Yoon Hee Kim has worked with the processes inherent in translation and in transcription; initially through assemblages and installations, and later video, her practice closely examines the way in which such processes, whether through human error, inadequate or incompatible registers, ultimately alters meanings, in the course of which creating meanings anew.
Some of these works bring to mind that of American Artist Susan Hiller, and in particular Hiller’s work The Last Silent Movie from 2007. This consisted of a collection of recordings of extinct or near-extinct languages. Some had no translation, so although an audio recording was intact, there was nobody left alive to interpret it. The work also featured graphic representations of the speakers’ audio oscillation.
In those works featuring such mapping, the transcription of poetic metre into graph form takes a reductionist approach – the breaking down of a poetic expression into flat, abstracted component parts like these in turn points up their essential inadequacy as representations; the yawning conceptual space between the map and the terrain it depicts.
Kim’s early works followed quite formal patterns; small assemblages of office equipment and other found detritus, delicately worked aquatints and drawings on wood. Yet even within these earlier works there was an evident interest in the unreliability and unsatisfactory nature of narratives; a collection of paperbacks made to interleaf, frustrations relieved through making a punch-bag from books.
This emphasis on narrative shortfall was taken a step further with the transcription of a holepunched tape fed through a music box (emulating the principle behind a pianola, an early technology for recording music). When we are presented with these works certain themes recur; the imperfection and unreliability of recording systems, the way that such devices recognise only one facet or other of what is being recorded.
In Seeing Competition, participants from diverse cultural backgrounds are asked to copy the words they are shown for just a single minute. Having the feel of a scientific test in cognitive skills, it also has comical overtones arising from the clumsy and inexpert responses of the participants, and their embarrassed giggles. The result doesn’t so much evoke thoughts of miscommunication though; this is more an examination of how signs change and evolve, shifting meaning through their imperfect transmission.
Text by Matthew Crookes