I have experienced virulent homophobia, institutional violence, and staunch chauvinism as an openly queer artist, political prisoner, and cultural dissident in South Korea. My works center on these socio-political concerns in order to raise visibility of my own presence and that of other socially marginalized people. I have explored issues including gender, sexuality, and national boundaries through feature films, documentaries, and expanded forms of cinema. Through these works I attempt 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 served for me as an essential tool to explore the potential of film media in speaking for alienated members of society.
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 eighteen months in prison for this and was paroled in 2016 after fifteen months of imprisonment.
In prison, 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 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 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. It occupies the space of memory and imagination, and this inaccessibility makes 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 be a VR installation. 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 engines will enable me to recreate and revisit the space where I spent fifteen months of solitary confinement. The narration will be taken from journals I wrote and letters I received while I was in prison.
5.25 Squared Meters explores the existential and political questions that lie between incarceration and freedom. The work draws from my personal experience in South Korea’s Tongyeong Detention Center from 2015 to 2016. I was sentenced to eighteen months in prison due to my objection to military service. During this time, I was put into solitary confinement.
5.25 Squared Meters referring to the size of my prison cell, is a VR installation placed inside a cell built to those measurements. The project explores the incarceration of one’s physical and psychological faculties, along with the struggle to retain and regain a sense of agency and freedom. The VR project chronicles my imprisonment through journals and letters that allowed me to survive and maintain my autonomy.
5.25 Squared Meters 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, I investigate a correlation between virtual space and the structures of memory and the mind.
This VR installation is a work in progress and will be completed this year. I have focused on developing the technical processes of VR and volumetric video, and will create the narrative for this piece for the rest of the year.
– Video Documentation: the excerpt is a video demo recorded from the visitor’s point of view when wearing the VR headset and is a minimally edited example
– Time & Story: this project draws from everyday life in solitary confinement to recreate 24 hours of the experience. The narration is partially inserted as a sample, and will be used more to unpack the whole story of a life in prison. Audio is a placeholder and will be recorded again.
– Performance: Volumetric video footage of the artist is presented within the VR performing some of the behaviors that he repeated during a solitary confinement such as walking, meditation, and reading.
3D Model for Solitary Confinement
Installation Plan for Exhibition
Blueprint for Black Box
Maya, Sketch Up, C4D
Premiere, After Effect
Unity, HTC Vive
Artist: Kyung-Mook Kim
Technical Artist: Insun Kang, Jungsu Pak
3D Model Designer: Jihyun Lee
Costume Designer: Lariel Woo
Visual Designer: Jiwon Ham
Translator: Lariel Woo, Eugene Kwon
Advisor: Tirtza Even, Kristin Nicole McWharter