Museum Visit (CU Art Museum) – Morgan Rice

Museum Visit Paper

Morgan Rice

For this paper, I visited “Keeping it Real: Korean Artists in the Age of Multi-Media Representation” at the CU art museum. My first impression of this show was positive, and there were a few works I was immediately drawn to more than others. The ones that I found at first to be the most interesting were the sculpture pieces, both a big cat made out of car tires, and what appeared to be an invented bat-like creature made out of bones. However, it was two video works that eventually became the most interesting to me. I will discuss “Documenta Nostalgia” by Yeondoo Jung and “Cherry Blossoms” by Jaye Rhee.

I attended Yeondoo Jung’s visiting artist lecture a couple of semesters back, and of all the visiting artist lectures I have been to, his was the most interesting to me. I admire his work very much, and there is a wonderful lightheartedness to his work that is a relief to see after much darker and more intense work I have studied recently. One piece that struck me as particularly interesting in the lecture I attended was a piece in which he took drawings from several children and re-created them as photos using real people. Wherever there was an imperfection or something seemed drawn childishly, he embraced it and created costumes and makeup which mimicked the child’s art instead of trying to fix it. The results of this project were many highly colorful and beautiful dreamscapes, filled with unique and diverse characters. I like this a lot, because it seems that instead of showing the flaws of a young artist’s work, he is embracing them. An artist who is training will correct these flaws in order to create higher level work, but something is always lost when the imagination is no longer allowed to run free without fear of creating something imperfect.

His piece in the CU Art Museum entitled “Documenta Nostalgia” is a video, taken all in the same shot, of a set being built, taken down, moved and altered. Each new set gave the film a different direction, and the actions of the actors as well as the ‘stage crew’ matched the changing scene. I was lucky enough to have gone into the viewing room just as the film had started, so I got to see almost all of it. There is an element of humor and design to this work that I have not seen in many other video projects. There is no plot, and yet there is a definite connectedness from one set to the next, and the seamless nature of this work is what I find the most interesting about it.

Jung, as well as being a photographer, does a lot of set design, and this work seems to be a wonderful marriage between his technical skill in set design and his artistic eye. He exhibits a very specific aesthetic in his works, and while each scene he creates is different, they are unified by a certain style of design or layout. The video starts inside of a room where furniture is being brought in and rearranged. After several minutes of perfecting the room, the set crew picks up the wall and takes the room away, revealing a city street set. From there, the set migrates to a farm scene, a forest scene, and the final scene, which is a hiker atop a rock overlooking a mountain. The hiker, once placed on the rock, stands and stares away from the camera for a long while, and the video ends.

The second piece I will discuss is “Cherry Blossoms” by Jaye Rhee. This is a video work which shows a series of pink ‘blossoms’ falling from the sky. Upon closer viewing, however, you realize that the blossoms are actually wads of chewed-up gum being spit out onto the floor. Suddenly, the serene scene painted by the notion of falling blossoms become something that is humorous as well as unexpected. This piece was especially exciting to see in the show because my performance art class last semester was allowed to be a part of this piece, so I could still remember the taste of the gum, and how strange the whole experience actually was. I am not sure if the footage used was the one she took of my class, or some that she had filmed before (I know that there are many iterations of this video, and she did not mention which she used for the CU exhibition), but it was great to be a part of it nonetheless.

In my performance class, we were each given an entire case of chewing gum and instructed to chew it into a ball and then spit it out. There was a camera on a ladder above an enormous white mat on the floor, and we stood around the outside trying to spit as far as we could, which was actually quite difficult given the size of the mat. At first the gum tasted great, and I fully chewed up the pieces until they were soft before spitting them out. After about twenty minutes, however, my mouth began to ache, and the taste of gum began to bother me. The act of actually filling the entire mat with pieces of gum was a lot more difficult than I think any of us were able to understand until we were well into the process. I drank four full bottles of water in the last half hour of the recording, because my mouth was extremely dry and I was mostly mashing the gum into somewhat of a round shape and spitting it out as quickly as I could before I had to taste more of the gum flavor. The act which seemed so playful and fun at first became extremely difficult and tiresome.

It was great to see this video in the museum, whether or not any of those pieces of gum were spit out by me, because I could almost taste the gum again, and the experience of being a part of the piece made it that much more interesting to me. I feel like more than anyone who was not a part of the performance, I was able to understand what went into it, and in that way, I was able to understand the entire piece better. What appeared to anyone else first as cherry blossoms, then as wads of gum had a whole third level for me. It was about the taste, and the smell, and the tireless act of chewing gum and spitting it out for a full hour.

Many works of art, especially contemporary works, touch on the idea of the repetitive act for some end goal. Some goals seem worthwhile, while others leave the artist with nothing at the end. For example, Janine Antoni’s piece “Gnaw” is more about the act of physically biting pieces off of giant blocks of chocolate and other materials, than the final result that ends up in the museum. Another work that shows a similar concept is the piece “Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing” by Francis Alÿs. In this work, he pushes a large block of ice around on a hot day until the block is completely melted by the heat of the sun. At the end of a very long and strenuous process, he has nothing to show for it. I feel that“Cherry Blossoms” is more about the process of hundreds of pieces of gum falling than the end result. The video, to me, is more of a representation of what occurred than a work of art on its own.

The one downside I see to art such as “Documenta Nostalgia”, you must watch the video all the way through to understand what is being said, and if the video is a decent length, there is a pretty small chance that you will walk in right when it starts. Also, it seems that the end of the film is always extremely important to the meaning of the work, and many people do not stay for the duration of the film because they want to view other pieces in the show. I saw many people leave as I was watching the film, “Documenta Nostalgia” and for me, the ending ties the piece together, and serves as somewhat of a punchline. Other pieces in the museum can be viewed all at once, and the punchline is encapsulated by the work. Sculptures and paintings carry the entire story within them, whereas a film which is based off duration and time passing simply cannot. However, Jaye Rhee’s piece could be watched the whole way through, but the point of the piece shows through almost immediately. While the pieces of gum slowly fill the space, the viewer can watch this happen and see the film being created, but does not feel inclined to watch the very last piece of gum fall. The film is repetitive, so once the cycle of what is happening can be understood, the piece can be interpreted, and the viewer can move on. To the credit of longer videos, however, the viewers who do not leave partway through have given much more attention to the piece than probably any other in the exhibit. In some cases, the piece is lost due to the viewer leaving, but if the viewer stays, the piece has gotten a full twenty minutes of attention, which is much more than probably any other piece in the show.

I find that it is always difficult to say exactly where the boundary between film and art exists, or if the boundary exists at all. As time goes on, the boundaries of what is art are growing, and it seems to be less about the materials used, and more about the way a work is viewed. If it can be viewed as a work of art, then it seems that it can also be defined as one. The two artists I selected to write about for this paper both make work which skates the boundary between art and video. There is a performance aspect to both that makes them feel like a play or stage performance, but they are placed in the museum setting which makes them read as artwork. In the same way that there is a thin boundary between theater and performance art, it is becoming increasingly difficult to say exactly what constitutes as art, and what constitutes as something else. Art continues to be something that a viewer would know when they saw it, but cannot be truly defined.

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