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Every day, we peer into a black mirror and ask it to help us understand the world. We wake our sleeping, darkened screens and attempt to make sense of the world through pixels and bytes. We read newsfeeds, “favourite” tweets, send emails, scroll through Instagram feeds. The devices that feed us this information are black boxes in more than just their colour and shape—their systems and processes remain opaque and largely unknowable to us, the users. Catalyzed by Gwenessa Lam’s and Hyung-Min Yoon’s recent artists’ books, the exhibition Trace brings together works by the two multidisciplinary artists that explore the power of the black mirror in a range of its incarnations.
Lam’s What Magic (2018) is a photo-etching installation and book based on a photograph the artist discovered during an internet search for “house fire.” She traced the digital life of this catastrophic picture through a reverse image search and found the same burning home on twenty-nine unconnected websites matched with wide-ranging stories originating in multiple countries. Lam translated this photograph—from drawing to photo etching and finally into a book—to look at how an image operates as information.
Before screens, images were framed by the pages of books. Yoon’s Black Book (2019) is an analogue film installation that translates the artist’s recent bookwork of the same name into a large-scale projection. She reproduced woodblock prints from a fifteenth-century Confucian text that was widely distributed in Korea to disseminate moralistic teachings, which she disrupts with contemporary cartoon effects and black humour quips. Through this re-narration, Yoon explores similarities in ideologies past and present and how these social constructions allow the onlooker to make sense of, and in some cases permit, dark realities.