Running the Virtual and the Real in Parallel

Nam June Paik (hereafter NJP) Art Center is the first public museum specializing in media art in Korea, embracing the latest contemporary art along with Paik’s historical work and devoting itself to cultivating artistic and scholarly experiments. Its primary mission lies in not simply seeing the power of technology as an artistic medium, but exploring its potential to change society from various angles. A museum of the internationally renowned artist as a trailblazer of video art, the
NJP Art Center a s a physical site ha s about 200,000 visitors annually, but its geographical location in a provincial city, not in Seoul , often puts it in a challenging situation to balance or choose between international art communities and members of the local general public . And this requires decision making on the use of online platforms and other technological tools to take into account
the issues of accessibility in careful and elaborate ways.

Among the programs that museums have increasingly been
staging in recent years are those relying on the technology of virtual reality. These are evolving from making exhibitions available for viewing online in 360 degrees, to more actively inviting the works of VR based art, even to creating an exhibition specifically for a VR space. The NJP Art Center seeks to use the VR technology reflecting critically on its literacy and implications. Part of the endeavors is a project dealing with Paik’s solo show Exposition of Music – Electronic Television held in Germany in 1963. It was an exhibition through which composer Paik pioneered a realm of media art. The audience was enabled to participate in the exhibition, engaging with multiple bodily senses, rather than a single sense of sight or hearing. To deal with the historic exhibition with VR technology in 2022 is
not to re enact the past, but to revive the participatory experience of the then audience and to bring about learning and unlearning relevant today. It is because this involves sensorial aspects of media that need to be discussed in the present museum environment.

In collaboration with Dankook University Department of SW Convergence Contents, Gyeonggi Content Agency and National Museum Foundation of Korea the NJP Art Center developed a VR app of Paik’s Exposition of Music. Consisting of five acts, the time travel brings you to Gallery Parnass in Wuppertal in 1963 where you take part in Paik’s Klavier Integral, Random Access, and Experimental Televisions, and back to TV Garden at the NJP Art Center. There are two versions:
one that you can experience by wearing a VR gear at the museum site, and the other downloadable and playable like a computer game. In conjunction with the VR app, Exposition of Music, Do It Together! was organized, for which Ro Kyung Ae, Moojin Brothers, Park Seungsoon, and Heo Daechan were invited to present video commentaries in their own artistic languages on Paik’s early work and the VR technology. And this exhibition was accompanied by an audience participatory workshop. Who took part in the workshop were those of various ages, children,
families, and the elderly, and also those of general learning disabilities from the Giheung-gu Welfare Center for the Disabled in the city of Yongin, and from YEJIWON, an institute for disabled people run by the Sambo Welfare Foundation in the city of Gimpo.

Ro Kyung Ae, See. Touch. Exist. ,2022, single channel video, 8 min, color, sound.
Moojin Brothers, The Trace of the Box – Technicalized Good People, 2022, single channel video, 6min,
16:9(FHD), stereo sound.

Choreographer Ro ‘s See. Touch. Exist. looks into the act of ‘seeing’ in virtual reality through bodily movements. In a virtual world, all experiences are mediated through sight. You can touch any object as if it existed , but it simply disappears once you close your eyes. In the real world the other way round there are things invisible but existent Ro’s performers move between these two worlds leading you to think about the sense of touching. Media artist group Moojin Brothers The
Trace of the Box -Technicalized Good People
virtually releases chickens in Paik’s TV Garden. The chickens are symbolic beings that have eternal life with technicalized images, while humans remain as “good beings ” as they do not have to consume chickens or cage them for breeding. The AI voice in the video raises questions as to whether this ecology of technicalized life with immortal chickens and good human beings could be truly a future utopia

Sound artist Park ‘s Virtual Music Exhibition (Draft) imagines a virtual space composed of sound as an alternative to sight Park designs a space for the exhibition of ‘virtual music ’ in which the audience can assume their own location or the spatial size only through sounds without being able to see anything. Researcher Heo ‘s Waypoint: Wuppertal, Gwacheon, Yongin And takes the
form of lecture about the route across the three cities relating to Paik’s 1963 exhibition Drawing on a game called ‘Flight Simulator 2020,’ Heo guides the audience on a virtual flight along these time coordinates as waypoints interpreting and connecting technological and socio cultural layers
at each point.

Park Seungsoon, Virtual Music Exhibition (Draft), single channel video, 5 min, color, sound.
Heo Daechan, Waypoint: Wuppertal, Gwacheon, Yongin and, single channel video, 15 min, color, sound.

All these works disclose the gap between visual and bodily senses inherent in VR technology, the changing experience depending on a participant’s physical abilities the limitations of the experience from a first person point of view, and the feeling of being real through motion recognition which is in fact volatile in nature. They also remind you that virtual reality is built upon the configuration set by curators and developers. The workshop led by artist Kim Alex Jaehyeon and educator Ko Younglae, in connection with Exposition of Music, Do It Together!, was
attended by, among others, elderly people and those with general learning disabilities whom VR programs are usually less accessible. A total of 54 participants over 7 sessions showed discrepancies in terms of the extent to which they experienced art and technology in the museum. This raises the awareness that when providing an art and tech educational program it should be a lot more specific whom it is for, and that the ‘whom’ needs to be carefully defined small groups rather than the general public. To work in the juxtaposition of the virtual and the real together with those having less experience of the kind, whether it be due to disabilities or due to the digital divide can be an opportunity to delve into fundamental questions about the relationship between art and technology. Joined by artists and audiences, it is probably the museum itself that
learns something

About the Author: Kim Seong Eun , DPhil is an anthropologist specializing in museology and contemporary art, and her research interest lies in the agency of media art for the body and sensorial experiences in museums and the modality of the curatorial relating to the commons. Among her curatorial projects are CAMP After Media Promises (2021), Common Front, Affectively (2018), Intermedia
(2015-16), Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds (2013). Kim is currently Director of the Nam June Paik Art Center.

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