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Ghost, Alien, and Physics

Chinese philosopher of technology Wu Guosheng suggests that in the modernist context, the notion of science is usually confused with that of technology, both referring to the study of a thing that can be located in the coordinates of time and space. He further mentions that ghosts, which do not occupy a specified space or point of time, cannot exist in such a context; therefore, it is impossible to speak of the physics of the ghost. Instead, modern society transfers that preoccupation onto aliens, perceived as the logical extrapolation and complement of the modern empirical world.

The screen image was regarded as a ghost in the beginning of its history, something that replicates the reality, has a 2-dimentional body, but is not ‘real’; something that can travel instantaneously and exist in different mediums at the same time. The camera was thought to be evil in a number of civilizations, able to extract one’s soul when taking the picture, including when it first appeared in East Asia. The imperial family was simultaneously enjoying the privilege to play with the Western gadget while being afraid that this would hurt their immaterial well-being.

Visiting the Nam June Paik Art Center has provided (me) an opportunity to make a close encounter with the legend of the textbook media art titan. For the first time the abstract historicization was rendered physically in the robots, the TV Garden, TV Fish and so on. And that immediately connects the dots of how Paik was constantly working with the notions of spirituality and religion by bringing the spirits, images, and images of spirits down to forms which were the most advanced at the time (e.g. the TV Buddha), and reverse-engineering the real objects so as to create illusions out of their physical existence and turn them into ghosts (e.g. Candle TV). Together with Shuya Abe’s applied physics, Paik brought ghosts back into the time and space coordinates which led to the paths that artists today still follow carefully (and are unable to break away from).

The Paik Art Center is beside a wooded hill at the periphery of a small city which is about a ninety-minute ride away from Seoul. To get there, one has to move away from the already quiet streets, which is usually ideal to encounter ghosts or aliens. And according to the satellite photo, the Center is designed to be in the shape of a P, as if it’s sending out a greeting message to the unlocatable.

exonemo, Kiss, or Dual Monitors, 2017

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