KIM Haeju
Independent Curator

The last work of a surrealist playwright Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), is Supermale (1902). This novel tells a story of five persons who are riding 1,000 miles on the five-man bicycle, having a race with a locomotive. Powered by a “perpetual–motion–food”, they keep dealing as if they were a machine. These ‘machine-body’ cyclists never stop pedaling even at the moment of dying. The author of this novel was also the founder of “Pataphysics.” As a parody of metaphysic, it refers to a mysterious pseudo-science: a science dealing with the phenomena outside of the world of metaphysics, a science of imaginary solutions, discussing imaginary space and imaginary technology. In a word, it is an ‘irrational’ science, which seems similar to how artists generally work and experiment.

Looking at the plans and sketches of Bang & Lee’s recent work, Arena Tour – Machine, I was reminded of this novel by Alfred Jerry that I had long forgotten. As some of the motifs of the novel were associated with this work, the wheels of the bicycle in my mind begin to spin, in gear with each other. Arena Tour – Machine is a complex large scale installation, composed of three screens, a camera, a monitor, and so on. It occupies a part of the exhibition hall, which is a round shape to serve as the stage. The audience is naturally drawn to this stage and experiences the work inside of it. The stage is designated by such devices as a monitor and lighting and the cameras which are placed inside the stage, facing each other, produce eternally delayed feedback images.

The title Arena Tour – Machine means a round-shaped stage or playing field where sports events take place. The artist’s choice of the title, ‘arena,’ the central area of an ancient Roman amphitheater, neither the stage as a performing stage nor a theater, is to highlight the placeless of the world as a fierce battle ground. It also implies that the viewers looking at themselves in the arena are in a double state, that is, that they are both an actor standing in the stage and a player in the arena. This essential form of the arena and the overheated energy suggested by it is related to the state of permanent rotation as the movement embedded in the whole work. On the other hand, the triangle shape which basically forms the wall and floor of the arena symbolizes repetition. This fractal set, in which a smaller structure endlessly repeats itself in exactly the same was as a larger structure does, showing the analogy and circularity of the patterns found in the microscopic and macroscopic worlds, is closely connected with the idea underlying this work.

In the artist note for this work, there is an article about ‘revolution on wheels.’ They explain that the etymology of the term ‘revolution,’ a combination of a Latin word meaning ‘to rotate,’ ‘to roll,’ and a prefix meaning ‘again,’ implies ‘completing an entire cycle and return to the original position or condition.’ And they added that “locomotive of history or revolution has wheels. The wheels are interlocked with one another through fine devices and their cogs gear smoothly. The generators and motors move the wheels, speeding them up. This revolving and advancing power keeps us going forward, but is unable to stop, maintaining this speed and restraint, until the line is changed.” A huge revolution may seem to lead the world to progress in a linear way, but in fact, only rotates on a single line. Arena Tour – Machine is a miniature to represent human beings who consume their own image in the world that marches forward but perpetually gets back to the original place, accumulating only frictions, in this way.

The 20th century scholars and artists previously interpreted the perpetual movement and rotation described in Alfred Jarry’s novel as the anticipation of explosion caused by the idling and overload in capitalism. Recently, it seems to me more and more that we are standing in the age in which all of these results are shown on the surface. Seoul of 2016, where frustrations and expectations take turns repeatedly, indicates that the tragedy of history repeats itself in long and short cycles, just like fractals or revolving movement. In this world of an infinite loop, Arena Tour – Machine, the images of the audience, created by splendid lighting and permanent rotation, disappear as soon as they gather. Can those who are trapped before the camera and TV gain a certain awareness of reality? Can they dream of escape?

Source: Catalog of the exhibition In the Flâneur’s Eyes, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, 2016