Traditional functions redefined

Dong-Kyoon Nam’s Vacant Circumstances: this and something else

Fans by Dong-Kyoon Nam

I visited Dong-Kyoon Nam at aceartinc., just days before the opening reception of his first solo exhibition. He was in the gallery by himself, up on a ladder in the process of installing his exhibit. A newcomer to the Winnipeg arts scene, Vacant Circumstances: this and something else is his first opportunity to showcase his work in the city.

“Group showcase is much easier and much less responsibility because we all share the responsibilities, right? Each of us has our own different roles,” says Nam. “[In] a solo showcase [ . . . ] I have a lot of freedom but at the same time, that freedom means you have a lot of responsibilities.”

Although originally from South Korea, Nam received his art education here in Canada. After obtaining a one-year diploma in film editing in Montreal, he went on to earn his bachelor’s of fine arts in Windsor, and then to the University of Victoria for his master’s. His work has been included in group exhibits at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, the annual Fahrenheit Festival of Fire Sculpture in Windsor, and the Deluge Contemporary Art gallery in Victoria. Nam recently moved to Winnipeg and is teaching as a sessional instructor in the faculty of fine arts at the University of Manitoba.

Although his interests began in filmmaking and photography, he says he has “graduated” into sculpture, finding satisfaction in the process of using space and creating three-dimensional objects. What is interesting about his sculptures, however, is that they are not made from typical materials, wood or metal. Instead, Nam prefers to use extension cords.

There is a sculpture of two electric fans that are facing each other and are wrapped in cords. He plans to add more electrical cords at the bottom of it, sprawled across the floor, to mimic the movement of water. Another piece involves a ball of red extension cords on the floor. The red cords were chosen to make the sculpture look alarming. Nam still has to connect a foot pedal to it, to allow whatever is inside to make sounds.

“Basically, when they push this pedal, they will realize that this is a very familiar sound. So gradually, some [visitors] will probably figure it out.”

It’s all very mysterious.

In another corner, there are rows of light switches on the wall. There’s a pillow on the floor. There’s a row of lights all around the other side. It’s not quite finished yet, but once it’s done, there will be a metronome of approximately 220 wall clock backings all aligned on top of the light fixtures. Twenty of the backings were already installed at the time of my visit – I could hear the loud tick-tocking. Once the full installation is in place, I would imagine they would sound like an endlessly ticking time bomb, or a sound akin to a modern take of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”

All of the materials Nam has used are household objects with fixed functions that we use daily, but he has taken things apart, modified, and reconstructed them in an unconventional way. The forms he has created evoke discomfort. Their traditional function has been redefined into something, well, undefinable, questionable. Are fans supposed to face each other that way? Why are those standing lamplights upside down? And what is in that red thing?

“We live [comfortably], almost like everything is already available and built for us, everything already defined for us. And we live with those kind of cultural objects or utilitarian objects. But I like those kind of contrasts between comfortable life and [experiencing discomfort].”

Nam says that these contrasts found within objects can be seen everywhere in life, much like the head or tail of a coin.

They’re familiar objects, just in unfamiliar positions. They’re not dangerous at all. How you see them, Nam would say, is all about one’s perceptual presence.

Vacant Circumstances: this and something else will be on display at aceartinc. from Sept. 6 until Oct.18. Nam will be having an artist talk on Sept. 14 at 2 p.m.