Still from Handmade Memories series, Barley Field, 2008, Jung Yeondoo, Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Seoul, & Tina Kim Gallery, New York.

Extraordinarily Ordinary: Waiting for Godot and the 'Aha' Moment

Still from Invisible Cities series, Taiparis York, 2008, Tsui Kuang-yu, Courtesy of the Artist and Eslite Gallery, Taipei.

Still from Invisible Cities series, Sealevel Leaker, 2006, Tsui Kuang-yu, Courtesy of the Artist and Eslite Gallery, Taipei.

Jung Yeondoo, still from Handmade Memories series, 6x6 Manor, 2008, Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Seoul, & Tina Kim Gallery, New York.

Jung Yeondoo, still from Handmade Memories series, Legend, 2008, Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Seoul, & Tina Kim Gallery, New York.

Jung Yeondoo, still from Jeju Island Camel, Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Seoul, & Tina Kim Gallery, New York.


Spencer Museum of Art
The University of Kansas
1301 Mississippi Street
Kress Gallery
Video Art from Asia

October 24, 2009-
February 14, 2010


The critic Phillip Yenawine said in a quote I have taken to heart in everything visual, “Art is supposed to operate as a medium of communication … but if television states the obvious, art probes the mysterious.”

An exhibition of mostly single channel video, Extra/Ordinary: Video Art from Asia, utilizes one of modern society's most potent forms of communication and lays it at our feet like an evening of basic cable. Although it was easy to maneuver from one darkened installation to another, the content however, was like flipping channels. One kept looking for an “Aha” moment, or at least the exciting conclusion when the murderer is finally revealed.

This exhibition’s intention “investigates new ways of transforming familiar experiences and daily routines into moments of expanded meaning, contemplation and humorous reflection.” On the surface this appears to “uncover the potential of daily experience and explore the material stuff of the world as mutable and laden with potential.” In actuality the work possesses a reticence that borders on the subdued. As dry as a Ry Krisp, it felt like wandering through a stack of student video projects where everyone feared pissing off the Puritanical professor. Valid points are introduced, but didn't truly engage the subject with the spectator. Afterward, it was necessary to walk through the Spencer's wonderful permanent collection of Asian, European and American art in order to rejuvenate.

Xijing Men's Collective Good Sports pokes fun at the solemnity of the XXIX Olympics in Beijing, China. The group mocks the seriousness of Olympian purpose. The Collective performed such antics as releasing locally-bought fish into a canal and tossing watermelons about like soccer balls. As part of a comedic triathlon happening concurrently with the real opening ceremonies, it felt like a watered-down Monty Python spoof.

Everyday Alchemy from Izumi Taro is a depraved video game of sorts, ala the recent movie Gamer. An unseen “player” vaporizes live persons in a room, leaving only their clothes lain exactly where they fall. Near the end of its loop, another person enters to pick up and rearrange the clothes left behind but is also eliminated. This macabre visual was disheartening by taking rather mundane actions and puncturing any hope for the last person. Couldn’t someone have had a chance to leave unscathed? It was bleak, I felt dejected and that really put a cork in any narrative it hoped to impart.

Korean video artist Jung Yeondoo, creates an homage to one’s elders in Behind the Curtain. The split screen juxtaposes oft-seen talking head interviews and the artists’ rendition of events as they are spoken. One that sticks in my craw is an elderly woman discussing her time living in a forest, always looking for food. One day she leaves a baby alone in her hut and upon her return, believes she sees the local tiger crawling in through the window. However, it turned out to be a shadow from the moonlight extending a dog's tail that snuck into the hut to eat the baby’s diarrhea. The split screen shows a recreation of the forest, hut and a Tigger-like stuffed tiger being shoved into a window. Perhaps this is an audible lack of translation I am missing, but the pairing is a bit patronizing. The elderly woman, obviously reliving the experience as a survivor long used to such dangerous encounters, appeared surreptitiously mocked for the experience.

Lida Abdul's White Noise was the most relevant video as it didn’t need or try to incorporate humor. The artist shows the camera her own “ritualized performances” of living in a landlocked country constantly torn apart by war. A child refugee now living in the United States, Abdul’s video depicts her return to a ravaged scene in the decimated homeland that has been consistently overrun by Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States and the Taliban. A figure, presumably the artist, paints the sad gray landscape an illuminating white, over and over again. The juxtaposition of cleanliness over rubble of a once grand palace is an elegant and moving look at the need to stand up and move forward, even after having been subjected to a century of invasion.

The exhibition's “reevaluation” of ordinary living is strikingly complacent. To seek out that which is regular in the context of Asian society and elevate our awareness to a more interesting plane requires a lustrous illumination that benefits the maturity and reverence of such a rich and noble history. Conversely, the exhibition booklet given out does state “ … boredom is merely a state of mind, not necessarily something to be avoided or cured, but a condition in life that depends on a choice or action.” In this regard, the exhibition may have succeeded.


Stills from Invisible Cities series, Liverpool Top 9!, 2006, Tsui Kuang-yu, Courtesy of the Artist and Eslite Gallery, Taipei.