By Hyunjin Shin
Artist: Michael Yuen
As I walked in the dark artist’s studio, my first greeting was a small dim blue light pulsating and flowing along the strip of a crack in the floor as if it was an organism that could whisper. Then I started hearing a sound that consisted of low rumbles and high whistling sounds. Sound is a corporal medium. It felt like something gentle and soft in that pitch-black air where, in which, the light had inhabited. There were only one or two people permitted in the room at a time, and this intimacy allowed the audience to be fully saturated by the physical air of light and sound. When the sound is starting to be felt like it is repeating, Yuen’s audience is then left reminiscing his installation’s gentle impact. It is, also then, when the experience of his work transcends into the second phase, for the audience, mixing with the sensations already imbedded in the corners of each of their minds. The audience (which I was) may be drifting away and coming back for the more physical presence of the work.
Coming from the background of conservatorium training as a composer, maybe, he is inclined to the virtue of sound more than visual signs. It is certain that he knows how to make the balance in the marriage between sound and visual elements in order for them to work. One thing that his work does not try to do is to impress his audience with his fascination in technology or mathematical algorithms that may patronize you with their grandiose concepts. He once stated that his concern with the interface is a direct transfer of art ideas to audiences. What is the resolution for aesthetical transcendence? It is to create a simple but subliminal air.
If I may characterize Yuen’s sound installations, I would describe them as minimalist for his reserved usages of visual signs and pitches that he concocts for his works. Now let us take Eastern hemisphere’s tradition of abstract art into consideration; some are connected to Zen Buddhism both as process of art making and process of reading such arts. Monoha in Japan and Monochrome Painting movement in Korea are instances practiced in the 70 and on. While it still remains as a question whether these characteristics are related to his Asian heritage, there was a time that I try to connect Yuen’s art practice with Asia’s abstract art tradition because the qualities of his sound installations encourage us to submerge ourselves into a contemplating state, and that his works even allow us to rethink the perspectives on time and place. Beside Pulse, his work, Flash in particular, dealt with ephemeral characteristics of light and sound. Flash celebrated the momentary nature of time and place. For that work, the concept of place and time for an exhibition has been compromised/ negated, as the artist let off a large flash of light and burst of sound. Time elements of this work transferred us to a different dimension or different perspectives: from physical to mental and conventional to unique. It is not surprising to see the title of the show was There Forever.
– Hyunjin Shin is the Head of Curatorial Team in SAMUSO, Seoul, Korea
(This article was originally written for the catalogue of Yuanfen New Media Art Space 798, Beijing)