The 49th Hexagram, 2020
2-channel video on 2 screens, 5-channel sound
Commissioned by Gwangju Biennale Foundation
Supported by Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hammer Museum, The National Arts Council (Singapore)
A lake on fire: the symbol of revolution.
Thus the person of virtue
renews the order of history
and makes the significance of the times manifest.
— I-Ching, Commentary on the Image, 49th Hexagram
革命 —the Chinese term for revolution, consists of two characters. 命 translates as life, destiny and mandate; while 革 evokes change, and carries with it a tinge of bloodshed. Etymologically, 革 refers to animal skin, peeling and molting. In its early oracle bone script form (甲骨文), the character 革 evoked the image of a piece of flayed skin with the animal’s head, limbs, tails, and horns still attached.
The earliest known appearance of the character 革 is in the forty-ninth Hexagram of the I-Ching (易經), also known as The Book of Changes, an ancient Chinese divinatory text and a cornerstone of classical Chinese cosmology, which significantly influenced, and was in turn influenced by, the classical cultures of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. The modern sense of 革命 was in fact borrowed from the Japanese, who imbued 革命 (kakumei or かくめい) with its post- English and French Revolution meanings during the Meiji era.
In this work, the artist considers the significance of the Democratic Movement in Gwangju against the backdrop of the numerous uprisings that recurred throughout the last century of Korean history. Using film stills from the many South Korean movies that depicted these uprisings, Ho assembled a set of storyboards—a sequence of illustrations for the purpose of pre-visualizing an animation film.
These storyboards were in turn sent to “Screen Breathes Studio”—an animation company based in “The Nation of Morning Calm”—for production. Due to political sensitivities within their own context, the animation team was unable to depict any incidents that directly referenced Korean history. In order to continue the process, the artist enabled the studio to replace any elements within the storyboards that had deemed problematic. This is why the identities of the figures in the resulting animation work were effaced: people appear masked, or wrapped in other skins, as they revolt. And this is also why the names of the studio and the country had to be altered. Following this surrealist game of exquisite corpse across geopolitical barriers, South Korean artists and musicians Bek Hyunjin and Park Minhee produced two vocal renditions of the forty-ninth Hexagram. The first track is a contemporary take on folk tradition while the second draws from the tradition of Gagok. These two disparate tracks are subsequently brought together by the “digital occult” processes of Ryu Hankil, through a series of programs that mesh the two tracks using parameters derived from numerological interpretations of the artwork’s themes and concepts.
The 49th Hexagram is exhibited as part of MaytoDay and Encounters, a special exhibition of 2020 ASEAN-ROK Culture Innovation Summit.
Ho Tzu Nyen (b. 1976, Singapore) makes films, installations and theatrical performances that often begin as engagements with historical and philosophical texts and artifacts. His recent works are populated by metamorphic figures such as the weretiger (One or Several Tigers, 2017), the triple agent (The Nameless, 2015), the traitor (The Mysterious Lai Teck, 2018) under the rubric of The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia, an ongoing umbrella project which uses the fuzzy outlines of the heterogeneous and contradictory region as a generator of narratives. He has had one-person exhibitions at Kunstverein in Hamburg (2018), Ming Contemporary Art Museum (Shanghai, 2018), Guggenheim Bilbao (2015), DAAD Galerie (Berlin, 2015), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, 2012). He represented Singapore in the 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Recent group exhibitions include the Aichi Triennale (2019), 12th Gwangju Biennale (2018), 2 or 3 Tigers at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin, 2017).