Bang & Lee: Things That Have Not Come Yet

YOO Jinsang
Professor at Kaywon University of Art and Design

The more complex societies get and the more complex the networks of interdependence within and beyond community and national borders get, the more people are forced in their own interests to find non–zero-sum solutions. That is, win-win solutions instead of win-lose solutions. Because we find as our interdependence increases that, on the whole, we do better when other people do better as well so we have to find ways that we can all win, we have to accommodate each other.
— Bill Clinton, Wired interview, December 2000

Bang & Lee deal with issues of a technology-endemic world in their art: network-based cooperative societies governed by trans- national subjects, a world vision based on information and data that pattern the surface with invisibility and pseudo-visibility, alternative democracy that pursues the dispersion and sharing of the system under the premises of cooperation, and the concept of science history under the extreme technology-based vision and so on. A host of paradigms and layers that define our time and world have been concretized only for about a decade. ‘Technology-based art,’ which has also been called media or new media art, is moving toward a scope of wider creative production, instead of losing a unique paradigm as an art genre as we enter into a technology-based society. Several genres which today we describe as ‘new media’ should probably be classified under a more general name, such as ‘contemporary creation.’ What is for sure is that an artistic approach in this field can no longer be rationalized fully through a technological-customary practice such as the combination of programming and devices. Bang & Lee have been creating art along the boundaries between art, philosophy, play, and technology. Most of all, their ambitious themes will become important across the entire map of contemporary art, and be treated as well as a very rare point of critique.


What Bang & Lee primarily attempt to derive from the present world is an order that rules the world we live in. Customarily, such an order can be found in capitalism and social class conflicts, or in imperialism and post-post-colonialism. If not, we will need to mention the equilibrium theory that encompasses them all. Will we be able to discover a consistent rule that can visualize our future fate in a telecommunication hyper-pluralistic democratic society where individual participation and the composite body of transnational technology-politics-industry are heavily emphasized? What kind of form should a minimum norm take in order to actualize a social agreement on cooperation, discussion, organization, and distribution? We probably exchanged our utopia with taboos too early. Actually, that utopia has been endlessly delayed and put off, but has never gone away. It is being endlessly reproduced in the present time depending on contact points of language and the world. The rules that cross the artworks of Bang & Lee can be summarized in three key terms: Non-zero Sum, Living Room, and Friendship. These concepts raise questions about what leads us to believe that co-existence is possible from the beginning.

Non-Zero Sum

Robert Wright asserted in his book ‘Nonzero: the Logic of Human Destiny’ published in 2000, that biological evolution and cultural advancement have been achieved principally according to the principle of ‘nonzerosumness.’ The concept of zero-sum, which began in game theory, refers to a situation of limited resources in which one person’s gain of resources is exactly balanced by the losses of the resources of another person. Nash equilibrium, a concept invented by John Forbes Nash Jr., Nobel laureate and the main character in the movie A Beautiful Mind, asserts that an equilibrium of power can exist when each person knows the strategies of the others and does their best accordingly. In contrast to this competitive situation, non-zero-sum describes a situation in which nobody loses but everybody can jointly pursue the greatest profit or experience losses together.i) In the identity of Bang & Lee, who presuppose collaboration as a given, the core of their work is cooperation and discussion. The reason why all of their artworks consist of composites is because parts arrive in a given space in parallel, all through dissimilar paths, and following this, they form a whole, like ‘the pattern in the carpet.’ Art is the most optimal system of non-zero-sum; the fullness of a specific point does not give rise to any deficiency in other points. Each participant simply con tributes to the art through a different path. If we expand this notion to the ‘world,’ conflicts and denials can transform into different benefits through well-planned ‘discussions’ and ‘compromises’ and can lead to the concept of a ‘utopia’ that can be redistributed to others. Although no venue for such an ideal discussion has yet appeared, but Bang & Lee call it ‘living room.’

Living Room: Dispatched Stage

Let’s talk in a somewhat theatrical tone: Here is a living room. This living room does not actually exist here; it is projected to this place from a dimension we do not know. In other words, it is not a liv- ing room, but is something like a stage dispatched here from a different dimension. A carpet is laid over the floor of the stage, and two one-person sofas are placed upon the carpet. Cameras and lighting are installed on the stage. These two sofas are then prepared for a discussion to be held. Bang & Lee have been making living rooms throughout a series of exhibitions. They describe their living room as “a place of image, a stage for action, a space of reversal, and at the same time, a space for movies and plays, a stage for life, and a place where the medium of a mirror is reflected.” Living rooms are a place where private autonomy and public regulations overlap; politics, trade, private education and the daily life of families intersect here. Living rooms can be said to be both interior and exterior: more precisely, they are ‘captured outside’ or ‘the interior that repeats the outside.’ Living rooms are like a big trap, a deep sack, an intricately set device, a machine that continually adjusts itself. And here, rather like the apple featured in René Magritte’s “La Chambre d’Écoute”, an elephant fills the inside of the room. To see the elephant at a glance, viewers lying on the sofa have to lower their body and look at the center of the space which occupies most of the room. The outside has entered the inside: humans in the living room are looking at the elephant occupying the center of this private space with its mass and weight, and are discussing it. The elephant, due to its mass and weight, at some point in time goes out beyond the boundary of vision. The thing that cannot be seen at one glance is pressing us, and it fragmentizes our vision. The people in the living room are already sitting toward the outside that is filling the interior, and also toward the outside where the interior has become extinct. The elephant is an animal that does not appear in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is one that no ‘friends’ (or ‘animals’) could anticipate, and it has broken in from a place that is outside the scope of ‘friendship.’ It cannot be captured with ‘friendship,’ and it is like an apparition that transcends our vision. From a teleonomic perspective, the ‘living room’ has already been realized somewhere between the future and the past. The ‘living room’ can be said to be a shadow that is projected into the present time from an unheard-of utopian community. In other words, to peek into this utopian community, what can we do? Do we send the elephant out of the room? Or do we need to become a perfect elephant ourselves? And if not then, do we tame the elephant so that it becomes our friend?

Friendship: Cul de sac

Bang & Lee’s “Cul de sac” consists of an interactive lighting de- vice working against external sound. The artwork, consisting of long white lighting tubes, presents the word ‘dead end’, or ‘bot- toms up.’ ‘Cul-de-sac’ is a compound word made of sac (bag) and cul (derrière), meaning the bottom of the back. It is the furthermost part of an interior from the entrance. It can also be interpreted as the interior of the last private area, or it could refer to a boundary that cannot be passed over to reach the exterior. It is the limit of a discussion that can advance no further, and at the same time, it might be a minimal common place where ‘friendship’ is encountered. The ‘sac’ involves a vector of invagination in form. The term ‘cul-de-sac’ also has a meaning of interior production as much as the sexual meaning that the term implies. A thing that is located at the furthermost end of the interior: can we say that Bang & Lee’s strategy is to visualize it and draw it out forward?

Bang & Lee’s other lighting installation work “Friendship is Universal” is in a relationship that causes reverberation with their previous work “Cul de sac”. Friendship can be considered as collusion between the interior and the exterior. Through friendship, we distribute to each other the possibility of impossible existence. Blanchot saw the final form of friendship as death, because, at a dead end like death, the experience of a private moment together is the occasion for the last existence of ‘community.’ii) The failure of communalism will come about when we begin to measure this last community, because it deals with immeasurable things, things that go beyond any database, and things that are heard from places where no one has gone before. All we can do is to look at the extinction of a subject while remaining next to the subject that is passing into extinction.

Bang & Lee’s artwork is an experiment on what kind of freedom will remain for us in a technology-endemic society, or in the world empire of capitalism, or in the network of our general friendships, or in the daily life of the extension of a staged discussion. On account of this, their artwork seems to move toward scenarios that have not yet been reached and that pursue a new type of dramatic catharsis beyond new media. Such scenarios will consist of writings that set out to predict conditions for friendship and collaboration, to actualize a picture of a world that cannot yet be drawn, and to call out things that have not yet been reached, instead of a concrete resolution for converting from the extreme abstractness of the world toward a venue of discussion, or toward the collaboration of a friendship-based non-zero sum.

i) For example, the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” is an experiment to investigate the best solution to reduce a prison sentence as each of the accomplices who committed a crime together decides whether to confess or not to confess when they are questioned by investigators. Here, three possibilities are suggested to the prisoners: (1) if one confesses, the other accomplice will get a heavier sentence; or (2) if both confess, both get a lesser sentence; or (3) if both do not confess, both will get a minimum sentence due to insufficient evidence. Thus, in the theory of Non-zero Sum, instead of demanding an end result, a competitive relationship can be resolved through cooperation and friendship, and common interest can be pursued, or if not, mutual destruction may result.

ii) Maurice Blanchot, “La communauté inavouable”, ed. du Minuit, 1984

2014/03/28 – 2014/04/29
Alternative Space LOOP