Wanderer by Jae Hoon Lee (2011)

In Wanderer, artist Jae Hoon Lee digitally weaves together satellite imagery along with environmental sound to form a series of new terrains, familiar yet wholly other. Users drift along macro views of cracked roads and grassy berms, stitching their own narratives and non-places together based on the fluctuating juxtapositions of image and sound.

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The well known dérive from the Situationist International was an an intentional drifting, a conscious series of accidents and chance encounters designed to upset the efficient journey, the well-trod A to B of work to home, home to study, study to work. But while de-facto leader Guy Debord compared this technique to the abstract terrain of language used by the psychoanalyst, it’s practitioners played out their ‘detournments’ in a decidedly physical landscape of bricks-and-mortar architecture, crowds and passers-by. In contrast, Lee lets us drift through an entirely constructed digital topography, environments sourced from fact and stitched into fiction. Road indicators bleed into dusty rocks, a backyard hose snakes into beach dunes flecked with light. Stripped of social and built architecture, the cues are removed from this strange world. Without the functionality of banks and gas stations, without the community of companions, we’re left instead to wander in a non-place. The user becomes a hyohakusha, ‘one who moves without direction’.

In his study Paris et l’agglomération parisienne (Bibliothèque de Sociologie Contemporaine, P.U.F., 1952) Chombart de Lauwe notes that “an urban neighborhood is determined not only by geographical and economic factors, but also by the image that its inhabitants and those of other neighborhoods have of it.”

Along with photography, Lee employs field recordings, sound sourced from environments, as a type of second landscape. This supplementary topography ebbs and shifts to it’s own rhythm, introducing buzzing planes and pattering rainfall in cycles seemingly independent of the imagery. While air drifts through these sonic spaces, carrying noises from afar, the pictured environment is flattened, hermetically sealed in the thin glass layer of the user’s screen. The result is a type of quiet, slow-motion struggle, as imagery and acoustic information drift in and out, tugging against each other, leaving the viewer to resolve them into a coherent psycho-geographic “place” or simply hold them apart in constant tension.

A weathered skeleton in windy fields of memory, piercing like a knife -Matsuo Basho

“Maze-like” is how the artist describes this space. Each user is restricted to a horizontal or vertical panning motion, butting up against the browser container before panning through another sliver of this constructed landscape. Whether ‘corrupting’ satellite images with spliced in photographs, or forcing us into claustrophobic movement, the work seems to question our relationship with technology, the authenticity of our knowledge, the self-limited ‘mapping’ of ourselves and our environment. How do we challenge pre-established notions or create true alternatives? Is it actually possible to ‘conceive what is outside’? Like the meditating prisoner who finds (some) freedom, rejecting the given maze parameters of this work to instead backtrack, linger, or restart reveals new possibilities and wider imagined ‘places’. Perhaps it’s this mode which allows a static wandering, a stationary drift in a ‘turbulent, stormy zone, where singular points and relationships of force between those points are tossed about”.

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