Interview: Marcus Cheong
Edited by: Racy Lim
Photography: Andrew Ananda Voogel
Can you tell me more about yourself and what you do?
I’m a visual artist. I work out of Taipei City at the site of an old textile mill and I exhibit artworks internationally. The work I do deals primarily with historical moments and increasingly with contemporary geopolitical situations.
Recently, I began a project entitled Drawing Void, which I discussed with Racy when we met in Taipei. The project began with the installation of a 300-kilo prayer bow—a gigantic sculpture that vibrates—next to the South and North Korean border. With the overwhelming pressure along the Korean Peninsula, I found the region to be an extremely interesting space to work within in Asia.
The geography I’m working in is extremely tranquil despite the fact that it sits very close to the demilitarised zone (DMZ).
This provided a very clear juxtaposition between the landscape and the current political climate.
Considering the fact that you aren’t Korean, what motivated Drawing Void?
I previously had a working studio in South Korea and collaborated with a small artist-run space alongside a dear friend of mine.
The more time I spent in Korea, the more I became aware of the absence and the presence of the DMZ in daily life on the Peninsula. In many ways, it’s shrouded in mystique while in many other ways it’s a normal part of people’s lives.
What impact do you think art can have in a situation like the one on the Korean Peninsula?
On the most basic level, I just want us to live in a peaceful world — not that art is going to be a massive vehicle for global peace.
However, even just a momentary inspiration, gesture or statement that persuades a new way to approach any region facing certain forms of chaos is big for me.
Intervening through various art forms in proximity to the South and North Korean DMZ provides a stark contrast to the machine gun fire and mortar shells one can hear regularly within the region. It was particularly fascinating to be present during the prolonged joint US-South Korean led military exercises this Summer and Fall.
Can you bring me through the process of your installation and art practice?
I work with sensory experiences that include environmental immersion and video work. I use techniques such as light deprivation to project very dark or dim film installations. As the eye adjusts, the image becomes increasingly intense—I’m huge on concepts that explore our experience and perception of time. I also work in mixed media and painting.
What are you working on now?
A current project I’m working on in India is called The Weight of Separation. Like the prayer bowl, it discusses how we deal with notions of separation within the contemporary context.
In other words, what are the various forms of separation and how do we come to understand them?
The materials I’m working with are primarily textile, which hold deep historical significance within India. In them contain countless traditions, languages and narratives.
How do you gather materials for your art practice?
My research often takes place on the road and revolves around moving through different geographies and spaces, while exploring underground or oral histories as much as possible. I truly enjoy exploring spaces that go unnoticed. I try to spend as much time within unique localities as possible, and research the elements that exist underneath the surface. It is always interesting to become aware of what’s really affecting a community. Building up metaphor through materials and language become the final part of the process.
Can you tell us more about a recent performance you did near Incheon?
The piece itself is the performance for Drawing Void. Have you ever flown into Seoul before? Okay, so you probably flew into Incheon, which is actually in between a set of islands. I was living at this great residency space called the Gyeonggi Creation Center, and it sits alongside an incredible wetland area. Everyday the tide would suck out and expose expanses of islands and mud for miles in every direction, creating a zone that was truly sublime and full of unique contrasts.
The goal was to draw a void in the mud flat where the water eventually rushes in.
So when the tide went out, I walked out and the plan was to draw a gigantic circle and keep working inwards until I was left with just myself covered in mud attempting to finish the form.
It was quite an athletic experience because the mud there was filled with clams, mussels and all kinds of shells so I was getting cut the whole time, not to mention the weight of the mud! It definitely turned out to be an endurance piece as much as it was a spatial performance.
The concept behind Drawing Void, when we start drawing lines between each other, okay, it’s probably difficult to just talk about it verbally... So, when you and I are standing in a room and we draw a line, and I tell you, Marcus you can’t cross that line, and you tell me, Andrew you can’t cross my line and we decide to agree on that. So, we’re left with less space for ourselves and end up divided from each other.
In time, our bodies would circumnavigate through our divided sides of the room, and eventually we would each end up drawing circles.
I feel the same about war. It goes back and forth, a repetition of form that you can never move forward with. This makes up the bulk of what Drawing Void meant to me, and was also the influence behind the mud performance. It’s sort of a formal performance of that geometric exercise, which explores a geo-political situation through line and gesture.
Globally, there are so many lines drawn in the sand. On the Korean Peninsula, the line in the sand is extremely clear. There are weapons facing North and South. One culture that was forced to split very recently has wound up in opposition to itself. Right now, we have front row seats to history. The same actions and reactions repeating; however, we’re presently faced with the potentiality of obliteration.