Matt Coco & Yann Lévy
“Boustrophédon,” the title of a joint piece by Matt Coco and Yann Lévy at the Hongti Art Center, can be directly translated as an ‘(ancient) writing method in which text is written from right to left and from left to right in alternate lines’. The linguistic roots of this antiquated word come from the way oxen pull a plough to make furrows in a field, moving from left to right in one row and then from right to left in the next. This has been interpreted in a way that expands on the feeling of reading a book or writing in such a way that the text alternately changes from one direction to the other. In this exhibition, the two artists have borrowed the ‘boustrophedon’ method, aiming to devise a new system for viewing art. Utilizing a variety of media including sculptural, installation, photographic and video art, the artists have compartmentalized the space and created a tense dialogue between the works.
This exhibition is introduced as a metaphor for the Eungbong Bongsudae beacon mound, located at the center of the site of Hongti Art Center. This Joseon-era smoke signal station first appeared in the historic record in 1530. It remained in use through the nineteenth century, and was notably used during the Japanese invasions of Korea of the 1590s and the Gapsin Coup in 1884. This defense facility indicates this area’s significance as a strategic military point offering a good vantage point for observing the movements of Japanese vessels. The artists wonder whether the enemy, once existing in the form of Japanese invaders, has now perhaps taken the form of self-produced atmospheric gases or pollution, created by this area itself. Among the works realized in the exhibition, there is a constant push and pull—inside and outside, high and low, left and right—shaking up the viewer’s perception. The two artists introduce a series of installation pieces that materially reinterpret disappearance, traces, and catastrophe.
Let’s take a look at Matt Coco’s ‘fantômes’ series, which could be seen as the starting point of this exhibition. Beginning in 2016, these sculptural and installation pieces have dealt with ruptured, fragmented images of landscapes, unfolding on 30-meter-long rolls of paper. The initial source that formed the core of the works was an image, found by the artist on the Internet, showing Fukushima after the Japanese tsunami of March 2011. This is not disaster witnessed firsthand, but disaster seen only as an online image—the sort of image that is all too commonly found floating around the internet. While focusing on these images of disaster and catastrophe, the artist speaks of the visual beauty of the moment of disaster. She has added here the testimonies of witnesses to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
August 6, 1945, 8:15 a.m. When the bomb was dropped from an altitude of 9,750 meters, it is said to have fallen for 57 seconds before reaching detonation altitude. The resulting mushroom cloud rose over 18km high. A gigantic mass of dusty white smoke bloomed like an instantaneous cumulus cloud. Everything within a radius of 1.6 km was completely destroyed. The aesthetics of a catastrophe that utterly discounted ethical issues… The artist focused on the issue problem of reproducing this in the form of artwork.
In Matt Coco’s artwork, a reproduction is not something that comes onto the scene after reality, as an imitation of reality. Rather, it imitates images floating around on the internet. It constructs reality in front of reality. An image has been uploaded to the Internet by some anonymous person. So-called reality may be an emanation, and a repetition, of all these images interwoven with a manipulated narrative. Matt Coco deals with the construction of the reproduction and the deconstruction of its referent. Along with questions about this de/construction, the artist sets forth dead-end situations, that is, catastrophe and disaster. ‘Things’ handled within the artwork, replicating catastrophe as image… The artist raises questions about the digital mechanisms by which disaster images are circulated and the function of disaster images that are routinely replicated.
In this exhibition, Yann Lévy has vertically suspended lengthwise strips imprinted with two series of images in an alternating pattern. One series is a mountain landscape containing a jumble of rocks, and the other depicts clouds in the sky. The two alternating series of images of earth and sky, installed side by side by side, are a more direct simile for the concept of ‘boustrophedon’. The artist notes that, in his work, he has explored more or less visible, tangible productions of industry (chemistry, mining: gases and yawning gaps), seeking to express a world of uncertain (unclear) boundaries (“un monde aux limites incertaines”).
The two artists, based in Lyon, France, say that they are interested in the real identity of language, different realities, and the vocabularies generated from various events. Matt Coco introduces her work as “borrow[ing] lexicons from various disciplines related to archeology, anthropology, geology, literature or cinema,” seeking to question the link between languages and landscapes. In the way he expresses her work, she finds a quintessential ‘French-ness’. She does not mean to say that she has found a nationalistic aesthetic in the work. Rather, it pertains to a thoroughly internalized aesthetic and philosophy that come to hand even in instantaneous or unconscious moments.
A question that very commonly arises in everyday life is: “Can culture and individuality be defined as reciprocal expressions that are mutually referential in certain aspects and contexts?” No matter how simple we say they are, individuals are never simple, and the totality of an individual can be expressed only when viewed from a fixed angle. No established order—not even a culture precisely located in time and space—can define the base level identity of an individual embodying the culture.
Matt Coco and Yann Lévy apply very internalized thought to the impact of culture or institutional systems. They construct narratives that are speculative and sensuous, rejecting the grand narrative of the past. Moments in everyday life that embody political, social, and economic systems are invariably reflected in the work of the two artists. For that reason, I will be interested to see what sort of traces of their three-month stay in Busan will show up in their future work.
Ji Yoon Yang / Director, Alt Space LOOP, Seoul, South Korea