Machine: Eros of the Internal


The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. - Sol Lewitt

It was Duchamp who brought in a machine to the contemporary art scene. In fact, his first ready-made was Bicycle Wheel. Duchamp may have not intended to make a ground breaking art when he placed one bicycle wheel on a kitchen stool. The bicycle with pedals and two wheels was first mass produced in 1860’s (the term bicycle was also coined around then). So taking one bicycle wheel and putting it upside down on a stool in 1913, was an act as avant-guard as using a part from the latest spacecraft. Duchamp’s first ready-made object, removed from a bike, still could spin, so it is also the first kinetic sculpture. In that same year, Duchamp drew Chocolate Grinder and began working on The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (also known as Big Glass) that had the chocolate grinder painted on one side. In 1925, he made a motor-attached machine called Rotary Hemisphere. It was a vortex-drawn wooden hemisphere on a turning disk which created optical illusions. Duchamp, who was not satisfied with "retinal" art, created a machine that baffled our visual field.

So is it enough to call Duchamp the first "machine artist"? Bicycle Wheel, Chocolate Grinder, and Rotary Hemisphere have something in common. They all have a circular part which rotates. Duchamp said, "I always feel the need of round things and rotation. It is a kind of narcissism or self-fulfilling ......like masturbating. It was very strange to see chocolate made by miraculous process of running a machine." It sounds like a fetish. Apart from the fact that it could be an existential metaphor, repetition and rotation seem to have a strange appeal in general. They grant a certain autistic pleasure, immersive like Bach’s arrangement of repetition and variation of a theme. “Artists are above all men who want to become inhuman.” What Apollinaire meant by this was that “to humanize art,” artists would want to be inhuman, defy personality. In Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, the eros of nude is replaced by the eros of its movement; bachelor’s desire in Bachelor Machine, which is also called Love Machine, is represented as a rotating machine. But is "poetic impersonality" the only context for Duchamp’s infatuation with the machine? Was a machine to him just a "distancing" tool to convert sadness and pathos into pleasure and logic? When he first took a bicycle wheel and put it up on a stool, he said he just wanted to look at it. He would spin the wheel and watch it turning. We could say, at least, that he was the first artist who gave a meaningful gaze at the machine itself, even the eros of it.

Jung Sung Yoon's 2013 solo exhibition Heavy Dot showed two large mechanical structures. One of them, Heavy Dot, with a huge black disk as a head and two weights hanging on both sides, is standing precariously balanced on a wooden crate. The work is inspired by a poem called Statue by Park Yang Yun who now no one remembers. This poem, in fact, is about a dot, distance, and rotational motion. The poem starts with the line, “If we can see the Earth rotating, it was moving just like that”, and then develops its image. Something was turning in an orbit at first, then comes closer becoming a stationary statue. And the statue starts to turn by itself. In Jung’s version, a dot is envisioned as a huge black disc (Although, in geometry, a dot is a unique position that has no weight, size, volume or color) which is static but unstable, seems to represent a certain finality. If Heavy Dot came from an idea of a dot, You did from a line. You involves rotating movement. A five meter long stainless steel bar suspended from a vertical pole, structurally resembling a tower crane, turns like a revolving door, opening space or blocking you. Depending on where you stand, the bar comes at you or leaves you. You is meaningful only when it moves (not the other way around) and the movement makes it impossible to meet. It is an endless rotation of impossible encounters. Jung says it is sad looking at a machine; it is always moving. It is not the same as saying that life is sad. Life is sad, let’s say, because it ends, machine’s movement is sad because it doesn’t stop, at least theoretically. It is sad to watch it move; sadness becomes libido, which is what moves Jung. A series of video work Symmetry X is a good example. Desire born out of sadness, gives birth to a steady gaze, which produces life again. He took a silent long-take of a moving tower crane in a construction site. In the video, he creates kaleidoscopic images of a cropped crane that moves slowly, quickly, and sensually like an insects’ thin long legs. He created this shining, symmetric life form because he wanted to show a machine on a construction site as an organism from another planet. “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, /In the forests of the night; /What immortal hand or eye, /Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” As William Blake admired nature’s mysterious patten, here, a machine, a human invention, reborn as nature’s fearful symmetry. It is noteworthy to point out that symmetry is in the form is X. X is a perfect symmetrical character and a symbol of the unknown and negation. Machine has been a life time obsession for Jung. When he was a little boy, he divided a drawing paper in half and drew the outer shape of a robot on one side and drew the cross section of a robot on the other side. Early awareness of inner parts developed into erotic recognition of the internal. He says internal parts of people and machinery are intrinsically erotic; their endless rubbing and friction going on with gooey lubricants and bodily fluids present. For most people, it would be unseeming or even terrifying to look at what is inside human being or a machine. Because it is hard to understand the internal structure and processes not to mention its relation to death and destruction. Jung's fascination exactly lies in what others are uncomfortable with. In his first two web work, Memory Device and Love Letter, it is suggested that these works were built with mysterious paths on the web, like the inside of machine, nuanced of a certain sense of finality and death. Surprisingly, Memory Device, which he meant to introduce himself, is composed of images that look like ones of the deceased. Love Letter is an intellectual, but schizophrenic requiem for lost love. He looked up every word in a letter from his lover in a dictionary, and arranged the definitions which completely changed the meaning of the letter. The mechanical act of lookin up all the words eventually leads to deconstruction of any meaning. In this case, sadness becomes a steady gaze which becomes a state of empty confusion. It can’t get any sadder than this. Recognition of inner life is sad. Like a Machine, Jung's power is inside (his recognition of sadness). Sadness becomes a machine that makes the art. And his art would make us look inward. Jung Sung Yoon will keep moving in this loop like one of his machines.