Keem Young Eun is a sound artist, who has been in the residency program of Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, since 2014. In 2013 she completed the Sonology Course at The Royal Conservatory of The Hague. She earned an MFA at the Korea National University of Arts, Seoul, and a BFA in the Department of Sculpture, at Hongik University, Seoul. She has had solo exhibitions at Project Space Sarubia, Seoul, (2011), Alternative Space Loop, Seoul (2009) and Insa Art Space, Seoul (2006). Her works were included in Translate into Mother Tongue, Doosan Gallery, Seoul and New York, (2013), Open Index, Art Sonje Center Lounge Project, Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2012), Image and Text – Ut Pictura Poesis, ONE AND J. Gallery, Seoul (2012), Media Landscape: Zone East, Liverpool Biennale, Contemporary Urban Center, Liverpool, UK (2010), Sound Art 101, Ssamzie Space, Seoul (2007), Sitting Here and There without Knowing What is Happening, 335 Orch Performance Series, Alternative Space Loop, Seoul (2007), Somewhere in Time, Art Sonjae Center, Seoul (2006), Familiar, but Unfamiliar Landscape, Arko Museum, Seoul (2006), SEMA 2005, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2005). Keem’s work Bespoke Wallpaper Music will be performed at 7pm between September, 18th and the 25th at the Solomon Building, in Hwanghak-dong.
I first became acquainted with the work of Keem Young Eun in 2011 when she was an artist in residence at Art Space Mullae. I found her piece Room #402 a haunting and singular experience.
The following interview questions, which where answered via email, are based on a conversation Keem Young Eun and I had in May 2014.
Julia Marsh: In the fall you will return to Seoul to do a sound installation in a building in Hwanghak-dong, near Dongdaemun. Will this work be similar to Room 402, the sound installation you produced in your studio at Mullae Art Center?
Kim Young Eun: I can say the two are similar but different. If Room 402 used the content of dramatically woven noise to waken the invisible environment, which rests beyond the space of the audience, this work is more focused on the construction of sound in accordance with the physical element of the space. However, this work can be considered as the extension of the previous work, at the point that the two are trying to acoustically reveal invisible space.
JM: As a sound artist, you work with ephemeral elements within the material constraints of space. Much installation art possesses a similar dichotomy. Do you think there are any real differences between sound and installation art?
KYE: Actually it has been only a short time since I defined myself as a sound artist. Maybe this is so because the word feels a bit technical to me, perhaps with no reason. But when I see myself, I realize that the contents of my work mostly start from an interest in different sounds and related things, as well as I feel most comfortable and pleased, when sound is at the center of my final results. So in this way I accepted the name.
In dealing with sound, I am always fascinated that sound art can stand alone without having an actual exhibition space.
Originally, the characteristic of sound media contained spatial ideas. So, there have been many attempts to spatialize sound, while on the contrary to contain the space in the sound. The former needs a real place to present the work, but the latter can leave the three dimensional space. In crude terms, installation art has to be based on the actual space in order to make a certain scene into an artwork, or a certain artwork into a scene, but the work of sound art can be exhibited inside a pair of headphones. Sometimes a sound can be rather strongly imprinted on a person through non-spatial and time-based tools like a sound file, as well as direct and physical tools like headphones. However, there are few sound artworks that can be actually possessed, without a relationship to feelings, memories, or conceptual understandings, which is another difference from installation art.
JM: Sounds art in many cases is resistant to dominant forms of cultural consumption, whether as a picture or even a recording. By making work that is outside or resistant to co-optation are you attempting to disrupt the typical exhibition experience?
KYE: Such consequence comes from the media’s, or the sound’s own character, rather than my intention. It is hard to answer yes to your question because when I work on a piece, I am only thinking about the formality of the work’s content, and do not recollect words like resistance or disruption. If my work carries some aspect of resistance, it is then an uncounted for revolt emanating from my unconscious mind.
JM: In your estimation what is the ideal setting for sound art and its observation? Also, what challenges does your work pose for exhibiting and documentation?
KYE: Though I cannot generalize the conditions established for sound art, in the case of a group exhibition in an exhibition site, it is necessary to retain enough space and wall to make each artwork clearly and individually audible. It may sound simple, but is still important to screen out unnecessary sound, because the sound will still be there, whether the viewer/listener turns his or her back or even moves to the next exhibit.And yet many artists have to admit that this is harder to actualize then they thought.
On some occasions, in which a sound work is installed in a contemporary art exhibition, I often see the materiality of the work is not being understood. And in other cases, in which the exhibition is solely dedicated to sound works, I frequently experience adirection which actually mixes the sounds altogether, perhaps because they know the difficulty in realizing individual materiality in one space, which in turn can cause the curator’s voice to be diminished. Of course, there are some good examples of multiple sound works installed together.
I think the ideal environment is only possible when the spatial conditions that I mentioned earlier are available, and the perspective of the person, who makes the exhibition is attentive to these needs.
On the matter documentation,there are lots of limitations, actually. Unlike some people, I neither disregard the need for documentation, nor pursue the perfect technique for recording the sound as close to real-time. Depending on the case, I sometimes use special recording devices, but basically I only document brief examples, and only to the degree that delivers the concept and content of the work and gives a taste of the scene. This is an issue I need to continue contemplating and supplementing.
JM: Sound art often appears to be on the fringe of the Korean art scene. From your own perspective how does it fit into the contemporary Korean art scene, in contrast to how it may be received in other parts of the world?
KYE: It has been almost ten years since the first exhibition in Korea introduced sound art. But Korean and translated foreign books and related institutions, which deal with sound art hardly exist, so that this earlier introduction did proceed to become a body. Yet, there have been a few self-grown sound artists, composers, and curators with interest, so exhibitions and performances are possible to and happen, even though they are rare. I think the fact that Korean sound art has come into being by itself to this point without any basis, is very important.
The place of sound art in the international art world also seems unclear. The history of sound art is short, shown by the small number of first generation artists who are still active. More attempts and time are needed in this field. However, it is true that English and German speaking countries have more publications and institutions, as well as the specialized exhibition site, curators and critics dedicated to sound, so the discussion on sound art there is far more common. Also, there are some references that most in the art world know, so that the conversation can be started any time.
I think the difference is only a matter of time.
JM: Sound art is not a mainstream form of culture and requires special support, both materially and institutionally. What do you think are the requirements for sound art to be better received in Korea, and elsewhere?
KYE: For the case of Korea, I think there should be a university department, which academically approaches sound art. There should be classes that deal with the history of auditory culture, and introduce the important artworks of sound art. Even though higher education may not be the best method, I think it is a necessary step to correct the current situation.
Also, the term “sound”and “sound art” should be used as a category in documents from supporting art institutions. If the institution provides production funding, but does not acknowledge it as an independent genre, the friction between the institution and the artist will inevitably grow in the process of the making.
I cannot comment on cases of outside of Korea, since I have not experienced these relative systems.