99 Variations
Project info

’99 Variations’ - Self-portrait.
It is the metamorphic alchemy of the camera and the mirror.
Inside me, there are gods, men and women, and androgynous mutants. They co-exist with my present self, and ‘we’ are all interrelated.
I brought a key, the camera, opened the door to the secret passage, the mirror, woke up my mythical archetypes, and lured them out into the world.

To be connected to another ‘me’ reflected in the mirror, with an endlessly switching spot, is a kind of communication that blurs the distinction between the image and the reality. Which, I discovered at the end of my work. Music was turned on, and I took pictures of my selves while I danced and acted. It is at such times that myself and another me in the mirror are mixed. And the clear, objective ‘I’ soon disappears. The subject and the object endlessly switch spots, causing the fixed identity of me to disappear.
Am I photographing the mirror or is the mirror photographing me?

The camera and the mirror crashed head on, and the result was an image that was, and was not me. Familiar, but someone strange. This method of using the camera and the mirror, as if it were alchemy, transformed me into both qualitatively and quantitatively.
This metamorphosis, which proceeds like free associations, strangely enough, obtains a simplified form. And while quantitatively, it expands. In other words, the increasing number of metamorphic images, existing in different forms, began to join with others similar quality images and formed several groups—like tribes.
They formed roughly into three groups. And with that, my anxiety about my fragmented self, which I felt at the beginning of my work, turned into a sense of peace as well as stability in the structure of my identity. The greater the metamorphosis, with more stability, struggles among the images coexisted through reconciliation, while fragmentation was followed by harmony. All leading to a structure with more stability. It was as if I were watching parts of myself automatically grouping themselves into recycling bins.
I divided them into male, androgynous, and female—the most basic division of humanity. To sum up, I looked into the mirror, photographed myself, and created new images through my imagination.
But first, let me explain why I decided to photograph myself reflected in the mirror. To me, fine art is ‘an effort for passion of doing stuffs only I can do.’ I found the intersection of what I did best and how I was most different from others. As a commercial photographer, I shoot photos with loud music, myself yelling, in fierce communion with the object, as if I were dancing. Hence the nickname The “Dancing Photographer.” Photography is what I do best, and my dancing during the shoot distinguishes me from others with the same profession.
In other words, the mirror became the space where I am both the photographer and the actor on a stage. In the mirror, my two different talents can be expressed, and I can discover my identity as well as that of my work.
My own definition of fine art led to the overflow of my imagination and daydreaming. Daydreaming is a wakeful dream. Daydreaming always breaks down the flow of my reasoning. That is why it is not that there are roads in daydreams, but rather where I travel becomes the road. The road, therefore, is not in front of me but behind me. Through such a daydream-like imagination, where did I go?
Looking into the mirror, dancing, and at the same time photographing myself, daydreaming started to transform my talent into magic, which allowed infinite metamorphoses.
At first, I only thought about ‘my present self’ taking the mirror-reflected image of myself. But then, I soon lost my place as my present self—the place of the photographer. The line blurred between whether I was photographing or being photographed, or whether I am a photographer or a dancer. All that was important at this point was their ‘relationship’ as well as not losing the link between ‘my present self’ and the ‘mirror-reflected me,’ or not desiring the position of the subject but giving up the self in the midst of relationship. Then I started to meet my third self. ‘I’ became expanded into ‘I’s,’ ever more numerous.
I found about 99 ‘other me’s.’ 99 is a theoretical number that denotes my selves as a whole to be 100 minus one—‘my present self.’ It might seem that the ratio between ‘my present self’ and the ‘other me’s in the ‘imaginative realm’ is 1:99 and thus disproportional. However, in terms of meaning, each one is one of my fragments and, together, they constructed the total me.
Such rationalization and day-dream like works comes from total mental action called imagination.
In fact, I cannot physically become a perfect ‘other’ to myself. Or it is not easy to recognize the ‘other’ only through reason. However, looking into the mirror, holding the camera, I was able to recognize my ‘othernesses.’ Here the ‘other’ actually means a third person. One could insert someone else into this image. Frankly, after all the works were finished, I looked at the photographic images and felt as if they were others, although I know that they are all images of me. So it is possible to imagine the ‘others’ through my mirror-reflected images. I could be you or I could be he or she. I could be objectified as you and could be divided into him or her. To be objectified means that I am quantitatively expanded, and to be divided means that I am qualitatively simplified. But then, who are these ‘others’, ‘things’, or ‘them’ that I met through the interchange of places?
Looking closely at the images one by one, I feel estranged. I do not know what they mean or who they are. But as they become categorized, as they are grouped with similar ones, meaning arises. This means that the relationship within each group indicates something close to the birthplace of the images. Their birthplace also explains why they are in certain shapes. This is similar to the method of studying a foreign language—one can guess the meaning of the new word by referring to the context in which it is located.
As I wrote earlier, through the alchemy of the camera and the mirror, I created images and interconnected them to look at them as roughly three large images.
I naturally found anima and animus within myself. In addition, I discovered that there was androgyny (male and female in one body, mutant) hidden in myself. Heroic, warrior-like, aggressive, subjective, godly images were classified into ‘male images,’ while humane, mythical, artificial, passive, inclusive, objective images were classified into ‘female images.’ The remaining images were classified into ‘composite images’—neither god nor human, a mediating entity like a spirit or a fairy. All these big categories may have come out of me, but maybe you could say they represent the original form of humanity.
I usually use 3 separate rooms when exhibiting the ’99 variations.’ As connecting links, the camera, the mirror, and I are a system that created numerous metamorphic images. They are, at the same time, a reflection of the three archetypes of male, androgynous, and female. To put the pieces of the puzzle together, the camera symbolizes the male who shoots and hunts, while ‘my present self’ becomes a symbol of androgyny as an intermediary, and the mirror symbolizes the female, with all her accepting and reflecting qualities.
With the photographs spread over, each image, despite seeming differences and separations, presents my present self. Then I realized, as if I were the mirror, that these images are looking at one another, with me in between. Moving further beyond such a state, I don’t even
have to exist at the center. Standing between my works, my own presence is just another strange image.
All in all, through my work, I gathered data to understand and prove such difficult theories as quantum mechanics (all matter is made of particles and waves at the same time) and as the Buddhist belief that all of nature and Buddha exist within oneself.
My work is not a planned one. It was something, which I did not know where I was going, like a daydream. In fact, when I work with my staff, I send them only theme music, and nothing else, for the preparation of works. We all come together on a set date with materials, and with which each came up, that arose from the musical motif. I turn to music for inspiration while I look into the mirror, photograph myself, and act. Make-up, hair, and special effect designers each do his or her job, working with music as if they were all dancers. In the mirror, I meet the entire staff, while beyond, ‘another me’ or ‘I’s’ or ‘we’ or ‘they’ meet one another, are seen, and look. This work method itself is without a plan and like a daydream. After all is done, I say to myself, “Ah, it was all coming to this” and rationalize the cause according to the result. The amount of work is huge. Once I work, I take about 1500 photographs, and then I select one picture out of them. Taking a photograph is important, but choosing one is even more important. After one piece is chosen, the remaining 1500 photos rationalize the choice. It is exactly as one interprets a dream afterwards. Naming each piece is giving a title that could, with some rationale, classify each out of the daydream-like relation. Rationalization is, so to speak, reason’s ordering of cubes that have been shuffled by daydreams.
Searching for images through imagination and the structure of the discovered three archetypes. Could I say that these are the results of my study of anthropology and archeology exerted within myself?
After all, I was able to reach an understanding of relations between the ‘others’ and the fact that I was able to find them, was the most important realization that I have reached through my work. Even though, it does not prove any anthropologic or archaeological justification.
And I am calling my work method “image-telling”—a new genre. It is separate from and embraces “storytelling” at the same time. I believe that “image-telling” can go beyond storytelling, which is based upon linguistic imagination. Compared to the mirror, if the imagination that works within stories has a low reflection rate of about 20%, then the imagination that works within images has about a 50% reflection rate. The 50% reflection rate is where one could see oneself and the ‘other’, inside and outside simultaneously. We could also call the reflection rate another name, “interactivity percentage,” which means that one could recognize oneself and the ‘other’ and thus be able to imagine or create something different.
The density of the link among images is looser than that among stories. Such loosening allows the spectator or the ‘other’ to use his or her imagination to actively participate and communicate. Image-telling creates characters that can make up various stories instead of presenting a fixed story. It is the same as presenting spectators with the tools for imagination, something close to a new musical instrument, instead of already completed music or a story. Therefore, there can be no fixed story in image-telling. It provides an opportunity for daydreaming and opens the door to the imagination. For that reason, for the title of my first exhibition, I decided to use the word “variation,” which is an important characteristic of the image-telling.
Regarding variation, one thing that I would like to make clear is that I do not deny story or structure it; but rather, I value a creative system for stories without fixed heroes and centers. Especially, my image-telling shows not only the result of my work but also the act of working itself—the moment of action between the subject and the object—in other words, the structure of the telling of the whole.
I consider all the preparatory steps with my staff as work itself. The reason that the exhibited pieces show the camera and the process of working with my staff is not for ‘alienation effects.’ Rather, it is because I wanted to express my respect of both division and relationship equally between subject and object. Thus far, I have kept almost the entire working process as a documentary visual, and the visual itself works as both the signifiant and the signifié, as part of my work on the whole. I also intend to actively express the interactive energy that arises out of the relationship between my present self and my images. For that, I intend to use performance and direct communication with spectators throughout the exhibition period. I consider this a “performing exhibition.” Beyond photographs, beyond fine arts, or beyond stereotypical performance, but encompassing them all, this is an artistic expression and consideration about my definition of art as “an absorption into what I solely can do.”
- Written by Young ho Kang