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Non-Lieux / Non-Scapes: reflections on an exhibition by Sungsoo Kim

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date1/03/2016
Host publicationLes Cahiers Européens de L'Imaginaire: La Rue
EditorsMichael Dandrieux, Vincenzo Susco
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherCNRS Editions
Number of pages4
ISBN (print)9782271090256
<mark>Original language</mark>English


White plastic garden furniture stands on the street outside a cheap eatery. The forlorn facades of urban buildings – shopfronts, car showrooms, apartments, grand public offices – suggest sterile functionality, repetition and perhaps recent dereliction. Semiological complexes are formed by a montage of pedestrian crossings and by an entranceway to a multi-storey carpark. There is woodland too but it is eerie and ghostly. Overwhelmingly in washed out, leached out colours – white, beige, charcoal greys – but then an occasional intense scarlet or vivid blue; everything on the cusp of reversal into a photographic negative.
“Non-lieu” entitles not only each of these thirty or so individual canvases by the South Korean artist Sungsoo Kim but also the exhibition itself staged at the felicitously named Gallery Skape in Seoul last year (5th November – 19th December 2014). This paper explores and reflects upon this exhibition in relation not only to Kim’s work but also to the (unmentioned) usual source of the concept of ‘non-lieux’ (non-places), the celebrated French anthropologist Marc Augé. Kim uses the term not so much in Augé’s sense, that is to say, with reference to those banal, simulated sites and setting in the contemporary city that seem bereft of meaning and significance (shopping malls, carparks, airports, etc.), but more with regard to loci where meaning and collective /individual memory is fading and/or dissipating (ruins, sites of dereliction and neglect – counterpoints to the historian Pierre Nora’s notion of lieux de mémoire).
The exhibition catalogue makes much of Kim’s emotional ambivalence towards these non-lieux. My interest though is in another kind of ambiguity / contradiction. In depicting them in artworks, that is to say, in transforming these non-places into sites of acute aesthetic interest and intense contemplation, into ‘scapes’, are these non-places not (re)invested with meaning and significance (aura?) through aestheticisation? In short, are these non-places not reconfigured, one might say redeemed, as places? I coin the terms ‘non-scapes’ and ‘scapescapes’in an attempt to capture the paradoxes of the representation of non-lieux.