<Rumination? Rumi-Nation!>

Kim Joo Hwan, Art Critic. Yonsei University Professor
July 13, 2021

Connotation of the Lost Series

  Artist Jeon Byeong Sam’s solo exhibition is centered around an application of the techniques used in his Lost Series to the 193 images of National Flags from countries around the world. Along with his MOMENT series, the Lost series has become a focal point to Jeon’s identity. I believe Lost will continue to demonstrate both consistency and expandability. 

  The term “Lost” connotes a state of being absent while still existing. It is a condition in which one has deviated from a time and place it should be in. This state, in which one has disappeared from sight, but its existence persists, is what we usually express as “Lost”. When we lose something, we are distinctly aware that it has not completely been destroyed or perished: whether that is an object, such as a phone, or a person, such as an old friend. The object or person would exist somewhere as of this moment, yet I would not be able to see, touch or experience it anymore from my current standpoint.

  Furthermore, when a state of existence has changed fundamentally, we also express it as being “lost”. When a molecule of water is broken down, it is separated into hydrogen and oxygen. Water loses its prior method of existence and disappears. However, it still persists as a new state: as two hydrogen and one oxygen atom. From being lost, water exists in a new state of existence. This concept of being “lost” is a method of existence for all matters in the universe. When the substance disappears, energy appears in its place. At the same time, in the place of what has disappeared, when energy is excited and clumped together, it forms another substance with mass. Everything is bound to disappear eventually, but everything that disappears always reappears in a new state of existence. 

  The “Lost” series represents the logic of this world beautifully and concisely. The drastic changes of the way something exists represents the constant disappearance and reproduction of the substance. Jeon Byeong Sam thus displays the cross section of how the universe fundamentally operates through a single image, a fine segmentation of that image, a new combination of the segmented image (MOMENT series), and a list of how the image has been combined, arranged along an axis of time (Lost series).

Implicate Order and Enfolding 

  Folding a two-dimensional image creates a crease. The entire image disappears under the fold of the single dimensional line. The entire image on the two-dimensional plane implicated into a folded line disappears before our eyes, but it has not vanished, nor has it been destroyed. It definitely exists somewhere. The entire image on the two-dimensional plane has shifted its dimension, being implied within a one-dimensional line. This is worthy of being addressed as a beautiful example of physicist David Bohm’s ideas of implicate order and enfolding.

  When the “folding” process of a two-dimensional image is repeated, and the folded one-dimensional lines are rebuilt one by one, it constructs a two-dimensional plane. Of course, the whole built-up mass is a massive three-dimensional rectangular object. On one side of the object, various images are revealed. The one-dimensional folded lines are built-up to form a mysterious image. When a two-dimensional image is enfolded into a one-dimensional line, then unfolded externally, it forms a new image. However, this new image has already been embedded as a part of the original image. An image only unfolds into a myriad of diverse images only after it disappears into a single folded line. At this point, it is meaningless to decipher which is the original image. All images are multiple representations of a single being. Just as a color is a ball and a ball is color.

  Depending on how and where it is folded, and in what order it is built-up, the images created on the two-dimensional plane vary widely. Sometimes, it recreates a representation of the original image. This is how his work THIN: Mona Lisa has been created. Though it is very unlikely for the original image to be reproduced as is, it is not entirely impossible. Just as the universe being shaped as is after the Big Bang is almost probabilistically impossible, but not completely a probability of zero. 

The Lost Series and Generative Order

  In terms of Artist Jeon Byeong Sam’s entire life and work, Moment – Mona Lisa is a very important work that implicates his turning-point in life and his entire life and work. Likewise, it is distinguished from his subsequent works in that the entire two-dimensional image has been folded and stacked. It is indeed a remarkable work that quietly implicates dramatic twists; the whole image being folded inwards and revealing the original image on one side as the image is unfolded again into a large three-dimensional form.

  Taking a step further, the artist has experimentally proved that there are various methods in stacking them into a three-dimensional structure. In fact, he has built two structures of Mona Lisa, each through a different method. When looking at the two works, it seems as if the artist’s voice is shouting “Look! This is how it should be.” Based on this proof, the artist unfolds the single side of the images stacked in various piles along the axis of time. The various images unfold along the axis of time into a video. This is what the Lost series represents. His attitude of first proposing evidence through real-life experiments, then carrying out follow-up processes demonstrates an attitude that resembles a strict scientist. His studio, which I’ve recently visited for the first time, revealed indications of various “experiments”, leaving me with an impactful impression.

  Through “LOST: Mona Lisa,” the author displayed that depending on how one-dimensional lines are stacked, it reveals completely distinctive two-dimensional images. When one-dimensional lines, formed by folding single images thinly from top to bottom, are stacked, several images appear. These various images have been created from the original image. Though it is not the same as the original, it does not mean that it is a completely different image. Though the various images created from folding the original image are not identical, they are not distinct either. In itself, it is an impressive example of non-dualism, while it also concisely illustrates the fundamental concept of Bohm’s generative order.

  As a dimension of time has been used to unravel the meaning of several images formed in this manner, this can be perceived a two-plus-one dimension. More precisely, by folding a two-dimensional image into a one-dimensional form, and unfolding them in various ways while further adjoining a dimension of time, the concepts become cross-dimensional (two-dimensional to one-dimensional, resulting in a 1+1+1 dimension).

  By these means, Jeon Byung-sam makes many things disappear and unravels them again. By unfolding each folded line or certain moments in time, he articulates the ontology of modern physics: that substance is not fixed, through his work. In this regard, Jeon Byeong Sam’s Lost series deserves to be considered as a science incarnated as a form of art. When faced with the Lost series, we are forced to face the old, yet fundamental problems of existence and perception. The Lost series conveys David Bohm’s notion that the fundamental form of the universe is implicate order and enfolding in a beautiful and succinct manner. If Bohm had been able to see the Moment and Lost series, he would have surely been delighted.

Beyond Modern Nations: Enfolding of the Flag

  The idea that Jeon Byeong Sam’s Lost series is applicable to national flags of all countries around the world has a great significance in the realms of social science as well. The definition of “science” which most social sciences, including politics, are directed at, is the mechanical world view of the 17th and 18th centuries constructed by Descartes and Newton. It has been long since modern physics has been deviated from the mechanical world view of classical physics. By going beyond relativity and quantum mechanics, new branches such as holographic cosmology has become the basic world view of modern physics. Nonetheless, social sciences such as politics persists in the realms of 17th century mechanical world views of classical physics. Modern social science still believes that parts (particles) are combined to make a whole, and an analysis of interactions between the parts that make up the whole is what defines “science”. Basically, a belief in a world view disposed long ago in the realm of physics.

  For example, in politics, a group of individuals is identified as a society, and a group of countries is identified as an international community. The parts are regarded as something more fundamental than the whole, and the whole is regarded as an abstract concept created by its parts. However, Bohm sharply criticizes this mechanical world view. The whole is rather a concrete truth and parts such as an individual or a nation are abstract concepts constructed by humans’ arbitrary conceptualization.

  To an extent, Bohm can explain how the universe works in a mechanical world view (such as predicting the movement of billiard balls or rocket movements in classical physics) but these situations are considered as special instances of the implicate order of the universe. This means that everything which appears to be separate, individual objects (whether that is an electron, an atom, an individual or a nation), are exterior surfaces such as water flow or waves but the universe is actually one whole. The general order veiled under the surface is the implicate order and parts of this implicate order that is visible from the surface is called explicate order. Explicate order is the illusion that the mechanical world view is a fundamental reflection of the world, but this concept is rather a fraction of what the implicate order is, taking a unique form. It is as if the explicate order of the waves on the surface is only a fraction of the implicate order of the whole sea. The interaction between objects in the explicate order is unfolding, and this in itself is also a unique form of enfolding, which is how the implicate order operates.

  From Bohm’s perspective, individual countries are mere abstract conceptions created by humans’ arbitrary conceptualizations. The concrete reality is the entirety of humanity living on earth. Jeon Byeong Sam implies that the reality of nations should be acknowledged by implicate order through “folding” the images of national flags. Observing the reality behind “countries” in the standpoint of implicate order, rather than each individual nation being gathered to form “international order”, individual nations have been created through the artificial sharing and division of the whole. Just as the history of media evidently portrays, the concept of the nation itself is a product of mass media. The concept of public is the creation of print media, and egalitarian communities are the creations of mass media. The concept of the “individual” has emerged only due to the conceptualization of the “public” that read print media. The wide acceptance of the universal voting system, which stands for one-vote per person, has only been initiated in the mid-20th century after radios and TVs have produced the mass public.

  A nation needs a flag as a symbol. Nationalism is what results from different races from different cultures coming together to form a nation. Translating Korean Nationalism as “Nationalism’” is a severe misinterpretation. In Korea, there are many of those who emphasize nationalism, mentioning the fact that “the country has a long history constructed by a single race”. However, that is not what Nationalism is, rather it should be regard as tribalist. A modern nationalist nation is different races overcoming language and cultural barriers to become united under one flag. A modern nation emphasizing mono ethnicity is nonsense.

  In Bohm’s point of view, a nation arises from arbitrary distinctions. The decisive act of arbitrary distinction is what can be defined as war. Modern nations were accomplished through war. Due to imaginary communities grounded on print media, World War I was possible, and World War II was possible due to mass communication such as radio or movies promoting patriotism. Think of Hitler’s radio speech: due to print and mass media, a nation’s language has been unified to create the concept of “standard language”. Based on such language, it was possible to create a sensitivity towards something often recognized as patriotism, enabling war between nations. Previously, wars in human history were not mainly between nations, but between kings, regimes, or civil wars between cities.

  The fundamental means of existence of modern nations is the national flag. The flag is the nation itself. The flag is just a symbol. However, the nation itself is just a lump of meaning and symbol. Living humans are only seen from the perspective of totality. The UN is an assembly of nations and a collection of flags. Now, Jeon Byeong Sam’s Lost series presents the operation of dismantling the flags and allowing it to disappear and be lost. This may become an opportunity to lift the illusion of a “nation” and return to the life setting of the entirety of living humans. As the world view of implicate order spreads, we will be able to see a small hope that war or conflict on a national scale will fundamentally disappear.