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The Fourth Group:The Production of Utopia

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작성자ART 댓글 0건 조회 2,284회 작성일 19-04-08 16:05


Yoo Jin-sang

Art in its period of dissolution—a movement of negation striving for its own transcendence within a historical society where history is not yet directly lived—is at once an art of change and the purest expression of the impossibility of change. The more grandiose its pretensions, the further from its grasp is its true fulfillment. This art is necessarily avant-garde, and at the same time it does not really exist. Its avant-garde is its own disappearance.

Guy Debord, The Society of The Spectacle

I’d like to look into an exceptional incident; it is about The Fourth Group. The Fourth Group is about an attempt, made by a group of artists of the 70s’ Korean art scene, to directly talk to the world, and further realize their ideals in the Korean society. This attempt, despite its vision, failure and ‘appropriateness’, provides an ‘unlikely’ example of the ideal practice that went beyond its time. One reason for this is that there were no prior or later artistic incidents to compare itself with. Moreover, it is because such attempt was the first declaration of a ‘utopian vision’ to be tried in the history of Korean modern art. For two months since June in 1970, during which The Fourth Group’s actual activities took place—they carried out artistic participation and expression centered around the ‘Mutché (無體)’, a concept they understood to be the downright fundamental principle of the universe. Furthermore, by structuring their group similar to a political unit or organization, they sort of became a ‘revolutionary’ subject. To them, there were no agendas related to certain mundane politics, and in spite of some opinions that limit the group’s activities to artistic performances, pointing out the fact that the group went after artistic sharing and communication, one may discover with a careful look that all their activities kept in mind the potential of a political nature. This fact may be seen in The Fourth Group’s establishment convention. Explanations are quoted from Kim Mi-kyung’s description of the group:

June 20th 1970, at noon The Fourth Group held their establishment convention at a coffee shop in Euljiro, Seoul, named Sorim. They stood up, placed their hands on their left chest, and sang along to the national anthem that all of a sudden started playing. Then followed the pledge of allegiance and silent tribute to the patriotic martyrs, and thus began their inauguration ceremony. They read down their manifesto amid soul and psychedelic music and sounds of birds and waves, with moktak (wooden percussion used by Buddhist monks) and Brahms’ symphony marking the finale. After that, at the convention for declaration which was held on National Liberation Day, reasons of their establishment were revealed:

We were born on this land with a historical mission, and thus we seek to overthrow misformed errors; end all contradictions that stem from the separation of spirit and body; and form a new human culture that goes from human to human.

This is a claim to advocate a new human ethics—under which the original form of the universe, as Mutché, makes up the whole, and human, who are materialization of Mutché, sets off from Mutché and returns to Mutché.

We acknowledge that body and mind, night and day, black and white, coincidence and inevitability are the same, and the idea of original form, which claims that all things in this world are the nature of the universe, is the principle of Mutché. We establish The Fourth Group with the aim of thinking and acting together on such grounds.

The Fourth Group’s declaration begins with ‘we were born on this land with a historical mission’, an expression that seems to be parody of the Charter of National Education at that time. However, in the following goes on sentences similar to philosophical and religious narratives, such as ‘misformed error’, ‘contradictions that stem from the separation of spirit and body’, ‘original form of the universe, as an Mutché, makes up the whole’. Especially, expressions like ‘idea of original form, which claims that all things in this world are the nature of the universe, is the principle of Mutché’ shows a characteristic similar to concepts of ‘nothingness’ or ‘emptiness’ described in Taoism or Buddhism. Such directions taken by the group may be interpreted as a call for mental awakening as a resistance to the materialistic trend of the 70s’ society which was based on economic reconstruction and revival. On the other hand, the declaration hints that, by applying radical idealism to issues of its time, it attempts to restore the ability to think of a broader space and, through art, secure a relatively critical distance from the present world it was facing. The key factor to be examined here is the background of selecting the concept of ‘Mutché’, and the point where this metaphysical concept differentiates itself from other contemporary theories and forms of art. It is also necessary to see why the group’s extreme and counter-realist attitude that could be interpreted as ‘idealism’ should be reinterpreted today.

It is very difficult to find the circumstances under which idealism (translated as (1) tendency to represent things in their ideal forms, rather than as they are (2) a theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason) took a form of collective manifesto in Korean modern art. The reason is that, since idealism involves meanings like ‘unrealistic’, ‘pedantic’, ‘narcissistic’ and ‘delusional’ in Korean everyday language, it is rare for someone to link his/her identity to idealism. And in this sense, Kim Ku-lim and The Fourth Group would stand out as one of the exceptions. Furthermore, if we are to search for cracks of episteme in Korean modern art’s late but compressed process of growth, here would be the very spot where we find the largest segment. Such crack was realized by a group of artists who raised the most radical ideality under the name of so-called avant-garde in a completely unfamiliar place and then were forgotten right after, instead of generally known boundaries—for instance, shift from modernism to post-modernism or neo-social-realism. This dramatic case did not receive proper attention until now; it was regarded as a sort of hollow memory, an incident disengaged from its context. Absence of appropriate critical terms, that corresponds to the group’s idealism, in Korean modern art is another reason for neglecting such oblivion. One of the expressions that come to mind when talking about The Fourth Group is ‘anachronism’. This movement was timely, to such extent that it would have been possible to consider temporal interaction with other contemporary movements in foreign countries. However, in the setting of Korean society at that time, it was too ahead or set off under a disadvantageous social-political situation, and thus was difficult to form an appropriate public. Korean ‘modern art avant-garde movement’ in the early 1970s was too much by itself; even considering the possibility of interaction between the humanities and other genres of art of the time. Their thoughts were, above all, still expressed by ‘metaphysical’ and ‘idealistic’ terms and positions such as ‘Mutché’ and couldn’t be understood by the public of their time.

Encyclopedic definition of ‘idealism’ clearly states that it is a “philosophical term that stresses the central role of the ideal or the spiritual in the interpretation of experience”. Idealism constantly raises the question of how the subject or the self establishes the world. Naturally, criticism of idealism comes down to this very point. The concept of subject is a self-centered mechanism which makes judgments and decisions regarding object or target, and has allowed a wide spectrum of interpretation—in Germany, from Kant’s transcendental reason to the Nazi’s statism based on subject theory—so wide that it is difficult to figure out a clear boundary. Contrary to being empirically criticized in the areas of modern politics, history and society, it can be said that idealism has been recognized as an ‘irrationality that can be specially approved of’ as far as it stayed in the realm of modern art. In modern times, art regards itself as playing the role of a reservation in which ideal ‘self’ or ‘subject’ is admitted to a certain extent. Yet, even in art criticism or art discourse, idealism has been a target of criticism in a different dimension. From the viewpoint of seeing art as a reflection of social reality, artistic idealism becomes something that deals with themes that are remote from social and empirical reality. This is more prominent in criticisms based on naturalism or realism, and it is pointed out that the tendency to acknowledge idealism as irrational increases during times of political instability in which social-political disputes upsurge.

Nevertheless, The Fourth Group’s declaration is different from other prior declarations in two aspects. First, their declarations, different from those of ‘Dada Manifesto’, ‘Futurist Manifesto’ or ‘Fluxus Manifesto’, did not reveal their goal to be confined to artistic categories. The group’s declaration seems as if it’s announcing the purpose of establishment of an imaginary ‘government’ or ‘state’. Second, ways of corresponding to the world, as shared by the members of the group, are more close to ‘metaphysical’ than artistic or political. Their announcements are concretely stated through the concept of ‘Mutché’ in the declaration. These two differences can be understood as a result of theoretical and strategic choices to detour the oppressive reality under the socio-political conditions of its time. Members of the group hoped for art to drastically change the society, and thus introduced a group that borrowed the form of state or government as a kind of parody. Then, they integrated what was pursued by the group into ‘Mutché’, a term that is the starting point of all system of meaning and has no stereotypes or theoretical prejudice imposed upon. Composition of this organization set up by The Fourth Group was divided into organs in a similarly way to ‘government organizations’, in anticipation of future expansion, and its members were given duties to lead the subordinate organizations. For instance, Kim Ku-lim became Tongryeong (president), Jung Chan-seung Chongryeong (secretary general), Bang Tae-soo Poryeong (spokesperson) and Son Il-kwang (chairman). In ‘Declaration and Doctrine’, they define the group’s specific directions as:

Declaration and Doctrine

We declare the liberation of humans to return them to their natural state and the independence of pure Korean culture.

We will integrate all art under the principle of Mutché, and form a single system by directly participating in all areas including politics, economy, society, culture, science and religion.

Hereupon, we set our code of conduct as follows:

1. We liberate human to its natural state.

1. We establish that the independence of pure Korean culture is the subject of global culture.

1. We integrate all systems through participation.

1. We form oneness through Mutché.

What these declaration and codes are saying is that eventually, with Korea as the center, they will realize the concept of Mutché —principle and foundation of the universe—as the basic principle of life by integrating the whole world through Mutché ideology. In other words, it can be interpreted as an announcement to build a utopia here and now. Regarding this, Kim Mi-kyung states that “until then, in the development of Korean modern art, such strong announcement of Korean culture’s independence and subjectivization of the global culture made by a group or an individual was unseen, and it was also the first incident for someone to cry out loud a consensus through integration of and participation in each areas including politics, society, culture, economy, science and religion”. To examine the contents, The Fourth Group’s declaration was intervening and comprehensive in its form and scope; so much that it could be seen as the most radical political-religious declaration of utopia since Chondogyo and Donghak that emphasized a world in which humans became subjects through the Heaven-Earth-Human ideology. There are utopian models are suggested by République géniale (1971) written by Robert Filliou, a member of the Fluxus, or Slave City (2007) by AVL (Atelier Van Lieshout), with the aim of reconfiguring economic, industrial and class structures in the capitalist world. On the contrary, The Fourth Group’s proposal for realizing an (artistic) utopia on a territory called Korea is to put everything in ‘zero’ state instead of making specific and visible actions. Here, it seems that a concrete definition of ‘Mutché is neglected or intentionally kept away from being provided; no interview of Kim Ku-lim who actually lead the group, brings up any clear explanations or interpretations of this. Perhaps this is due to ‘Mutché’ being understood directly as Taoism’s ‘無爲 (Wu-wei, Doing-nothing)’ or Buddhism’s ‘空 (Sunya, emptiness)’. Nevertheless, through examining not only The Fourth Group’s but also its players’, especially its major leader Kim Ku-lim’s performance, events and exhibitions before and after their active year, we may understand what issues they were trying to deal with by using the concept of ‘Mutché’.

For instance, the first mail art project Condom and Carbamine—it was composed of making 201 envelopes, sending 20 envelopes to art critics and handing out 80 to students at Seoul National University—was performed in front of Seoul National University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on May 15th, by Kim Ku-lim and other artists just before The Fourth Group’s establishment convention on June 20th 1970. When participants opened four small bags inside the envelope, they found written instruction ordering them to open the bags at specific times: 08:40, 08:50, 09:00 and 09:05 all in the afternoon. Inside they found various colored bags and their contents were: powder (bag No. 1), torn condom (bag No. 2), paper with a hole (bag No. 3) and titles (bag No. 4; first title was Kim Ku-lim’s Stem, second was Jung Chan-seung’s Condom, and the last was Bang Geo-ji’s 0=1+1-1-1x1). Participants were given instructions such as to mix the powder with water and drink it, put it between their private parts or gaze at the center of the sky over Nam mountain for four seconds after taking a deep breath for four times with it put on their mouths. Through such actions which seemed meaningless on the surface, the artists intended to induce participants to engage in artistic activities of their own. It can be said that, to do away with stereotypes and create a new methodology, what they presented was the zero point which escaped existing system of transmitting meanings. Such composition of anti-semantic activities is also found in The Meaning of 1/24 Second, a short film that was produced in the previous year also by Kim Ku-lim and other collaborators. In the film are randomly comprised scenes of everyday activities, all having nothing to do with each other—for example, handrail of an overpass seen from inside the window of a running car, water coming from a shower head, a man yawning, smoke, smashing an egg or a bird with stone. It is fairly easy to recognize that the film’s title indicates the number of frames per second in films. However, there is no clue for us to look into the real intention of such compilation. After all, this title is nothing but minimum information and equivalent description of Kim Ku-lim’s work which consists of a short film. In other words, it also means that there is nothing else other than itself. On a day in July, after The Fourth Group being officially established, Street Mime was staged in front of a pedestrian overpass in front of Shinsegae department store, the National Theater of Korea and such, with performances by Jung Chan-seung, Bang Tae-soo, Goh Ho and the like. These actors, with a sign ‘How do you prove that you’re a virgin’, attempted at showing a series of happenings in connection: entering into a show window of a random store, striving to exchange a lit up match with bread through a glass window or trying to do a performance after getting Body Painting. This performance eventually ended with Jung Chan-seung and others being arrested for breaching Traffic Law. Funeral Ceremony of the Established Art and Culture, which was again performed on August 15th, in commemoration of the 25th Liberation Anniversary, declared independence of Korean culture in front of Lee Yul-kok statue, and announced that they were holding a funeral of both established art and culture and existing system. After then, while marching their way from Sajik Park to Gwanghwamun, holding a crown decorated with a white flag, the national flag of Korea and real flowers, they were arrested in front of the old National Assembly Building and were handed over for a summary trial. Lastly, at ‹Mutché Exhibition› which was to held at the National Information Center from August 20th to 24th, all scheduled programs, including comprehensive seminar, pantomime performance and joint statement, were canceled after their performance and happening at the first day. Their intention was to use dry ice to confuse the people inside a dark room, and then raise fear with a loud siren. This exhibition, which eventually turned out to be their last work, was shut down by authorities. Later performances and parades were also a discontinuous array of ‘irrational and accidental’ events and compilations.

The group’s works mostly consists of performances—carrying out of actions—and had a public nature in that they generated encounter and interaction with the public and their participation. Considering that ‘proliferation of Mutché’, which was pursued by The Fourth Group, induced incidents and interpretations of those incidents in a anti-semantic relationship as mentioned above, we come to understand that the ultimate intention of such proliferation was to directly influence attitudes and viewpoints of citizens and the public.

To examine whether a subject or self in Korean modern art has appeared with the intent of going beyond the trend of its time or cultural bigotry and establish the world or art as a whole following its own view of the world is directly connected to the issue of ‘ideal world’ in Korean modern art, that is to say the issue of how issues such as ‘utopia’ have been dealt with. Landscapes in Korean painting—from An Gyeon’s Mongyu dowondo (Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land) to Jeong Seon’s Jingyeong Sansu (Real Landscape), and arriving at Kim Jeong-hui’s Sehando (Bitter Cold around the Lunar New Year)—attempted at representing utopia of their time in a pictorial space through the symbolic space of Taoism, like union with perfect nature or ultimate harmony of yin and yang, and use of brush that would most appropriately express such symbolic space, together with various poetic elaborations. However, no matter what, these remained as symbolic and pictorial icons. 20th century modern art, from Dada through Russian Soviet’s Constructionism to Fluxus, which also heavily influenced Korean modern art, is interspersed with constant revolutions, creation of communities and histories of struggle to build utopia according to each and every beliefs. Relationship between art and utopia is an issue of space where topography and power of respective places are connected, and is also in an indivisible relationship with the form of which poetics is connected to politics. In modern art, whether it is Constructionism or Surrealism, utopia is formed somewhere ‘in between’ politics and poetics. And this ‘gap’ is what refers to a kind of discrepancy, sharing, encounter or mixing. Since classic political utopias were suggested by Thomas More, Tommasso Campanella or Communes, 19th century European symbolists established a linguistic utopia by enabling the experience of materializing autonomous poetic language. Encounter between these two were made under the vision of historic victory of labor and working class in Russian Soviet art during the 1910s and the 20s.

Through the history of avant-garde, in which various incidents throughout the whole 20th century were scattered, art opened its door to non-art. Here, non-artistic and exceptional peculiarities began to be included in the category of art. After much meandering, fine arts admitted the thesis of ‘denial of existing art and integration of new art’ to the extended system at that time. And Guy Debord saw this as a failure or an end of utopia. To him, utopia always ceases right before reaching the end. This is the reason why concrete forms of ‘utopian’ artworks are shaped in parts, pieces, fragments and meaningless places. One example is Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action (1957), a proclamatory writing on ‘Situationist International’ in which Debord announces that all means that could cause an overthrow of the everyday life should be mobilized to change the world and overcome all existing art forms. In the early stages, members of Situationist International regarded modern art as a typical bourgeois culture, and satirized art by mocking or making jokes about it. However, in 1962, artists and revolutionaries were divided which lead to a catastrophe of artists being driven out. One other example would be Fluxus whose choice was to use a means of causing incidents instead of spatial orders that are visible and systemic. Severance caused by incidents or exclusion of continuity can be seen as characteristics of utopia; afterwards, the utopian incident usually went through closing processes or shifted to theoretical signifying processes.

The Fourth Group, which was lead by Kim Ku-lim, also began from a determination that art can no longer remain in the visual area, and developed to a vision that the total form of life should be changed into a new ideal category indicated by the whole history of art and mentality. ‘Mutché’ is a concept that is rarely mentioned—or probably almost only in the teachings of Laotzu and Chuangtzu or Taoism. And indeed, utopia based on ‘Mutché ideology’ was ‘the first attempt made by a subgroup which pursued open art by integrating culture at large, including applied art, drama, film and religion’, and ‘was not enthusiastic about social participation or political criticism’. The Fourth Group’s activities, which marked the beginning of the 1970s, also follow the dramatic process of climax and severance which is composed of ‘incidents’. They too disappeared after being active for not even a year, due to continuous government oppression, citizens’ lack of understanding and disconnection from the situation of art at that time; officially, The Fourth Group lasted for only about 2 months (1970. 6. 20 - 8. 20). Nevertheless, the presence of Kim Ku-lim, as his played key-role in these activities, seems to allow its active period to be extended to a year or so; starting from the screening of The Meaning of 1/24 Second on July 21st 1969 to Relics of Mass Media on October 10th, a collaboration with Kim Tchah-sup, Condom and Carbamine on May 15th 1970, Declaration of The Fourth Group, Funeral Ceremony of the Established Art and Culture on August 15th and ‹ Mutché Exhibition› which was held between August 20th and 24th. Their works, leaving out criticisms on established culture and art, have been understood as overturning in the context of breaking away from stereotypes through media experiments that go over boundaries of genres and by replacing existing artistic languages. However, The Fourth Group and Kim Ku-lim who, actually lead the group, made clear of their critical avant-garde position under the banner of ‘intervention’ by going forward with an obvious purpose and distinct programs. Looking from the viewpoint of a more directly resistant trend that appeared in political-social situations and literature of that time, the group’s ideal program may be dismissed as a passive or indigestible position that lacks reality. Indeed, public cynicism and indifference to them explicitly reveals the typical situation that such forms of art undergoes. Even if it is the case that The Fourth Group did not seek direct and critical political participation, their activities may be interpreted as antigovernment, just by looking at the fact that they were made under a political situation which banned and oppressed all creative activities, that were made in the name of experiment or avant-garde, and all kinds of assemblies and gatherings. As a matter of fact, Kim’s books and materials were confiscated, his parents were interrogated by the KCIA, and he himself also went through interrogation while being locked up at Namdaemun police station. Even after his release, The Fourth Group continued with a couple of performances, and was eventually disbanded by force. The movement came to an end when Kim fled from political oppression and misunderstanding to Japan, and turned to conceptual art.

What would have been possible for Korean ‘artists’ in the 70s to choose? Actually, as it goes with every era, their choice would have been one of the two: do their best, within the boundary of knowledge, experience and freedom provided by their society, to face the world they’re living in or isolated themselves from such world. The former should have been expressed as a will to understand worldly phenomena and further investigate and reveal the relationship between those and one’s own life. On the other hand, the latter would have had to settle with their works reflecting isolation caused by the world. However, despite such aspects of the latter, art throughout history was not received merely as a pointless attitude. This is because many artists circumvent directly facing the world, and produced images of it as projected onto their inner selves. Rather, it would have been the former whose members, under numerous ordeals of modern history, post-war impoverishment, political oppression and cultural and economic deprivation, had to go through difficulties of strategically reducing the ideal of a world they so pursued and ‘actualizing’ the nature of facing the world. This is because if not, it would obviously lead to ‘failure’. And these are the incidents that actually occurred in Korea before and after 1970. The Fourth Group came to an end due to political and social oppressions of The Third Republic of Korea, but after nearly 40 years, their ‘failure’ still raises many important issues.

Audiences see in an artist the way he/she faces the world. However, when such way of facing exceeds the audiences’ category of understanding, or when it is different from the world that the audiences believe themselves to be in, they find clues of fraud, false or madness. This difference and discrepancy that arises from the space between artists and audiences are found in numerous incidents in the history of art. This is caused frequently especially by subjective conviction or an artist’s exceptional subject, and in cases, forms a structural factor that is most important in constructing the myth of art. The example set by The Fourth Group is one of the most unique and hopeless attempt at utopia in the history of Korean modern art. Their revolutionary vision, ambitious to the degree of excess, is regarded as even more effective in present times due to the structural contradiction accelerated by commodity and capital fetishism, imaginary values, contempt of life, devastation of environment, etc. which still continue to exist. However, as seen in many testimonials of the group’s activities, as grand as their declaration was, society and the public’s indifference and lack of understanding was also absolute. The revolution for utopia they dreamed of had nothing to do with the subsequently appeared Minjung Misool(People’s Art), and it isn’t easy to find a connection with modernist painting which was the dominant trend of the time. What the group dreamed of was an ideal utopia replete with poetic communication in which the infinite possibility of artistic creation penetrates the whole world and society. How should we call it, original ‘vision’ or anachronistic delusion? And if absence and oblivion were the only answers to such question, what should be the artist’s next move? Guy Debord, speaking about art in ‘times of self-deconstruction’ in his book The Society of the Spectacle, points out that it is art which mentions such change that is avant-garde. Most importantly, he considered such mention would be completed with this art vanishing by itself. The Fourth Group did not disappear willfully, but they did reveal the structure of the world that made them disappear and, at the same time, realized the very moment of ‘absolute completion’ which they pursued out of pure passion. What happened in the summer of 1970 was that they achieved a perfect realization of avant-gardist moment inside the history of Korean modern art.

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