English | Korean

I Play, Therefore I Exist.

Kong Ju-hyung [Art Critic]

If there’s no corkscrew, how could you open a bottle of wine? This has recently become an issue at YouTube, a popular video-sharing online site which is loved by people around the world. Opening the bottle with a shoe and a training shoe, a nail and a driver, a piece of wood and a towel, etc., all going beyond our imagination, are garnering passionate attention among netizens. Those are the result of approaching the issue of opening the bottle as a sort of ‘play,’ a deed of human nature of enjoying and having fun. Meanwhile, opening the wine bottle without the help of familiar instruments could be so puzzling. It could be so as it’s approached as a task to satisfy external purposes or needs. Imagine that this same situation meets with the so-called manual generation, who do an excellent job with tasks whose directions are given, but get puzzled at tasks requiring an unexpected ability to react instantly. The outcome would be as obvious as expected. “Giving up” would be the first words that come to their mind even before they get to start the task.

In his book ‘Homo Ludens,’ Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) defines men as the player. Enjoying yourself or ‘play’ mentioned here is the desire and right of human beings standing in the antipodes of a civilization which emphasizes economic and social values. In that sense, I realize that ‘play’ and life are no different. The game theory suggested by Professor Thomas Crombie Schelling of the University of Maryland, who is the 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, is on everybody’s lips in connection with reasonable life choices. ‘Play’ rules are found similar to the rules of life.

Certain rules and certain instruments make up the ‘play.’ No life exists without rules and instruments. Such Life exists in a very confusing, vague manner. That was exactly what happened to An Gyung-su(1975- ) after graduating from the graduate school. Life informed him of the end of effect of the rules he had followed and the instruments he had used, and called on him to return them all. Life didn’t even give him enough time to explore other rules. Life didn’t intend to offer other customized instruments. A gust of his expected ‘play’ just ended there like that. A spectacular display of fireworks disappeared into the dark. Screams of excitement were no longer heard. Gloomy children, as if they were left alone in the silence of the amusement park about to close for the day, make an appearance on his canvas in 2006 as ‘Prince Who Was Young.’ Such gloomy faced children are masked around their mouth. They wear a patch over their one eye. They sit in a wheelchair with their arms and legs in plaster. They are not allowed to talk, see and move freely. They aren’t simply disabled in some particular parts of the body. The protectors the children are wearing to protect their wounds bear heavily down on their existence.

Those ‘Princes Who Were Young’ murmuring in the picture, “I can make nothing!” then move to the ‘Playroom’. The children in the playroom set up all by the artist attempt to dream of flying in the sky in a new ride. But the playroom created by an adult is no ideal space for flying. The types of the rides, playing time and several rules in the playroom are all set up by an adult. Independent playing by the children themselves is not expected. Such somewhat uncomfortable experience in the playroom, however, is not always useless. In this playroom, the children eventually get to think hard about their next play, which is of the children, by the children, and for the children.

Such gloomy children give way to toy soldiers on Artist An’s canvas in 2008. It is the beginning of his own ‘play’ in earnest. The manuals inside the toy box are of no use in this ‘play’. Play rules are completely changed anew. Each body part of hands, feet, legs, main body, etc. attempts to make unexpected combinations with weapons, bags, landmine head protectors, etc. Perfect, brave soldiers originally intended by the toy company can now be found nowhere. A soldier with no head is engaged in a battle at the center of a rough mountain. The toy soldier crawling in low creeping has legs attached instead of two arms. He can be seen as malformed, which results from the lack of understanding of the manuals. But as the initial interest was not geared toward creating a perfect shape in the first place, his ugly appearance is not minded that much.

A series of Artist An’s works spanning from the past to the present are often associated with the image of an adventure game, which employs ever-changing situations, with problems solved and goals achieved through adventure and expedition. What is needed in an adventure game is not an action but a sophisticated imagination for logical developments. Now is about time we need to ask him about what’s the purpose of his ‘play’ as he engages in play-like works of creating with a brush on his canvas toy soldiers assembled with his own manuals. Some play to build their self-esteem and grow their problem-solving ability. Some play to relax and grow their insights. Some others play for self-realization and socialization. However, he didn’t begin the ‘play’ in the first place with any purpose of achieving ‘something’ to be gained through the ‘play’.

If there’s any purpose at all, it is the excitement he gets to experience throughout the ‘play’ rather than any amusement he gets after the ‘play’. That is why he never plays as if he works on a tight schedule. Instead, he works, in a perfect immersion and excitement, as if he plays. As he works as if he plays, his ‘play’ naturally creates a consistent flow. It is to identify and then overcome the lack of existence. “I want to play more.” Artist An Gyung-su expresses his affection for life and pleasure of creating works as such. This is heard to me as he will give pleasant thoughts to a bit different ways of opening the wine bottle rather than drinking the wine after opening the bottle with the known manuals and instruments, losing no time. Such a process of securing his own manuals and instruments is also the time during which he finally comes in charge of his own life. The time during which he explores his own self and ventures out to his own life, as ‘play’ has been.