In April 2020, the enigmatic Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has been missing for weeks, what seem like months. The otherwise highly visible leader, known for his public, retail leadership-- visiting the people's factories and industries with a media retinue-- now, his location is undisclosed and unknown. This video installation in what appears to be a military bunker space is a meditation on the universal crises exposed by the ceasing of ordinary life due to the imminent threat to normal life posed by the early phase of COVID-19 lockdowns. The Supreme Leader is just like us, shut in, binge watching the news, smoking and drinking too much, and eating bad food in bad webcam angles, whereas what and who are we to him? Workplace Karens, displaced low wage workers, outraged arts workers seeking social justice, Asians lashing out against xenophobic violence. One could see then, how Kim Jong Un projects himself dancing on the streets of our abandoned cities.
February 13 - April 4, 2021
Young gamers drop dead spontaneously in South Korea every month, week, day? What is time right now but a horizon line we see hazily in the battery life of our phones. At this point--exhausted from days without sleep and bathing, slugging down cups of ramen noodles at their seats transfixed by a glowing screen that offers them a gateway into another realm--the bodies of the gamers give out, unable to continue mining incessantly for whatever in the virtual. They succumb like Methusaleh-old trees in lonely forests meeting their arbitrary mortality deadlines.
Outside these darkened cells, the streets and subways of South Korea once throbbing with the bibble bobble pace of businessmen trying to watch the Samsung Lions bat home runs on their Samsung phones while narrowly avoiding impacts with kids and their mothers taking selfies with their novelty food finds, schoolgirls on chat apps gossiping about outlandish outfits of the Kpop stars of their dreams. Now these streets are quieted and empty--sound-blanketed by the fear of contagion.
The space where we in the developed countries of the West sequestered in our sanitized homes, watch TikTok dance videos coalesce into visions of coworkers on Zoom pleading for mercy because they had to walk their dogs or their turn to virtual school-sit their children.
In the unspeakable North, North Korea, a place only pictured in the everyday in the West by renegade gonzo journos from outside and state sanctioned arrays of mass supplication to order, the everyman is alone in his suffering or his joy. Dear Supreme Leader and near divine avatar of prosperity, Kim Jong Un has disappeared from view under mysterious circumstances. No longer touring factories of women’s hosiery or farm machinery on campaigns of retail leadership, Kim Jong Un has become unwillingly introverted by circumstance, as we all have everywhere else-- by the nimbus threat of death.
The infection that lurks soundlessly among us, turns even the least vocal into Karens, afraid of casual contact from strangers and admirers alike. The only safe space is a white one; lit from glassed objects we can safely grasp in our hands it transmits our feelings in non-committal likes and blocks. Light reflects our contours transmitting data to the cloud, to the hungry servers--our dreams and discontents.
We here in the West are legion, vociferous in our current discontents, as the pleas of the perennially oppressed are drammeled by authorities in uniforms and broadcasts. The only safe thing to do is to shield ourselves in white; like sun worshippers afraid of cancer we make plaques that announce we are here but we cannot be tarnished by its broad luminescence. We are here, ganging together in peaceful ad hoc masses with signage held by our hands so that guns don’t--so that guns won’t--be necessary, serving up space for that multiplicity of voices we imagine as our collective selves can be seen and legible. We are present to be witnesses to the carnage that claims those that hang on to this archaic vision of liberty as Kim Jong Un scoffs at the plight of freedoms.
Yet he is but a straw man, a construct of the exotic stuff we’ve been feeding on like Beyond Meat burgers bleeding the “blood” of red beets down our chins while we ache to believe that our insufferably altered existence is still better than that of those subjugated by the will of one man, distant and alone like OZ behind a nuclear curtain.
How we yearn for something small, something containable like our fantasy of disease controlled by our distinguished apparatus--perhaps eradicable by dry ice containers of pharmacologically approved mystery meat.