Friday, November 20, 2009
WAKE UP NEW YORK CITY! PERFORMA 09, in its third edition of the biennial dedicated to new visual art performance, certainly knows how to put on a show. There was a packed house at Yeondoo Jung's performance of Cinemagician at the Asia Society, commissioned by PERFORMA with the Yokohama Festival for Video and Social Technology. Supported by The Korea Foundation and the TOBY Fund. Co-produced by Tina Kim Gallery, New York, and Kukje Gallery, Seoul Co-presented with the Asia Society.
Yeondoo Jung's Cinemagician may be viewed at the Asia Society website.
Jung's Cinemagician is an interestingly playful theater piece and performance that takes on the task of revealing the relationship between the magician and audience that unfolds as an unknown event or trick is developed. Jung, an avid lover of performance, film, art, magic and illusion, has fused these disciplines to create and direct a work that plays with perceptions of illusion and leaves the viewer feeling pleasantly perplexed.
Cinemagician presented a live performance juxtaposed with a projected one hanging directly above the action, which reveals some very interesting paradoxes between the two simultaneous events. Famous South Korean magician Eungyeol Lee, who also acts as the live magician and the lead role in Cinemagician, does an outstanding job of revealing just enough of his magical talents and holding back others in order for the rest of the crew to step in and assist him. Not a regularly practicing visual artist, Lee was tasked with making a drawing which acted as the central visual basis for the constructed work, an initial sketch which dictated the direction of the performance. Lee, along with a cast of about 15 participants was "directed" by Jung who made a brief appearance at the start of the performance by announcing "quiet on the set," through a directors megaphone. The accompanying cast was made up of set technicians dressed in bright orange jumpsuits, a solo percussionist who kept tempo and guided the audience through a series of crescendo's and little narrative vignettes, and a videographer. The magician "leaves the audience to oscillate between the "suspension of disbelief" and a paradoxically ravishing spectacle (Asia Society 2009). Using a cinematic technique called "stop trick," in which the filming is stopped, then something is substituted in front of the camera or changed for something else, and finally filming is resumed. This gives the illusion that something spectacular has happened when in reality a team has come together to create it. Jung uses both in Cinemagician, giving the audience an insider perspective on a little bit of the spectacle. The interesting twist is that Eungyeol Lee is "assisted" by a secret agent-type figure who also aids in creating the behind the scenes magical moments unbeknownst to Lee. So while Lee's character of the magician thinks that he is actually orchestrating the magical elements that bring the image together he in fact has help. This style that Jung favors was inspired by nineteenth-century French filmmaker George Melies who experimented with "stop trick."
The performance hit a few peak moments that reflect the whimsical aesthetic of Jung's photgraphic vision. Once Lee and his team had adjusted, spray painted, nudged, placed and rolled everything into place he inserted himself into the set, whereby completing the moving image projected just outside of the action. This image was cropped in such a way that Lee looked like he was inside a fairytale-like image of candy colored flowered mountain tops. This happened again where Lee inserted himself into an ice fishing scene, where the cool tones of the backdrop and accompanying props really gave a sense of context. While the audience was not far removed from the mechanics of how these images were constructed, once the elements came together on screen it created a moment that was quite magical, pun intended. For these brief instances everything and everyone was still and the image shown in real time on the video screen above was so beautiful that it drew the focus of the audience in immediately, and for that short glimpse everything else in the entire space melted away.
In this piece the audience simultaneously had the privilege of viewing the seamless magical world that Jung had conceptualized but also the behind the scenes stunts, props and mechanics involved in making such a spectacular performance. The idea that Lee has no idea of this under cover helper who ultimately completes most of his magic tricks for him, puts an even more compelling twist on this theater piece. This surmounting tension keeps the viewer shifting back and forth between reality and magic and action and illusion that is characteristic of much of Jung's photographic and video works. Jung is a master at giving just enough information away in an image that will give the viewer a sense of a constructed fantasy but the astute subtly in which he maintains this flux keeps the tension between reality and fantasy very much alive.
Born in South Korea in 1969, Yeondoo Jung received his MFA from Goldsmiths College in 1997. He is the recipient of the 2007 Artist of the Year Award, given annually by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul. Jung has an impressive list of solo exhibition held in Asia, Europe and the United States and has also been shown in the 51st Venice Biennale and the Liverpool Biennale in 2008. Yeondoo is represented by Kukje Gallery in Seoul and Tina Kim Gallery in New York.