I discovered the works of Kim Junsung (b. 1987, Seoul) at the Doosan Gallery, a non-for-profit organization promoting the works from emerging Korean artists with a space in the heart of Chelsea. Part-Hollywood romcom, part-Thai boxing ethnographic documentary, with a Black Lives Matter undertone and showcasing some VHS home-made recording of a court hearing, Junsung’s video 12-CR-1522 left me with a head filled with questions and visual cues to answer them. He takes a vast array of both found and new material to realize montages that leave you thinking about the state of America today, overbearing entertainment, global societies of spectacle and racial segregation. He produces the kind of art that questions its own medium too: ‘What are the limits of video art?’ I asked myself after seeing his work. I caught up with him tucked away comfortably at the High Line hotel outside patio. Junsung is currently pursuing two MFA programs, one at Columbia and the other at Bard College. Sophie Arni: What made you choose video instead of other mediums? Your work is very advanced, on a conceptual level but also on the technical level.
Kim Junsung: I’m a big Deleuze fan, and grasped the potentiality of montage from his writings. Video is about structure, and playing with repetitions. S.A.: Are you thinking to go into film directing as well? What’s the difference between video art and film actually? Kim Junsung: I am working right now on releasing a short film. Video art and cinema are merging together today more than ever. There’s no clear boundary. S.A.: Interesting. So your film would be premiering at a festival, not a white cube exhibition? Kim Junsung: At a festival yes. If you wanted to categorize it, you could call it ‘arthouse cinema’. S.A.: What is your working process like? Do you write scripts yourself for your videos, or do you visualize it with a story board? Kim Junsung: I use a story board. I also enjoy writing. Writing the script is the fun part. Then I talk to my DP and we discuss how will compose the shots.
S.A.: So you work like a film director, full gear. Who are the actors actually? Your friends, random people? Kim Junsung: No, I cast professional actors. They work the best, and sometimes I just let them improvise and they come up with really interesting body language that I can work with. S.A.: I loved Archeology. I sensed a lot of American youth culture visuals mixed with Asian influences. Might be a cliché question, but does this mirror your relationship with this country? Kim Junsung: Archeology is about cultural importing and cultural exporting, two subjects that I’m passionate about. It boiled down to my observations that Korea fundamentally lacks originality. There is history, of course, but after the 1956 Korean war, I felt that was the breaking point. Everything got destroyed. There has been a strong American influence ever since, impregnating the youth with these American ideals. I grew up in that feeling that what we had as Koreans was inferior to the bureaucracy and culture of the US. S.A.: That’s cultural importing. And what do you mean by cultural exporting? Kim Junsung: It’s so weird for me that K-Pop blew up in the US. Koreans took American Pop and appropriated it, perverted it, and re-exported it. S.A.: Do you see it as a wrong thing? Kim Junsung: It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about a healthy versus unhealthy issue. S.A.: What do you think of African American culture? At some point in your videos, I see blacks and Asians singing karaoke together. Kim Junsung: I read minority studies through black studies. Black theorists, they are the ones with something to say today. It’s thanks to them that we have such a thing as minority studies today. The Asian studies wave began only in the 60s and 70s. It’s undeniable that Asians partially helped to sustain this white bureaucracy and we have to acknowledge and reflect upon this for our future. S.A.: And what’s the point of the court case videos? I am just really curious, how did you get the idea to download and edit entire videos of court hearings? I think it works very powerfully, these lawyers speaking to a judge. The whole scene is imprisoned in a bureaucratic and racial hierarchy. Kim Junsung: This video was a court hearing about the shootings that happened in Colorado in 2012. A PhD candidate in neuroscience went to a movie theater, thought he was a joker and killed 12 people. I was interested in the story and found videos of the court hearings. It’s a tripartite restaging. I edited the video so that the viewer feels like he is at a movie theater through the screen. The movie leads to the crime, which is mediated at the court, which is then filmed and showcased on a screen. And as you said, you feel the hierarchy. That’s because the hearing is presented to us as a scene. S.A.: As a performance. Kim Junsung: Everything is rehearsed, everyone is performing. Lawyers are reading their scripts, the judge is reading his.
S.A.: Let’s talk about that video, Whitney. Who or what is Whitney for you? The museum, a stereotypical name of a white girl? Kim Junsung: Whitney is a signifier. It can be Whitney Houston, or the Whitney Museum. I used the name as a personal indicator. Whitney Houston was my actually first encounter with pop music within global culture and capitalism. The marriage system is also, as I view it, a good way to maintain capitalism. S.A.: Actually, yes, it’s a way to maintain social, racial, financial interests. Kim Junsung: Precisely. S.A.: And what about your videos in Thailand? Were you in Bangkok or more rural areas? Did you spend a lot of time there, or you just traveled there for the video? Kim Junsung: I went to Thailand for a residency. It was in the town of Chiang-Mai. Made in Thailand is actually the name of a pop song from the 80s. The subject of cultural circulation comes along. It was a long time the case, perhaps even now, that Thai people dismissed Thailand and loved the West instead. They were wearing Levi’s jeans, which are actually made in Thailand. I wanted to make this work following these themes. S.A.: What do you think of the term ‘global art’? What does it spark to your mind? It’s a question I like to ask. Kim Junsung: Global art is a term invented for the sake of the art market. What does ‘global’ mean? Global is digestible by everyone, it is built for everyone, it is marketable. S.A.: Interesting view. I somewhat agree with you. But don’t you think the trend helps artists from under-represented regions to get exposure? Do you think Contemporary Art should be more accessible, actually?
Kim Junsung: Everyone’s creative, everyone’s a DJ, everyone’s a filmmaker today. I think art is not special anymore. It’s becoming an industry. You become an artist to become famous, that’s how the youth thinks. They use art for the fame and forget about the importance of process when making art.
S.A.: Absolutely agreed. Do you think the white cube will still remain, however? The elitism that comes with Contemporary Art, do you see it fading to a Hollywood stage?
Kim Junsung: Art needs an ecosystem to survive: art spaces, art schools, art studios, the art market too is important. I don’t mind the art market. If it makes making art a sustainable practice.
S.A.: I saw online that you opened your own exhibition space? Can you tell me more about that?
Kim Junsung: Yes sure! In 2015, friends of mine and I opened a space in between Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Check us out at: www.sixtyseven.us It’s a studio-style space, that can also accommodate exhibition. Our goal is to build a community of emerging artists in the city. It’s not going to be commercial at all. Our priority is to support artists. We invite occasionally curators or choose new artists to collaborate with - our focus is on young minority artists, whether it’s gender or race-wise.