Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho: News From Nowhere | Review
Before News From Nowhere was the title of Tate’s latest contemporary art exhibition, Liverpool’s beloved political bookshop and countless other pieces of pop culture, it was firstly an 1890 novel. Set in a futuristic utopia, author William Morris‘ work explores (and advocates for) the ideals of libertarian socialism. Drawing inspiration from the novel, Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho create a new Nowhere, employing video art, extensive collaboration and a loose but poignant narrative in two short films.
The three pieces adopt different settings, time zones and techniques. El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World), for instance, displayed in its own dark room, is split across two different screens to be viewed simultaneously. On one is a man creating art amidst an implied apocalyptic event, and on the other, a woman conducting research in the sterile aftermath. The pair utilise the dual screens effectively, particularly in one mesmerizing moment when light from one screen transfers to the other. Primarily, El Fin del Mundo questions the role of art in our potential future.
However, differing from Morris’ novel, the political interests of Moon and Jeon are less clearly defined, combining both elements of socialism and capitalism; utopia and dystopia. Instead, the film focuses on the relationship between art, nature and humanity, resulting in something tender and hopeful.
Contrastingly, Anomaly Strolls, a two-part film commissioned specifically by Tate, is displayed in a white open space, on screens framed by industrial, rusting metal. The larger of the two screens shows Anomaly Strolls I, in which the camera follows a trolley filled with random objects across a blank and unpopulated Liverpool. Initially, though, the short begins in a pub (and includes Ye Cracke and Peter Cavanagh’s on the journey) in a Shaun of the Dead-esque tribute to humanity in the face of apocalyptic threat. The trolley also makes an appearance in El Fin del Mundo, used by the artist to collect supplies for his work. Its presence in a landscape without any people is strangely comforting here, and therefore reminiscent of the impact that art leaves behind
On the neighbouring screen (Anomaly Strolls II) is footage of Busan, South Korea, a city that shares a similar maritime history as Liverpool, with both containing formerly thriving ports. Moon and Jeon’s post-apocalyptic vision of the city emphasises the endurance of technology, though it is not depicted as a fearsome force like many other dystopian narratives. Rather, it preserves both human life and nature, as a man escapes on a motorcycle and plants grow under artificial light. It again serves as as an accompaniment to the themes of El Fin del Mundo, where nature is resurrected by the woman, through both her scientific research and her encounter with emotive art, suggesting the compatibility and necessity of both in the world we inhabit.
Moon and Jeon’s collaborative and digital style is one of increasing popularity in the art world, evident from the recent Turner Prize nominees, none of which used ‘traditional’ art practices, instead presenting film entries. It is significant that, when discussing the future of art, the pair do not dwell on its past but instead effectively utilise modern techniques, this itself promoting the durability and adaptability of art.
Whilst current science-fiction narratives dwell on Orwellian ideas as a result of political anxiety, Moon and Jeon incorporate the optimistic outlook that Morris’ News From Nowhere imagined in equal measure. The outcome is an exhibition that simultaneously questions the future of art, nature, humanity and technology, and retains faith in their longevity.