In an interview on celebrity and celebration, Paul Virilio refers to Franz Kafka as the “great well-known ‘unknown’” of the twentieth century. Virilio further proposes Kafka as a “quintessential, furtive writer,” whose attempt ‘not to appear and to remain anonymous,’ in both literature and life could have been instrumental to his work and the fate of his literary career. Kafka’s request to have all his writing destroyed upon his death surely can’t be seen as a strategy of self-promotion, and yet, according to Virilio, Kafka’s yearning for withdrawal and disappearance paradoxically rendered him famous and granted his works an enduring status. Our era is characterized by a rigid dichotomy between the well-known and the unknown, where the unstoppable, accelerated race towards fame has become ubiquitous. Culture today is preoccupied with the idea that anonymity is akin to disappearance, and is resultantly paralyzed by its fear of celebrity’s transience. In this environment, little time is spent on contemplating the prevailing issue: how exactly do we become well-known or, conversely, remain unknown? What does it really mean to be famous or anonymous? And how do we define, in our own terms, the well-known and the unknown, or the well-known unknown? Kafka might be the greatest well-known “unknown,” according to Virilio, but that does not mean any of us could or should aspire to emulate his example. wellknown unknown attempts to engage in an open dialogue on the meanings of appearance and disappearance, emergence and withdrawal, and celebrity and anonymity, in a period where everything changes at the speed of light. These questions resonate with how each artist approaches their practices in addition to framing the factors that govern how their work is received. wellknown unknown is not the subject of the exhibition, but more a query—one without an answer but with many plausible positions, some of which, hopefully, are inspired by the works presented in the exhibition itself.
wellknown unknown presents both new and older works by EH(Kim Kyoungtae), Kim Heecheon, Na Kim, Hwayeon Nam, Min Oh, VERYTHINGS, and Yi Yunyi. Installed throughout K1 and K2, the diverse work by these artists creates a fluid visual dynamic. The varying, individual voices of the seven artists/teams become all the more pronounced when placed within the same time and space, evoking themes of uncertainty, the fragility of existence, inconsistency of values, and a subtle protest against homogenization and standardization. This “difference” is also evident in the diverse academic and professional backgrounds of the artists. For example, EH(Kim Kyoungtae) is an architectural photographer initially trained in visual design; Min Oh, an artist with a distinct vocabulary based on her educational background in design and music; Na Kim, a graphic designer with an active presence in the field of both design and art; VERYTHINGS, a group of “urban nature” designers that create work with sharp, critical observations on current social trends; Kim Heecheon, an architecture-based artist who is temporarily taking a hiatus from his work as an architect to engage in visual experiments based on urban experience; Yi Yunyi, a literature major who succumbed to the captivating power of images and began making visual art; and Hwayeon Nam, educated as a sculptor, her work in the show is a return to the genre for the first time since she took a divergent path post college. Given this breadth, it would be difficult to find a single theme with which to connect all the work in wellknown unknown. Instead, our attention should be focused on how the artists differ from one another—exploring their diverse perspectives and modus operandi, as well as the vital issues raised in the process.
Sungwon Kim (Professor at Dept. of Fine Art, Seoul National University of Science & Technology; Independent Curator / Critic)