With the recent proliferation of digital technology, we live in a time when the boundary between the real and the virtual is increasingly blurred. Smartphones allow us to access the digital world with relative ease, saturating everyday life with the new tasks of searching for online news, sharing photos, watching videos, messaging, emailing and playing games. The modernist distinction between leisure and labour has long disappeared.
Kang Jungsuck is a Korean artist whose work explores the intersection of technology and life in videos that capture the everyday experiences of his friends while drawing upon the particular cultural ecology that surrounds the gaming industry. Simulating Surface A (2014), for example, shot using his smartphone’s video function, explores the life of a friend who works for a game company. By recording his friend’s daily commute to work – which repeatedly shows the bland interiors of the subway, the flood of advertisements, the masses of strangers and the identical scenery outside the window – this video emphasises a sense of urban malaise, set in striking contrast to the surplus of spectacles that are such an abundant feature of our shifting, everyday environments.
In Simulating Surface B (2014), Kang turns attention to his friend’s profession, using their casual conversation about his job as the scrolling subtitles in a video comprising imagery and a soundtrack appropriated from his work as a game designer. Cropped images from Simulating Surface A show Kang’s friend waving towards the camera, and these make rhythmic appearances throughout the video.
The use of computer-generated graphics and the fragmentary nature of the pasted images evoke the segmentation of time, the real-time-ness and the flatness of images in the game world. Kang could not continue the Simulating Surface series, as his friend was fired from the game company only seven months after he started working there, which hints at the expendability and high turnover of employees in this field.
Kang’s latest work, GAME I (2016), combines a simulation of a real-time online game with multiple players, animated GIFs and the ‘speedrun’ approach to gameplay. In the speedrun method, the player aims to complete an entire game in the shortest time possible, as opposed to enjoying the responsive narratives or complex development of personalised avatars. This videowork is accompanied by two publications, titled Walkthrough Text and MAGAZINE I, that contain research findings on the history of videogames, their soundtracks and an interview with a collector of gaming magazines.
Game space has evolved into an immersive virtual reality environment that operates in real time. The boundary between reality and the game is collapsing, and conversely reality has begun to look and feel more like a game. Your activities – from what you buy and read, to the number of steps you take, to how many times your heart beats – are all saved as data, producing a new entity stored online that is much like a character in a game. This virtual identity gradually accrues more information and depth, becoming a living index and active agent that can have real consequences beyond the digital realm. Kang’s work raises timely questions about the possibility of subjective judgement and cognition in the online-gaming world, where reality and fantasy are intertwined.
Kang is based in Seoul. His work has recently been shown at Doosan Gallery and Insa Art Space, both in Seoul.
From the January & February 2017 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation