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Installation view of CHANG HANNA’s New Ecosystem, 2021, installation with collected plastic pieces, fish tanks, bubble generator, lights, sand, dimensions variable, at “Reclamation, New Rocks, Stray Dogs, Birds, and Acoustics of the Garden,” at Incheon Art Platform, 2021. Courtesy Incheon Art Platform.

“Reclamation, New Rocks, Stray Dogs, Birds, and Acoustics of the Garden”

Incheon Art Platform
Korea, South

In 1928, North Korean poet Palyang Park’s (1905–88) “Port of Incheon” appeared in the periodical Joseon Jigwang. Summoning the old name of the port, Chemulpo, the verse begins: “Situated in the west of Chosen, pier Chemulpo . . . a cosmopolitan navigating the world.” Opening Korea to the outside world, the historic port is described as a dynamic center of exchange, where boats to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Yokohoma gather. About a century since the poem was written, the city of Incheon still bears the vitality of a coastal city. Yet being at the frontline of Korea’s industrialization has inevitably led the city to become host to many environmental issues.

This history is hinted at in the title of the group exhibition “Reclamation, New Rocks, Stray Dogs, Birds, and Acoustics of the Garden.” Works by ten artists and a collective were spread across five galleries at Incheon Art Platform, a complex made up of remodeled buildings from the 1930s, occupying both sides of a street in front of Chinatown. Arrows on the wall led visitors to the first floor of Gallery B, a dimly lit, black-walled space, where discordant sights and sounds emanated from videos, photographs, and installations.

GWON DOYEON, Bukhansan #Black Mouth, 2019, pigment print, 90 × 135 cm. Courtesy the artist.

Among them was Gwon Doyeon’s Bukhansan (2019), a slide projection of eighty black-and-white photographs of feral dogs taken by the artist over two years. With the redevelopment of Seoul’s Eunpyeong District in 2012, many dogs were abandoned by their relocated owners. These strays settled in the nearby forests of Mount Bukhan, where they were deemed a threat to hikers, eventually prompting a massive government capture project. Stories of displaced animals continued on the second floor with Gwon’s Rainforest (2021), a series of color photos depicting rooks in the outskirts of Seoul. The birds were forced from their original habitats due to environmental changes precipitated by global warming, as well as complaints by people. These works were complemented by Tania Candiani’s three-channel video For the Animals (2020), which emits extremely high-frequency noises as different colorful patterns appear on a wall-size screen. The synesthetic work imagines an environment favorable to animals, where visual and aural senses typically unfamiliar to humans are assumed.

Installation view of TANIA CANDIANI’s For the Animals, 2020, three-channel HD video with color and sound: 10 min 1 sec, at “Reclamation, New Rocks, Stray Dogs, Birds, and Acoustics of the Garden,” at Incheon Art Platform, 2021. Courtesy the artist.

Located in an outdoor passage along the way to Gallery G was Chang Hanna’s installation Laboratory of New Rock Researcher (2021). The small faux-office behind the glass consists of a desk next to a display of numerous man-made tools, including a wrench, screwdriver, scale, pincers, magnifying glass, and work gloves, among others. The bundle of tools drew a stark contrast with a row of color photographs on the upper part of the wall. Appearing as scenic landscapes from a distance, the images actually capture oceans and rocky seashores strewn with litter, along with animals suffering due to plastic pollution. Underneath these vivid records were 16 specimens of bizarre rock forms melded with Styrofoam and plastic, labeled “Newmorphic Rock, 2020, Korea.”

The exhibited works clearly converge to point out humankind’s destruction of natural environments, a problem in Incheon as around the world. Nevertheless, none of the works truly denounce the culprit or sympathize with the victim. Kwon’s photographs are simply portraits of animals in nature, without being particularly critical; Chang’s witty display of Newmorphic rocks puts forth irreversible outcomes that have already taken place. What the exhibition amounted to was neither a blame game nor a pessimistic prophecy, but rather an invitation to broaden the lens through which we encounter different tensions between nature and the built environment. The strength of this show, in other words, might lie in the fact that it let us perceive the coexistence of “reclamation, new rocks, stray dogs, birds, and acoustics of the garden” in our surroundings. It gave us courage to take a first step to escape from human-oriented thinking, just as Candiani’s work exhorts us to hear and see differently.

Reclamation, New Rocks, Stray Dogs, Birds, and Acoustics of the Garden” was on view at Incheon Art Platform from May 21 to July 25, 2021. A VR tour is available here.

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