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Spacewalking between structures, Mookwon Han’s performance


Mookwon Han started our conversation with his first visit to a nuclear power plant that uses “pure” water and air in its turbine. How many countless great minds and artists struggled their whole lives to find the true nature of “pure” during arrogant art history. Although the meaning of pure is intangible, pure water and air, as additive are already existed in industrial factories. Han was inspired by dynamic and active concept of industrial reason and its method. Han interprets the unsolved conceptual existence of pure, to approaching to the abstract conceptual prospect in an aspect of specific creation like pure.

Trumpet as a new installation expressed with a current of pure air based on his experience of industrial material and method. Air filtered by a purifier flows through an enclosed transparent pipe and adds oxygen in a water tank. The air compressor and a pedaling by audiences blows the trumpet, recorder, and French horn. Air reveals its true existence by making the voices of the instruments heard. Purity, the concept of invisible real existence between ultimate and mire, is recognized by a chain of air stream. Han expresses the chain of air as an age of current art or artist himself direct to the metaphor of invisible real existence through artistic adopting manufacturer’s component.

Trumpet is a feedback from the Covid-19 that is a strong dominant in the time of this show. Aureole of the solar and moon eclipse is called corona and also crown in Latin. Han installed an olive tree as the representative of the ancient crown and a golden accessory crown as the symbol of the power in the middle ages. An electric thorn ring shows a future crown on top of the crowns of the past. Although the electricity powering the future crown, its existence is proved by the light that illuminates the crowns that came before it. He ventilates the crown of the historical power symbolized by a mass product trivial accessory crown as metaphoric power from the olive leaves crown.  

As a site specific installation, Trumpet was surrounded by photography of power plants and a nuclear waste disposal center. Trumpet is a continuous work series of Turbine. Sculpture in the space communicates with the photography on the walls. This essay is limited on his long term research and various production. This show starts with videos as an instruction of making, performance, and theme. Artist divides three phases on his formidable layers and complex process. Basically, he visualizes from invisible energy to visible electricity. Lightning in nature and currents in the reactor inside of power plant. The next is the performative work of finding object and method during articulation. This stage takes a long time and much effort as we can see on the documentation photo and video. Finally, the sound which is the result of the articulate efforts. The stage installed in the gallery with real instruments and objects. The large occupation seems a familiar artistic element filled the most space of the gallery.

Han’s performance video is worthy of notice. His several identifications are formatting various performances from invisible existence, its several stages and interpretation through his own perspective and transformation to the higher phase. It would be a practice asceticism. Han excavates a heavy theme because he came from a historical symbol site of ancient East Asia and moved to New York. Han’s background is overlapped by historical cultural memory and reason and now the weight of current issues of nuclear power as a civilization existence.

The quality of stratum is the core of Han’s various thoughts. Han does not reveal his choice of willing among past/current, preserve/develop, or value of ecology/methodical efficiency. He is rather spacewalking between structure of ambiguity and complication and crossing various performances. He transformed industrial material as esthetic objects. He replaced physical space to the stage of performance. And then he suggests to the audiences to reconsider with new structure of purpose and perspective for the issues in the multi quality of stratum. As if reconsidering the pure, from practical using method of perfect pure water and air in power plant, to the pure as an aesthetic original form. 

Wonseok Koh

Chief curator, Seoul Museum of Art

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