A post-apocalyptic future, science fiction, fairy lights; Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho present their first UK exhibition, News from Nowhere, at Tate Liverpool.
The exhibition includes the artists’ acclaimed video work, El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World) 2012. Two screens play out different narratives: one of a male protagonist located in the documenting relics. These narratives unfold in tandem, with objects – artworks, fairy lights – passing between them.
Use of light helps distinguish the opposing stories. The male protagonist’s setting is filled with an exhausted light. There are more shadows; the environment doesn’t feel completely safe. Against that, the female protagonist navigates a sterile, sanitary space filled predominantly with white light, denoting the idea of scrubbed-clean perfection. The film is at its best when the two stories mirror each other: we see the pair both doing meticulous tasks, or looking off camera – as if at each other.
The artefacts that survive give the audience a point of reference. Across the separate and ambiguous timelines of each screen, something as simple as a string of fairy lights helps the audience understand where they are. The film has little dialogue, instead leaving much of the plot to the actions of its narrators. That these fairy lights survive proposes art’s relevance and longevity. What will survive of us after we’ve gone but what we create and the impact it has?
Anomaly Strolls (2018) occupies the rest of the exhibition space: two more cinematic screens rising out of salvaged scrap metal from both Busan (South Korea) and Liverpool, connecting two port cities in their post-industrial experiences. The larger screen concentrates on locations around Liverpool, with the film evolving from inside a busy pub to a shopping trolley travelling the streets and collecting artefacts: a life ring, a clock and (yes!) more fairy lights – . The lights are a neat touch, unifying the entire exhibition, however it seems a big ask for the audience to believe that this film foreshadows the apocalypse due in El Fin del Mundo. It feels thematically different. Without a tangible protagonist, the audience is left to wonder who’s pushing the trolley and collecting this miscellany of objects.
The second screen is similar: shot in Seoul and juxtaposed against the familiar streets Liverpool residents know, the film feels atmospheric and vignette-like. Again, it lacks in narrative, perhaps encouraging the audience to focus on the experience of ; we’re shown vacant streets, a noticeable lack of community.
Despite this disconnect, it’s encouraging to see science-fiction being used as something beyond an assumedly escapist fantasy. Perhaps it’s born out of a fear that these dystopias no longer seem that far away. Kyungwon and Joonho’s works raise questions beyond art’s significance in society. We’re being asked to consider how art can act as a tool to effect good change.
News From Nowhere is exhibiting at Tate Liverpool until 17 March 2019.
Callan Waldron-Hall is a Liverpool-based writer. He recently completed an MA in Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Image: Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World), 2012, 2 channel HD video installation with sound, 13 min 35 sec. Courtesy of the artists and Gallery Hyundai