Delfina Foundation

Q&A - Jungki Beak

Korean artist Jungki Beak joined Delfina Foundation for further research on his interest in religion, Eastern philosophy, and science.

Jungki Beak, Vaseline Glove, 2007.

The relationship between man and nature plays an important role within your practice. Furthermore you explore how science and technology correlates with health, wellbeing and spirituality. Where does this interest come from?

It all started in 2007, as a result of my own experiences with the process of being wounded and healing. I was burned in a fire when I was very young, which is also the reason why I often use Vaseline as a material. The skin of my left hand and left leg was really thin so it was necessary to apply Vaseline. The first time I worked with this, I made a kind of glove by applying the Vaseline to my left hand to represent protection and healing. Later I made helmets, they were super soft, melting easily and I had to apply the material really quickly in a cold studio. This is an older project, but it is still connected to my recent work. Vaseline has the function of moisturizing and it helps the cells to recover by themselves. The original word Vaseline is combined of two words. One is ‘Wasser’ which is German and means water and the other one is έλαιον (elaion) which is Greek for olive oil.

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Jungki Beak, Is of: Seoul, 2012

How did you get from the process of healing to aspects of technology and science?

I became more interested in water and its various aspects: religiously, politically and also ecologically. Since the beginning of the earth the total amount of water has not changed. My blood used to be someone else’s blood, or it could have been a plant or something else. I felt that if water has a memory, it contains all of this information. I also thought about the relationship between a river and a city. The river is always going through the city and it contains all the substances from the city. So actually ecologists when they determine the city, they collect the water from the river to analyze the industrial and ecological history of the city.

For “Is of: Seoul” (2012) I made litmus paper using the pigments of red cabbage. Litmus paper is usually used to distinguish if something is alkali or acid. Depending on which it is it changes the colour. The pigment of cabbage has the same function as the litmus paper. I then collected water from the river Han in Seoul and used the water as ink, putting it into a modified printer to print images I took of the city onto the paper. The printed areas changed their colour because the river’s water contains acid. Because of the many ecosystems it is not neutral at all, it is horribly acidic because it is very polluted. The work therefore shows the relationship between man and nature, city and river.

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Jungki Beak, Is of: Seoraksan, 2012.

For a more recent version of this project, “Is of: Seoraksan” (2012), I took photographs in the mountains in Korea in autumn. I also collected leaves and built a machine to extract the pigments of them. After grinding the leaves I used acetone to dissolve the cells and extract the pigment. I had an evaporator to concentrate it and a filter to make it liquid. The pigment from plants is organic so it contains protein and other things. If I put it into the printer without this it would brake, which is why I used a filter. The concentrated essence of the leaves was filled into the ink cartridge. Just a very small amount of leaves was required. I printed only 12 images, not making editions because the project goes beyond the images. The white balance is a little bit awkward and the colour changes, just like the dead leaves which become brown. To slow down this process I made a specialist frame which acts as a vacuum. The images are now all sealed in individual boxes filled with nitrogen, with UV protected glass to prevent a chemical reaction. The colours change anyways - it is nature, you can’t change it!

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Jungki Beak, Akhaedokdan, Installation View: Samsung Leeum Art Museum, Seoul/Korea, 2016.

However, you seem to address how far human influence can impact on nature. Can you tell a bit more about your most recent works and how they relate rituals and spirituality to the influence man has on nature?

If there was a big tree in a town in Korea it often became the town’s guardian. It had to be something big, then we worshipped it. This happened a long time ago and is not practiced any more, but I mention it because it is connected to rituals. Trees are alive. Inside there is a liquid which is like the plants blood. A tree can be an antenna because it is conductive. I couldn’t believe it at first, but when I researched it I found these images of an American general named George O. Squier and his ‘floraphone’ in World War I. He tried to use a tree as an antenna and it actually worked. I used this in my work ‘Akhaedokdan’ in the exhibition Artspectrum 2016 at Leeum, Samsung Museum. In the work there are devices that use a tree as an antenna. It actually broadcast some sound and was powered by candles.

Another part of the work looks like an oriental painting, but it was drawn with conductive ink. This way it became a receiving antenna. A real tree was the transmitting antenna and the picture tree was a receiving antenna. The tree was at the entrance and the painting at the back of the museum. For the radio, I invited an expert on rituals to discuss the historical meanings of dragons and their connection to rituals that pray for rain.

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Jungki Beak, Akhaedokdan, Installation View: Samsung Leeum Art Museum, Seoul/Korea, 2016.

Akhardokdan is the name of an altar that was used to pray for rain at a place called Dragon Mountain. Dragons are culturally associated to rain in Korea, which is why the altar was on top of the mountain. It was rediscovered by scientists ten years ago, it had been covered with red bricks and used as a barbecue by the American army. As soon as it was found it disappeared, everything was just cleaned up. I thought I need to remind people and made a monument of it but with Vaseline instead of cement, about six meters high.

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Jungki Beak, Akhaedokdan, Installation View: Samsung Leeum Art Museum, Seoul/Korea, 2016.

During rituals at the altar they used to make dragons using wood and clay. I made one of them for my own ritual. It was a battery powering a lamp shining on a very specific plant, which is associated with profanity and grows on top of the mountain. This kind of battery is called voltaic pile and is the first battery in history invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800. It is using two metals: zinc and copper. They are very different, so when they are put into salt water they can create energy. The body of the dragon sculpture is made of clay mixed with salt and its covered with Vaseline so it still contains the moisture.

The relationship between two different aspects appears in many of your works, such as water and oil, city and river, man and nature, machine and life, technology and the spiritual. How do these things come together for you or how are they opposed, maybe even antagonistic?

In my work a keyword is ‘connection’ – connecting things. I want to make links between two different things such as matter and life or idea and reality. Also religion and science are really different but I always position myself in between. Do you know the theory of homeopathy? Homeopathy is also about water. You dilute medicine in water until the actual substance disappears. The water still works as a medicine because it still keeps the information and the energy of the water. The water contains a lot of information. This is why I recently became interested in homeopathy. Have you ever heard this: like cures like; or poison kills the poison. The medicine is actually not medicine, it is poisonous. But if you dilute it enough it only contains the information of the original substance. So if you take it you are not poisoned but it still has the energy and the information so it can cure your body. Sometimes psychologically when we treat our trauma like a wound we need to face it. It is only cured by the trauma. Its like there is a wound and if you just avoid it or cover it there is no possibility for it to heal. But if you face the wound, that begins the healing process. In many countries, for instance in Fukushima in Japan, they try to cover what happened. Also in Korea we have a lot of historical wounds but governments don’t want to talk about it and are just trying to cover it. I think it is about facing the reality.

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Jungki Beak, Work In Progress for an exhibition at the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan, 2017.

How do you use it? Is there a work you are currently developing based on homeopathy?

Yes, I recently collected ashes from a train after a subway fire that happened in Korea. It was a really bad accident and about 300 people died. The material I collected is a mixture of carbonates. But if there is a memory inherited by the ashes and debris it could be something like a fear and anger. I was thinking of making new homeopathic medicine using the debris I found. This is inspired by the fact that there are homeopathic medicines that use specific volcanic ashes as well. When they make homeopathic medicine two people need to prepare it so one can be a witness. Otherwise there would be no proof or evidence and the medicine would just look like a sugar ball. I am going to film myself during the whole process of turning the ashes into the medicine. It is going to be medicine, although I don’t think it has a measurable effect on the human body. This is also based on my individual experiences. I used to experience panic attacks and three years ago I began buying medicine because I couldn’t manage by myself without it. At some point I stopped taking it, but I still have the medicine. I don’t have to take it but because it is there I feel reassured. It already has an effect just by being there. I want my work to be like that. It is also meant to memorialise the event. Many people have already forgotten about this accident, but I want people to remember. If they are really interested in my concept then they might see why I made this medicine using the ashes. Because the most important thing is to face fear and anger. Like I said: poison kills the poison. But does it work in this case? Or is it paradox because this is an artwork? Maybe. Maybe not. We will see. The opening is on 18 February 2017. The date is actually the day this accident happened 10 years ago.

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Jungki Beak, Work In Progress for an exhibition at the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan, 2017.

How did your time at Delfina Foundation influence your practice?

Up to the point of the residency I had been so busy and working very hard so there wasn’t enough time to think about what I am doing. Its not just about work. It is about my life as well. I didn’t have a moment to reflect. I think when you are empty you can absorb something. When I met Aaron, he said: “Jungki, don’t do anything. No exhibition. Nothing. Just relax.” It was his offer. I followed this offer and it was a coincidence I became interested in homeopathy because another member of the team, Poppy, asked me if I knew about homeopathy, I did not. So she told me about it and I thought: “That is really interesting.” It was a coincidence and also really natural, so I owe this interest to Poppy. Maybe it can even be a bridge to find another idea for another project at some point.