Go back to article: Technologies of Romance: looking for ‘object love’ in three works of video art

Bada Song’s SEND-IT

Figure 1

Top and bottom: Installation shot of Bada Song’s SEND-IT as part of Bada Song’s solo show This Way & That at Asia House, London, 2014

Middle: Still from Bada Song’s SEND-IT

Video 2

Bada Song’s SEND-IT

In Bada Song’s SEND-IT (2014)[3] the artist is depicted as an isolated, estranged, perhaps alienated and therefore a possibly Romantic figure. We see a lone woman, the artist herself, seemingly entrapped within a succession of quasi-bucolic landscapes, replete with grass, hills, trees and narrow paths that taper towards a horizon. The paths run by the artist are recorded and edited in such a way as to appear to intersect and overlay. Meanwhile her plodding, robotic and inexpressive actions seem to tolerate and passively comply with (rather than overtly challenge) the demands made by her surroundings. Jogging along, seemingly without haste or expectation, Song nevertheless quietly and modestly appeals to her audience (to whom she never turns her face) while doggedly persisting, in hope perhaps of some kind of eventual recognition, rescue or redemption.

The artist’s slightly mechanical movements are also reminiscent of silent movie characters like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. She runs constantly, and apparently purposefully, yet also randomly, up, down and across the screen and sometimes running on the spot. Occasionally she runs vainly after her own technologically doubled video image, but never in any particularly sustained direction, and thus never arrives anywhere. Given Song’s status as a Korean artist resident in London we could interpret these actions as allusions to flight and the plight, not only of an emerging artist seeking support and acknowledgement but also – more poignantly and politically – that of a diaspora artist negotiating foreign climes, contexts, languages and cultures.

Any twenty-first century ‘diaspora artist’ (here defined as one living-out and working-out a narrative of cultural, national or class migration, often working, by choice or necessity far from their original national, linguistic and cultural context[4]) might experience a mix of conflicting desires that (on one hand) aim to draw attention to, and appeal for empathy with their diasporic condition, but also (on another) seek to disassociate themselves from any explicit connection to the context and concept of ‘diaspora’, as this can create prejudicial, presumptuous and restrictive responses to their work, leading to typological ‘pigeonholing’.

The option of refusing any such ‘diaspora’ labelling might leave the artist in a kind of ‘non-space’ or limbo, unsupported both by the power structures of the culture and nation from which they have migrated and equally unsupported by any compensatory local structures that might be provided to diaspora artists by the culture and the nation to which the artist has migrated. The artist-migrant or diaspora artist then, in Song’s SEND-IT, is portrayed as simultaneously unable to connect and wary of connecting. It is for this reason perhaps that Song has portrayed herself as always ‘on the run’ and getting nowhere fast. In this way Song’s video (like Carr’s above) is imbued with a personal and political pathos that belies a slightly comedic central image, in this case the Charlie Chaplin-like episodes and adventures of the lone migrant-artist or diaspora artist as a vainly striving figure.[5]

Throughout Song’s video, any love, affect or affection we might feel for an object is surely reserved for the ‘object’ of the artist herself. However, Song’s portrayal of an anonymous and inexpressive figure provides a ‘blank canvas’ onto whom we are able to project our own experiences of physical or emotional isolation. Thus we are invited to empathise, and any such empathetic response might well compel us to want to rescue Song’s seemingly wayward and undirected figure from the threats, dangers, disorientations and insecurities of the strange environment in which she finds herself.[6]

If SEND-IT reveals Song’s vulnerable humanity and identity located in the midst of a cultural conundrum, it also (as does Carr’s video) locates twenty-first century humanity as caught-up in a nexus of coercive technologies. If we interpret Song’s video in general human terms rather than individual terms, the plight of the emerging twenty-first century ‘diaspora’ artist might symbolise the plight of all those who are increasingly pushed by our economic and technological environment into insecure, nomadic and alienated ways of living and working.

Juxtaposed against SEND-IT’s slightly tainted pastoral scenery the viewer also experiences a cacophonous, discomforting and provocative soundtrack, brimming with a barrage of all-too-familiar technological noise. This complex array of gleaned and edited noise is set starkly against the video’s green landscape and alerts us to the harshness of an inhumanely technologised environment that has recently and rapidly crept over us, becoming commonplace in our twenty-first century world. We hear teenagers chattering and laughing as they exchange a barrage of text messages (connoting the work’s title SEND-IT) and each message is received with a loud simulated whistle, suggestive of a dog-call and evocative of a projectile hitting its target in a whirling war of abbreviated and predictive texts. Competing with the harsh tone of supermarket checkout bleeps, so symbolic of our increasingly technologised consumer society, we also hear interpolative ringtones that remind us of the constant state of alert that characterises our newly Pavlovian lives.

While ‘new’ or ‘hi’ technology here seems like a pervasive and pernicious imposition on the artists’ environment it also provides a means by which the artist – seen in the video using Google Maps – might try (virtually at least) to escape the moribund pattern of her lone roaming and vain striving. Thus, Song is seen using her smartphone as a tool within her artist’s studio, stroking and pawing the screen while reciting the names of places along a virtual journey. She uses Google Maps to imagine and visualise herself flying over and across, first Europe and Russia, then Mongolia and China, on and on to (virtually) finally reach Korea, her home country.

Throughout this imaginary homeward journey, Song’s compelling voiceover reconnects her present experience with her childhood memories; with her estranged homeland and culture; with memories of childhood journeys and earlier migrations in the history of her family; until she is finally (imaginatively) reconnected with her mother. Song then ends the sequence by emphatically crying out “Omma!”, the Korean word for ‘mother’ and an ur word within which might just lay the original, maternal source of all language and of all ‘object love’, concealed at the heart of each and every human being and human culture, and at this point we might be tempted to conclude that, just as no ‘diaspora artist’ is ever able to fully assimilate into the new surroundings of the class or culture or nation to which they may have migrated, so there is also a part of every migrating artist (and perhaps the most intimate and most crucially personal part of all) that never completely leaves home (Maland, 2007).  

Ultimately Bada Song’s SEND-IT utilises the facilities and conveniences of pervasive, affordable, readily available digital video and smartphone technology to conjure a persuasive emotive appeal. This appeal initially seems highly subjective and personal but soon opens out to implicate not only all migrant-artists or diaspora artists but also all who choose to, or are forced in one way or another to migrate.

SEND-IT provides us with another possible interpretation of ‘object love’ as something central to every human being in the form of our emotional connection to self, to others, to place, to home, to identity, community, family and also to mother (where all ‘object love’ possibly begins) and thus to our unavoidable sense of placement and displacement, belonging, welcome and sense of being ‘at home’ within our physical, cultural and technological environment.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/191209/004