5.25 Squared Meters (WIP, 2019)

Artist Statement

KyungMook Kim has experienced virulent homophobia, institutional violence, and staunch chauvinism as an openly queer artist, political prisoner, and cultural dissident in South Korea. His works center on these socio-political concerns in order to raise visibility of his own presence and that of other socially marginalized people. He has explored issues including gender, sexuality, and national boundaries through feature films, documentaries, and expanded forms of cinema. Through these works he attempts to reveal the ambiguity between visibility and invisibility, presence and absence, and appearance and disappearance of marginalized beings including homosexuals, transsexuals, sex workers, migrant workers, and the Korean diaspora. Cinematic language has been an essential tool to explore the potential of film media in speaking for alienated members of society.

Introduction

5.25 Squared Meters explores the existential and political questions that lie between incarceration and freedom. The work draws from Kim’s personal experience in South Korea’s Tongyeong Detention Center from 2015 to 2016. Kim was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and paroled after fifteen due to his pacifist beliefs and critical views of the military as an oppressive systemic force. During this time, he was put into solitary confinement after coming out as queer.

5.25 Squared Meters, referring to the size of Kim’s cell, is a VR installation placed inside a cell built to those measurements. It explores the incarceration of one’s physical and psychological faculties, during which both struggle to retain and regain a sense of agency and freedom. The VR chronicles Kim’s imprisonment from journals and letters that allowed him to survive and maintain autonomy.

This project deals with space, memory, and identity by focusing on the phenomenology of being incarcerated, an experience that alters one’s sense of space and time. Alongside the effects of new technology on human perception and consciousness, Kim investigates a correlation of virtual space with the structures of memory and the mind.

Notes

This VR cinema is a work in progress and will be my thesis project for next semester. During this semester I have focused on developing the technical processes of VR and 3D scanning, and  in the next semester will create the narrative for this piece. 

– Time & Story: this project draws from everyday life in solitary confinement to recreate 24 hours of the experience. The narration is not yet complete, but will be used to unpack existential and political questions that lie between incarceration and freedom. 
– Performance: A 3D scanned image of myself will be presented within the VR performing some of the behaviors that I repeated during a solitary confinement such as walking, meditation, and reading, which will be presented in a voice over. 
– At the moment, the modeling is roughly done but will be improved and include more details.

Background 

In early 2015, following my belief in pacifism and critical view on the military as an oppressive system, I chose imprisonment over obligatory military service. I was sentenced to 18 months in prison for this and was paroled in 2016 after 15 months of imprisonment. 

There, I came out as a queer which left me in solitary confinement, isolated away from other male prisoners. The prison system closely resembles the military in the sense that both organizations operate based on conformity and  strict regulations. Imprisonment is not only a physical detention but also a mental one. This spatial and mental confinement makes you long for freedom more than ever. While living alone in a space of 1.5m by 3.5m, I sought for freedom by creating my own imaginary world. 

My freedom was denied by the government, but I found ways to create my own imaginary world as a form of survival. My psychological mind transgressed the constraints placed against my body through meditation, dreams, books, and letters from friends. The more I felt oppressed, the more I depended on these imagined worlds to escape the physical boundaries of the prison cell. Through my imprisonment, I was able to understand that virtual spaces do not only exist online, but can be constructed without any virtual apparatus such as the Internet. 

It is not possible to visit the prison cell anymore, so it exists only as a part of my memory which is also virtual time and space of my own mind. It occupies the space of memory and imagination, and this inaccessibility triggers me to think of the boundary between virtual and physical space. Such an imaginary space, a space of memory, and a virtual space as habitation are as real as the physical spaces I inhabit.

5.25 Squared Meters will consist of a VR essay cinema. I plan on drawing visual images from 3D sources rendered by Maya and Kinect to explore the issues of the space of absence, imagination, virtuality, and memory based on my experience of imprisonment. These 3D software and game engine will enable me to recreate and revisit the space where I spent 15 months of solitary confinement. The text/narration will be used from journals I wrote and letters I received while I was in prison.

Final Statement (Sample Narration)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make a final statement.

Today, I stand here for violating the Military Service Act. I refused to enlist as I could not accept the training that prepares to inflict harm on others under the premise of war and the military system that undermines human dignity. I am fully aware of the consequent punishments. 

During the entire process from the moment of decision to object military service, declaring my refusal to enlist, to the prosecutorial investigation that followed, all my family, lover, and friends had to suffer alongside me, overshadowed by the encroaching reality of imprisonment. This suffering will persist into the days to follow. The pain that ensued as a result of my action felt as if my heart was being ripped out. Why must the refusal to bear arms be considered a ‘sin’ when it neither hurts nor steals from others? Why must it be the reason to classify hundreds of young men as criminals and sentence them to serve time in jail? Why impose such suffering on their family and friends? My questions will not get answered here today, and will not bring forth alternative outcome to this trial. 

I fear imprisonment and social stigma as a conscientious objector, but I accept the punishment. However, I fear more than the fast-approaching sentence in prison, the stagnation of social change regarding issues of conscientious objector as it has been for the past 60 years since the national independence.  Korea holds military service sacred, and questioning the ‘possibility of refusal’ or the ‘reasons why’ one must serve, is not allowed; it is a duty and an order from the mighty government. We comprehend government as existing for the people, not above the people. Nonetheless, countless incidences of military violence reveal the naked truth that is enough to forsake its own reasons for existence. Now it is the time to remember the victims that had to die in silence under the state violence and to question, looking straight into the barefaced government. A government exists for the people. Therefore, if it cannot protect the lives and safety of the people, people must question it and demand change. The law is the fundamental limit and safety net to uphold justice in a society. Historically, there have been actions for social justice that have conflicted with the law of the time. In times such as this where enlisting requires remaining wishful to come back alive, unharmed by military violence, many people will feel the same as I do. Your Honor, I dare ask that you remain deeply attentive to the alternative civilian services policy for conscientious objectors so that the law may serve more righteous social justice, peace, and love. 

Lastly, there is one thing that I would like to add. When convicted at the sentencing hearing, I ask for your mercy to allow me to walk on my own feet to the prison, and not sent straight into custody from the court. I hope that my loved ones do not bear further pain seeing me walk into the custody in handcuffs immediately following sentencing. Thank you for listening to my long statement. 

Unity Documentation

Point Cloud (test version)

Resources needed

Maya, Sketch Up, C4D
Unity, HTC Vive
Premiere, After Effect

Timeline

Research (reading letters, 3D&VR references)
Planning technical workflow
Writing a script and constructing a story/structure
Modeling and animating by Maya, Sketch Up and After Effect
VR work by Unity
CGI: greenscreen shooting and image composition by After Effect
Sound Recording 
Editing
Simulation

3D Model for Solitary Confinement

Floor Plan for Exhibition

Blueprint for Black Box

References

6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=27&v=odcsxUbVyZA

After Solitary
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7_YvGDh9Uc