14 Apr 2022 — 14 May 2022
Woonghyun Kim
Crumpled Man

Artist Woonghyun Kim’s solo exhibition Crumpled Man is evocative of an anthology film that strings together related snippets of stories with a singular theme or subject matter. The three snippet-episodes of Kim’s latest solo exhibition are the predicted man-made disaster of the Hindenburg airship disaster, vertical perspective, and simulated society. The string that passes through these episodes is humanity, but in a surprisingly anthological (human-life-record) way! From melodrama to action, horror, and even science fiction!

The first episode of the Crumpled Man is the Hindenburg disaster, an airship combustion and crash that horrified the West in 1937. Partially funded by the German National Socialist German Workers' Party, the largest aircraft ever built was designed to be filled with Helium for positive buoyancy. However, Helium was only available via import from the United States, which held an air-tight monopoly on its production, but the US Congress banned its export under the Helium Act (1925), conserving helium for its own Navy airships. The Hindenburg’s engineers expected this ban to lift by the time of maiden voyage, but the ban remained and the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, despite its extreme flammability. Germany already owned and operated hydrogen airships and was confident the risks were manageable with adequate precautions ad safety measures. In fact, the first year of such airship operations proved to be free of incidents. However, in the second year of service on the fateful day of May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg which had departed Frankfurt au Maim in Germany was destroyed nearly instantaneously by hydrogen combustion flames during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The second episode of the Crumpled Man concerns the vertical perspective. Unlike most perspectives leading up to Modernity, the vertical perspective is a bird’s eye view that perceives from a downturned perspective. This perspective can be explained in terms of humanity’s discovery of flight and aerial photography. This has now become so commonplace through not only surveillance camera angles, but also satellite photos, digital device-based navigation, and even digital games. Yet, our lives our lived on the ground-plane, on a horizontal surface, without our gaze parallel to the ground, mostly. That is to say, our gaze has become a blend of vertical perspectives powered by science, technology, and digital media, and horizontal perspectives rooted in our physical being.

The third episode of the Crumpled Man is simulated society. In the age where trial-and-error is simulated and obviated, future threats are also quantified and nobody imagines the future anymore. We have come to believe that with sufficient scientific method, we can predict the future. We have lost both hope and despair for the future, replaced merely by metrics and other quantified predictions. For example, if the metrological service forecasts rain, it will forecast it in a percentage chance. Those who heed that forecast - which most do -will take an umbrella with them, even if the present weather seems unlikely to turn overcast and rainy. This has been made possible by advances in science, technology, and media.

The three episodes are habituated by the Crumpled Man, in the Hindenburg airship floating over Seoul. 'Hindenburg Lounge' is an actual 3D video rendering of the lounge area on the Hindenburg, based on surviving images and plans of the lounge. The phone bell rings. It is a call to notify those in the lounge that the inevitable disaster was unfolding, but the Crumpled Man ignores the voice on the other side, and merely states his business. And when the clock strikes the hour, the Crumpled Man is splayed about like brochures careless handed about at tourist traps. It signifies people who are subjected to predicted disasters, spectators’(the contemporary person’s) avatar, and the warning-report, among other things.

The seat covers of 'Pataphysics by F.A. Breuhaus 1, 2' on display in the exhibition space almost looks like human skin. Woonghyun Kim made the chair himself, as indirect representations of the passengers who faced the tragedy, but before the Hindenburg was ignited that fateful morning. 'No Smoking without Fire' is based on the historical fact that there was an actual smoking room on board the Hindenburg- a fact that many compare to having a live bomb onboard. Ironically, it wasn’t the sole electric-lighter guarded by one of the crew members that caused the airship to ignite, but assumed to be static electricity toward the aft of the airship that sparked and caught light on leaking hydrogen. ‘No Smoking without Fire’ is an ambiguous and paradoxical reference to also the famous epithet.

Kim does not make a clear distinguishment between the three episodes nor is chronological order necessary in his presented work; it can be approached and understood, whichever episode is first. This structure works because the episodes are not bound by cause and causation; only the loose tie-in of aircraft, modern vertical perspective, the age of flight despite (calculated) risk, and the age of choosing simulated values over actual risk and reality. The artist connects these seemingly distant or unrelated subject matter into a virtual scenario and video to create something accentuated by fragmentation, exaggeration, logic-leaping, and paradox. Unlikely yet true, these fragmented episodes remind the spectator of human agency. To understand the risks and recklessly (taking the wheel), to choose (or to have no option but to choose) a future simulated and predicted to be safe, and to completely lose our sense of direction and bearing between the grounded horizontality and the lofty verticality of perspectives. Within this chaotic pandemonium, the artist hits notes of exaggeration, logical fallacies, paradoxes, and even bitter humor, asking for the spectator’s appreciation of them. Because as we were seeking earlier, what are our lives, if not stories, and why not stories off melodrama, action, horror, and even historical science fiction?
Hindenburg lounge, HD video, 3D animation, footage, color, sound, 1920x1080 24p, 15min, 2022_still cut