ¡°The sound that one creates while moving in a thinly layered pair of velvet trousers comes from ¡®ultra-thin¡¯state. I think we can move into a three-dimensional space from a two-dimensional space due to the effect of the ultra-thin.¡±The advancement into the three-dimensional shares a similar meaning with the previously mentioned term ¡°extimacy.¡±The similarity lies in the fact that art is being represented not as a closed and self-referential artwork, but art speaks up as a circumstantial part of its surrounding three-dimensional space. Hence there wouldn¡¯t be such thing as a core subject of each artwork. There only exists the viewer¡¯s expectation of an object being some kind of artwork and the assumption that it might have been a work of art in the past. Art in this sense exists only as a trace or empty shell, and momentum. To emphasize this ambiguity Hong focuses on the thin edges of in-between objects and signifiers, which is an exemplary challenge of Hong to uniquely develop what Duchamp has done. Hong attempts an exercise of bringing in ¡®outer dimension¡¯or ¡®beyond dimension /meta¡¯through applying multi-colored patterns and slight modifications. We will never fully grasp the true meaning of ¡°beyond the dimension.¡±If we did, there would be no ¡®beyond.¡¯One thing is for sure; that is that the traditional concepts, such as artworks and art history, are being dismantled by the ambiguous ¡®beyond the dimension.¡¯Jacques Derrida has said that it is not the essence of a painting, but rather its accompaniments, so-called parergon such as frames and other ornaments, transform the artwork into an object that cannot be analyzed by theoretical language. Hong¡¯s work refreshes the area that is impossible to be analyzed theoretically and disturbs the order of objects. In addition, his work undertakes the process of ¡®de-definition¡¯of art attempts to take the definition of art through the surrounding, complimentary elements. Hong is taking us to the very last critical point of art theory.

   The second passage is about ¡®trace¡¯and ¡®apparatus.¡¯Here, the apparatus means the operating mechanism of mechanical elements that are separate entities but mutually related. This point is somewhat easy to be ignored in reading Hong¡¯s work, but it contains an important issue in relation to the dismantling of categories. There is an important point that has been overlooked in the discussion on parergon by Derrida that is the fact that the complimentary and surrounding elements represent a strong space of the body, which is the possessive space. A dismal and abstract abyss, known as ¡®non-knowledge,¡¯is not all there is beyond the edges of Hong¡¯s artwork. Beyond the edges and in the outside space a physical carnival starts to take place. In the case of Duchamp¡¯s famous Rotorelief series, the work stimulates the viewer¡¯s physiological state to its maximum climax through revolving circular dishes. This work is not a ¡°work to be read¡± (the object of theoretical knowledge), but rather a ¡°work to be experienced¡±(the object of physiological experience), which Rosalind Krauss has described as ¡°corporealization of vision.¡±There is a kind of a pulse so that the viewer experiences the rhythm of corporeal excitement, as if we are jumping ropes. In the development of contemporary art, the most important topic should be the one that Duchamp has initiated; that with his contribution, art has evolved from independent symbols to an apparatus of physiological experience, from paintings and sculptures to an apparatus for virtual reality experience. Hong¡¯s work titled Running Railroad, exhibited at Pyo Gallery, depicts traces of a railroad by applying adhesive tapes on canvas. Hong has exhibited a similar type of work back in 1982. When viewing the work, one will feel as if being immersed into it, like a theatrical act of a very sensual body initiated by physiological stimulus of sports. Following the traces, one moves from one canvas to another, furthering to pass through the architectural structure of the exhibited space. In other words, the work can be defined as a stimulating play that penetrates and plays with the public space by means of my personal physical movements. The public space is the externalized space comprised of objects such as architecture and canvases. In this sense, the work provides reasons why it¡¯s inevitable that our natural body, in regards to all conceptual ideas, essentially be transgressive, carnival-like, and dismantling (Hong in a similar point of view has said ¡°Seeing is not just a visual issue, but rather a physical act. ¡¦ It is a hallucinatory, dreamy stunts of our consciousness). I think such characteristics as apparatus are revealed strongly in Hong¡¯s feet skin series, including De-Titled and Hommage to Carl Andre. It is easy to interpret this series as relating to a conceptual reflection on the traces of feet lacking the actual object of feet, a meta-critique of the problem of representation, or spiritual meditation. However, it is better to say that the traces and meditation are expressed in terms of the physiological experience based on the previously mentioned apparatus. The feet skins usually arranged on the floor in a regular order contain the power to draw our body into the work itself in an analogical as well as hallucinatory manner. And through this power, the work creates a virtual kind of physiological exercise that is almost limitless and repetitive, and at the same time multiplex and divided, as was in Duchamp¡¯s Rotorelief. The trace here means the absence of the actual object (the feet) and at the same time ¡®the present state of the absence of the object.¡¯The present state of the absence is manifested not as an empty space, but rather an erotic ¡®space for drive¡¯that stimulates the body. The skins of the feet permit the experience of a separation from materials and operate as a remote control to link this life and the other world, illustrating that the outer world is present right here. In that sense, Hong¡¯s ¡®railroad¡¯and ¡®skins of feet¡¯demonstrate that objects of ichnological research should not be from past history, but strictly about present bodies.

Reading Hong ¡¯s Past and Future Like a Monster or Without Interpretations
   A monograph on an artist generally includes development of artworks from the past to the present and suggests directions for the artist¡¯s future work. But, in Hong¡¯s case, what value does this enlightening effort of understanding the past and the future have? In general, writings on the development of an artwork are based on the formalistic or iconological point of view. In Hong¡¯s case, categorizing works based on the resemblance of their forms or subject matters would entirely mislead us from the way that his work is following, as the artist is trying to radically deny and escape from forms, image, icons, and categories. To an artist like Hong who is concerned more with the ¡®the trace or the peel of art¡¯, there would be nothing more absurd than a lofty memorializing historical record about his works. If there is one thing to pay attention to within the limited boundary, it would be best to consider Hong with an analogy to Marcel Duchamp rather than to Minimal Art or to Conceptual Art. Minimal Art was so obsessed by the Oedipus complex about the previous art trends that it historicized itself by locking itself up in a particular code of forms (it is ironic that even with the so-called ¡°literal object¡±there is a kind of stylistic culture of a series of fixed forms) ; and Conceptual Art lost sight of the fact that art can be an apparatus for the body of drive. Duchamp, on the other hand, was an artist who realized that art can be revealed as a situational type of ¡®cultural discourse¡¯within the mutual reference among the present space and other works of art, and changed it to be an active form of a game. As can be seen in Duchamp¡¯s Rotorelief and Etant Donn?, he is the artist who changed art from an icon into an apparatus for physiological transformation. There is no need to deny the similarities shown in Hong¡¯s works to other art trends, including Minimal Art; however, the various parts of his works and uniqueness can best be seen clearly when compared to the works of Duchamp. Rather than viewing Hong¡¯s work simply as works of art in art historical categories, it seems pertinent to see it as works in progress, unfinished works, or modes of latency for unexpected separations and transformations. Hong¡¯s work has the latency to turn over the art world whenever it is ready to uncover itself on the surface of systematized categorization and recognition of objects. It lies latent but will resurface to break down the categories. It is this potential power that has Hong¡¯s work closely related to the concept of the ¡®monster¡¯. From the point of view of cultural theory and psychological analysis, a true monster is a being that cannot be categorized, visualized, and historicized; a being that cannot exist in reality. Monster refers to the collapse of categories, the end of reasons, an impetus for endlessly disturbing orders of reason and consciousness in latency, and the power to be free from the radar of the theory of knowledge. Because the monster refuses to be classified within the order of things, the monster is regarded as a dangerous being and hence, ostracized. The development of Hong¡¯s work has to be viewed as if we are searching for a monster and finding a point of contact for the disturbance of reasons, without interpretations or trying to break away from the fixation of interpretations. Hong¡¯s work should be read as if we are fleeing or leaping from such artistic knowledge as categories or interpretations, comparing the works at random instead of focusing on each individual work. It is ironic that Hong¡¯s work is accepted as art, because his work has attempted to escape from the code of styles that¡¯s been set up in art history and to do so, he has shown an aspect of transforming himself, a monstrous mutation. Of course, the monster disperses, the moment it is born and is ideologized and normalized. Hong¡¯s work is after all an art. And such art is inevitably given a chance to start again as another ¡°trace-apparatus.¡±Like a blade, it opens up the gap to emit the power of differences that has been locked up inside. ¡°We cannot consider the trace without considering the retention of difference in the structure of reference.¡±(Jacques Derrida) Hong¡¯s work is this attempt to bring forth the retention of difference into the present or presence. The attempt may end without achieving anything and such end may repeat itself; however, for Hong and the viewer this void attempt can satisfy little by little the drive for destruction, a leap, and death. Perhaps, that may be what we have been wanting all along.