“Charting The Void: Planning, Action, and Work in Sojung Kwon’s Planning A Year For A Year.” Included in Planning a Year- Mondays by Sojung Kwon, Gallery Dam, Seoul Korea, November, ’09 Published by Gallery Dam, 2009. Translated English and Korean.

“Charting The Void: Planning, Action, and Work in Sojung Kwon’s Planning A Year For A Year.” Included in Planning a Year- Mondays by Sojung Kwon, Gallery Dam, Seoul Korea, November, ’09 Published by Gallery Dam, 2009. Translated English and Korean.

In Planning A Year, Sojung Kwon’s prescribed actions demand she work, sleep, eat, shop, think, steal, and simply do nothing. Yet these instructions are projected into the future, as assignments to be actualized one year after they are first announced to a selection of “witnesses” via daily emails. Each action is short, uncomplicated, and sweet. One year goes by, and these emails hold a potentiality as they fill masses of Inboxes. They are promises of what is to come. Another year passes and these actions are realized, documented daily with the help of Polaroid cameras, digital cameras, drawings, and signed certificates. These authenticating documents are displayed as a digital archive online at planningayear.com. When it’s completed, Planning A Year will join the intentions of the past with actions in the present, and will, in time, encapsulate a brief moment in the artist’s lifelong practice. 

To truly apprehend the entirety of the project one must continually jump back and forth through time, understanding that each action was set in motion a year earlier. For an interested viewer or participant, this kind of conceptual whiplash can engender a sense of queasiness akin to déjà vu, a questioning of the integrity of one’s body in time. One is forever encountering a reminiscence of the present, familiar yet foreign, planted by a seeded idea from the past. This strange feeling of wrestling with a recognizable yet unmoored history is instructive and at the heart of Planning A Year. In embracing this uneasiness, the project speaks to the ineffable space of artistic creation, how we access an artist’s practice and, through a turn of doubled events, explores how we create memories, recollect, and contend with the future.

At its most basic level Planning A Year gives the artist something to do, provides Sojung Kwon with the opportunity to assign projects for her future self. I view this as a comforting and reassuring gesture. As any artist mired in the depths of creative paralysis can tell you, being directionless, without purpose is depressing, counterproductive, and dangerous. Proactive artists plan for this unfortunate eventuality and develop coping mechanisms to alleviate professional and financial hurt during these times of creative drought. They formulate assignments to fill time, like cleaning the studio, or calling a friend. What can seem at first to be procrastination, can in fact be as valuable as the act of creation, for in this unproductive time the mind is left to wander, the unconscious continually working and reworking the problems at hand. As Adam Phillips notes, “Keats went to medical lectures and found himself daydreaming about poetry. Freud went to the opera to think about psychoanalysis.” With regards to Planning A Year, we are left to wonder what delineates the work’s “planning” phase from the “acting” phase and what is the use of this year-long stretch of time in between?

It’s very difficult to make a plan without a calendar, yet it’s easy to overlook the importance of this instrument in Sojung’s project. The calendar is the backbone of her work; it defines the distance between planning and action and provides the conceptual substrate on which all of the work is viewed. It is the primary navigation tool on the project’s website, and the temporal frame for each piece presented there. Most importantly, it allows her to determine the beginnings and endings of things. Yet the calendar implies much more.

A calendar is a tool used to mark the passage of time, but it’s also the way we predict the future. Marking a task to be completed at a later date is a way to remember, a marker for a future self, but it’s also an act of faith, a way of saying “I will be there.” For anyone who has ever lost a loved one, finding this person’s daily calendar can be a devastating experience. Mundane tasks to be completed at a later date take on new resonance. The bereaved is left holding an arrested document, a physical symbol that their loved one is not only absent from the present, but also cut off from the future. Kwon’s calendar not only dictates temporal sites for artistic contemplation, creation, and documentation, but also provides psychological reassurance that she will, indeed, extend her presence, her agency as an artist, into the future.

In a work assigned on August 16, 2008 and completed one year later, Sojung states:

I talk to my sister for an hour.

preparation: a phone

The summary of the action appears on the project’s website on August 16, 2009:

Action: I met my sister for lunch, and we talked for over an hour.

It’s a simple scene, something that might otherwise be forgotten. But here the event is given importance, archived as the only action for this date. The action itself promises a presence for both Sojung and her sister and the documentation validates their existence on that date. In this way Kwon’s project reworks On Kawara’s influential postcard works, where he stamped “I am still alive.” on postcards and mailed them to friends and colleagues. The postage date grounds the work to a specific time. Despite what they appear to say, these postcards provide no real assurance of Kawara’s continued physical existence. They prove Kawara’s living/breathing self, as much the minute they are delivered as they do fifty years after the artist’s eventual death. What the viewer reads is immediately both a souvenir (it is a postcard) and a relic of Kawara’s practice – his touch, his physical act of stamping the card, holding it, mailing it. Even though his words are in the present tense, Kawara’s work actually says, “I was.” In contrast, the many instructional pieces Kwon has yet to perform implicitly state, “I Will Be.” How else are we to read this work to be completed on January 1, 2009, as anything but an affirmation of a future existence:

I watch the new year’s sunrise.

preparation: getting up around 4-5 am

This work’s internal poetics seem aptly appropriate for the date in question. The sunrise marks a new day, the passage of time into a new year. But it is the testimony resulting from this action that will, in fact, “make” the piece. At the time of this writing the piece exists in a productive limbo, caught in between two poles: Planning and action. While it may seem obvious to anyone accustomed to experiencing Contemporary Art, it is instructive to ask, “where is the work in this piece? Where do we locate the action?”

Action obviously occurs when Kwon exerts energy, completes her assignments. But is there another space where actions lurk undetected, between the contrasting points of inception and creation, in what George Kubler has called the space of actuality:

“Actuality is when the lighthouse is dark between flashes: it is the instant between the ticks of the watch: it is a void interval slipping forever through time: the rupture between past and future: the gap at the poles of the revolving magnetic field, infinitesimally small but ultimately real. it is the interchronic pause when nothing is happening. It is the void between events.”

Coming up with an idea one day and then carrying it out the next is nothing new; that’s how we plan every day activities. If I say I will do my laundry tomorrow, it’s easy to understand the circumstances necessitating such an action and the logical steps one would take to perform it because both the action and its prescribed time share a close, if not adjacent, temporal space. But if I say I will do my laundry in one year, the temporal connection completely breaks down as it does in this piece to be performed by Sojung on November 13, 2009:


I wash my bedclothes.

preparation: quarters

Taking Kubler’s notion of actuality into account, it’s not the email Sojung sends out, saying she will wash her bedclothes, that matters, nor is it the action and the artifacts resulting from it a year later. The space in between is what makes this project special, gives it conceptual resonance. It is this seeming void, an engagement with this always absent/always present actuality, that is the real subject of Sojung’s project.

When asked to name her favorite artist, Marcia Tucker, founder of The New Museum and fairy godmother to innumerable conceptual artists, replied “Tehching Hsieh.” Hsieh is a performance artist known for making a few year-long pieces demanding total physical and mental discipline. For the purposes of this essay I want to mention his 1980-81 performance known as Clock Piece, where he punched a time clock every hour, on the hour, for one year, taking a picture of himself each time he performed this action. When he finished the work all that was left were the punch cards and photographs that, when assembled chronologically, showed Hsieh’s clean-shaven head sprouting a healthy stock of hair. Yet again Kubler’s notion of actuality comes to the fore as one understands that the piece is really about the time in-between the punch of the clock, when “labor,” or “work,” occurs. Marcia Tucker called each of Hsieh’s works “a lived metaphor – a sustained act of attention to basic facets of life…” So where do we locate the “lived metaphor” in Kwon’s project?

Both Hsieh and Sojung’s projects require witnesses, to varying extents. Hsieh needed someone to sign his punch cards and someone to be the witness to these signatures. Sojung’s project requires a much more dispersed network of witnesses. The first witnesses are her email recipients, whose very presence in the digital ether validates the reception of the first stage of the work. The dozens of email responses Sojung has received testify to this unseen viewership. The project also demands that these very witnesses create and email their own prescribed actions for her to perform. This is another type of communication, more direct and involved. Lastly, the project requires that Sojung create face-to-face points of engagement with unknown participants. For example:

April 6, 2009

I meet a person, name John

preparation: John, a camera.

A photograph of Kwon with John, as well as his lime-green signed witness statement, proves that this action occurred. Unlike with Hsieh’s work, Kwon’s proof is not kept from public view until the project is completed; the proof of her actions go straight to the project’s website for a global audience to see.  It is in this short time between the action and the posting of its effects, where her project begins to embody a very peculiar lived metaphor. While Planning A Year articulates questions of labor similar to Hsieh’s work, creating a situation where each day is marked by an “action,” it does so using tools of mass communication – email, the internet, scanners, Youtube, digital cameras and a very recognizable blog format. What does it mean to archive these actions everyday, making their public visibility nearly instantaneous? Perhaps we will better understand the answer to this question once the project is finished.

Sojung and I were lucky enough to be Marcia Tucker’s students at Otis College of Art & Design’s MFA program the year before she passed away. During that time Marcia confided in me that, in her opinion, Sojung was one of the best performance artists she had seen in years. “Keep an eye out for her; she’s going to surprise everyone,” Marcia told me. Were she still alive today, I have no doubt Marcia would be proud and pleased with Sojung’s Planning A Year project, content to see her predictions come true.
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