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siren eun young jung

The Artist As a (female) Traveller:
The Image of Traversing Elsewheres

Legend has it that travel ultimately induces people to see the world in a larger scope, by providing
them with diverse new experiences and ideas, both positive and negative, pleasant and unpleasant.
It is like that, by means of experiencing differences in any sense, people naturally get out of their
own territories that has been confused with the world itself. For most of us, all the physical inconvenience
and mental destabilisation that may occur in transience are rather disturbing indeed.
Moreover, people usually have a purpose as well as a destination with regard to their journey - in
other words, it should be planned in advance in general. Yet it is also true that there are some people
yearning for travel, if forgiven a bit of romanticism here, only because they want to escape from
present realities, whatever they are; it is plausible to say that the destination is not of great importance
in this case, and all the prospective causes of suffering in transience are neglected or embraced
in truth. And, perhaps the beginning was just like that, she may say.

Here is a fiction: One day as she gets up in the morning with the sense of nausea, she feels
that everything is simply suffocating to the extent that she cannot bear the anonymous pain inside
any longer. Although she has always thought that she would love to leave here - this country, this
home, this work, this people, everything surrounding her - someday, she has never really identified
the deep down agony, the secret volcano in her heart. She merely desires to flee from what is before
her, what is imprisoning her here. She would go elsewhere, where there is no connection with her,
where no one really knows her. So she eventually leaves here, in order to survive. However, even
apart from all the stress that has given her in the middle of traveling, at some point she comes to
realise that, anywhere she stays, there new connections bloom and therefore it becomes virtually the
same in the end; the unfamiliar has already become the familiar, as much as her acknowledging that
she is still the same person. She can detect the growth of volcano in her heart and gets to yearn for
travel over again, still dreaming of elsewhere. This process repeats as she travels, and she gradually
discerns the silhouette of her real anguish. But she also knows that this journey would never end.

The Artist As a Traveller
Within this so called globalised world, it is not demanding at all to perceive that, for instance, many
artists are commissioned to do their work where is not their home, for an annual art fair abroad and
so on, and therefore they actually travel an awful lot in reality. The title artist-traveller seems already
widespread in this regard. Yet the very model I would like to put here is actually someone
like the girl in the fiction above; she might travel on business or not, but anyhow she always yearns
for elsewhere inside, and furthermore the main theme in her artwork is travel itself. It is said that
the theme travel has been rather popular in contemporary art in various ways, but here she usually
employs the form of self-confession or autobiography, since her work evolves through her own experiences
in or on travel. She may write, she may photograph, she may draw, and she may film,
during the trip. She sees, she feels, she hears, she smells, and she thinks in traveling. Thus she can
create each work on and off in fact, yet what I would like to suggest here is to focus on the unchanging
factor that she keeps traveling herself. As from the 60s and 70s, the notion of blurring
boundaries between art and life has been placed in art practice, and along the same line as this, perhaps
it may be suggested that, throwing herself into the daily life, in the here and now, her traveling
as a whole can be regarded as an art project. In other words, the process itself is critical here, and
the art project consists of both her own never-ending traveling and each artwork such as her writing
produced in transience. It is not a new concept indeed, as the art historian James Meyer’s terminology
functional site indicatesi; in this article, he discusses that, in terms of the functional site in contemporary
art, it is a process and includes a mapping of the bodies moving between literal sites –
the artist’s in particular.

The Artist As a Female
Let’s go back to the beginning again then, when she is eager to leave home. Until she actually departs,
it seems that the inner agony - whatever it is - has piled up for so long, compelling her to
yearn for traveling elsewhere. Maybe she has got various visible triggers hitherto, within the family,
with friends, with authority figures, in the city, in the country, and so force, but nonetheless it is still
rather obscure to herself what she really wants to escape. She just supposes that it should be the
combination of all of these, and there would be elsewhere that is neither here nor there, where she
can cut all the invisible connections off and rest. She thinks that she is too much exhausted home
and consequently desires to leave. However, as said before, travel itself gives her some room to
contemplate the real causes of the suffering, rather than a precise solution to that condition, by making
her realise that elsewhere soon becomes here or there, that the real causes of the suffering are
probably not that discrete in the world, before her eyes. She comes to think that it may be the desire
itself where she really needs to pay attention, the so called female desire in particular that has been
discreetly prohibited in the society by the unseeable barriers such as patriarchy. As for her as well
as for every woman in the world, patriarchy is the rather unnoticed current that is basically flowing
beneath, regardless of the race, nationality, class, etc., where she cannot physically flee. At this
point, hence, it may be worth noticing that, rather interestingly, her traveling for elsewhere actually
exposes the instability of home, rather than discovering elsewhere in reality.

Nomadic Consciousness
An encounter with a ‘wrong’ place is likely to expose the instability of the ‘right’ place, and by extension
the instability of the self.ii

As she comes back home after traveling through elsewheres, she sees home in rather a different
way. Now it is not as solid as before, not permanent at all. Instead of seeing all the perceivable
causes of suffering in daily life, she sees the contours of all the ideologies and systems concealed in
the society, that have been imposed on herself, of which home consists in truth in short. She eventually
realises that what is truly suffocating her is perhaps those territories, the narrow boundaries
around her. As Rosi Braidotti argues in the introduction of her book Nomadic Subjects, therefore,
she now resists settling into socially coded modes of thought and behaviour
iii. In other words, turning
to the whole art project issue, the point I would like to suggest here is that, by traversing elsewheres
on her own, it may be stated that the artist is visualising the nomadic consciousness in question
indeed; the artist depicts the image of the nomadic subject, the critical consciousness, by displaying
herself as an itinerant in the here and now, so to speak. For the artist, furthermore, travel
becomes a lifelong learning process as well. Actually I can hear she mumble: ‘A journey, a long
journey has started.’ (Sooyoung Kim /Art History (2007))

i See James Meyer, “The Functional Site: or, The Transformation of Site Specificity”, in Space, Site, Intervention: Situating
Installation Art, ed. Erika Suderberg, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p23-37
ii Kwon, Miwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002
iii Braidotti, Rosi, Nomadic Subjects, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994

2007년 발간한 아티스트 북 ‘탑승객’의 평문