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On My Way Here_Soundscape
by SongEun ArtCube
Location: SongEun ArtCube
Artist(s): Seo-Ryang KIM
Date: 6 Nov - 9 Dec 2015

Stories of City Soundcapes. ​When asked, “What do you presume is the most important of human senses?” After a brief pause most will conclude sight as the foremost of senses, being undoubtedly considered as the best way to absorb information than any other means. The answer does not come as a surprise considering this day and age of modern technology is flooded with gadgets like tablet PCs and smartphones. It is near impossible to picture a world without the ability to see. The superiority of information recording and transfer abilities of sight is absolutely astounding. What better ability is there than sight in the realm of grabbing and suspending valuable moments in time, allowing them to last forever. If architecture, painting, and sculpture are the visual representatives of the ancient, medieval, and modern periods, it's suffice to say film and photography have taken their place in the last 100 years. 

​Even though they say there has been a blurring of genres following the post-modern period, sight is still the human sense that dominates and controls the artistic world. But are we absolutely certain that sight is the best tool for understanding the visual world? Recently, an alternative choice has presented itself as the possible answer to this question - the sense of hearing. If image is the medium and material representation of sight, then hearing has sound. All things on this air-filled Earth have their own unique frequency and thereby without exception create a sound when met with another object (when friction or collision occurs). But the clamor that surrounds us is mostly dismissed and literally goes in one ear and out the other, which is perhaps why the phrase “unique sound of an object” may seem rather foreign compared to the usually familiar “unique look of an object.”

Kim, Seoryang hones in on precisely this point to shake up the way people understand the world. She allows us to shift from the familiar regularities of our lives and begin perceiving an entirely new environment. Because we generally regard sound as a simple information transferring carrier, we tend to largely categorize seemingly trivial sounds as clamor and discard them. Kim, Seoryang picks up and collects these unwanted, common sounds to process them into ones that demand our attention. The world becomes a different place when you begin paying attention to sound. Once in a while a movie or a commercial suggests “Close your eyes and listen to your environment,” and when you do, an entirely new world comes knocking on your door.

Kim, Seoryang is especially interested in the sounds objects made by chance, because it is an excellent way to strip people of the stereotypical ideas they have of sounds, such as the typical chirping of the birds or the gushing of running water. By presenting to us bird or water sounds that are entirely unfamiliar, she changes the way we perceive a unique sound of an object. City sounds are even more familiar to us. The hustle and bustle generated by throngs of people, cars, and subways are sounds typically pushed aside as inconsequential audio. We have intellectualized city sounds as pollution. The artist takes such city sounds, tweaks them, and returns them back to us transformed into something that is actually interesting, thereby allowing us to absorb them in a new way.

Unlike the soothing sounds of nature that we often turn to, we shun and try to avoid the clamor of cities or industrial areas which does not come as a surprise considering the clangor given off by machines and industrialization completely saturates our cities. If we are able to regard the din of cities not as pollution but as acceptable or even as comfortable and familiar sounds, this will not only be an artistic effect that brings transformation in auditory perception, but may revamp the way we view the city soundscape from an urban engineering standpoint. It takes millions of dollars to bring the city noise pollution down a single decibel (dB), but it is said that change in perception can bring about the effects of reducing 5 dB, showing the immense influence changing a sensory perception can have on us.

This may apply to all the senses, but there is a reason why the artist takes a particular interest in the sense of hearing. As a child Seoryang fell into the water and felt an unfamiliar sense of isolation and fear when the water rushed into her ears. The sound of water gushing in and the silence that followed along with faint but audible sounds above water outside made her into a child that began to concentrate on sounds. Perhaps because of this experience, Kim, Seoryang’s earlier works are centered on experiencing sound within enclosed spaces. Her works included a room decorated with her own belongings exhibited with the collected and processed sounds relating to these objects, or a space with a door installed to test the auditory boundaries of a closed and open door. One particular piece involved creating an extremely tight space barely large enough for one person where she personally enclosed herself inside to do an audio and video recording performance. (This apparently was Kim, Seoryang’s attempt to overcome her claustrophobia.)


What’s interesting is that with time Kim, Seoryang has begun to move away from enclosed spaces and is shifting towards sound experiments in open, outdoor spaces. Seeing that all her audio works presented at this exhibition were all grabbed in city streets, she has moved her work stage largely outside. Sounds collected in Copenhagen, Malmö, Hamburg, Budapest, Erfurt, Giessen, and Marseille are exhibited alongside photographs or videos of the respective European city. Sounds were collected in various way to suite the characteristics of each city and contain supplemental information about the city’s social, historical, and geographical characteristics. Of course, it is extremely difficult to discern such information from just listening, but knowing the information is embedded within the sounds is a crucial point in understanding the artistic realm of Kim, Seoryang. By widening her sound collecting area she is no longer limiting herself to the usual repetitive subject of the “self” but is proactively branching outward and broadening her horizons where she as an artist meets the world. This shift is evident in her May I Photograph Your Ears?  (2009-2014) piece where she captured the ears of numerous people she met by chance over the period of several years in Germany and presented them as a photographic exhibit. The work shows how she moves away from her attitude of focusing on the ears of the “self” and extends her interest to include the ears of others in the world.

Kim, Seoryang’s broaden of interest for cities and people was also shown in I Am Hear_Communicated in Busan (2015) a work created during her residency at the Hong-Ti Art Center in Busan. She installed an aerial view of the “Mujigae Gongdan (Rainbow Industrial Complex) of Dadaepo, Busan, superimposed a video feed of a grid pattern – the symbolic design of a city or an industrial complex – and filled the space with sounds of the factory machines, cars, and people of the industrical complex collected over a period of six months. While at the Hong-Ti Art Center, the artist gave much thought to finding common elements between the industrial laborers and herself. She eventually came to the conclusion that the noise was in fact the fruit of their labor and decided to make that the subject of her work. The work she created with the sounds of the complex may not have had their official involvement, but it inevitably became a collaboration work between Kim, Seoryang and the workers of the Mujigae Gongdan.

Roland Barthes, a French literary theorist and philosopher, once noted that the ephemerality of the moment is the main characteristic of a photograph because it proves the subject was indeed present at the captured moment. In other words, the still, momentary ephemerality, but excluding continuous temporality, is core. Contrary to this, Kim, Seoryang’s sound art includes the actual time during when events occur. It conveys a much more dynamic message than simply recording an event that happended at a location: Sounds of a car suggest there is a car being driven somewhere; machinery sounds mean there is a machine in operation; a human voice tells you there is someone in the process of saying something; and sounds of water implies water is either flowing or dropping from higher ground to low. Sound is not a representation but rather acts as a trace or an index of a subject, audibly imprinting an event rather than simply recording its existence. This is the strength of sound, and the core of Kim, Seoryang’s sound art.

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