The Uncanny World - The Value of Anxiety in Times of Transition

The Uncanny World focuses on the anxiety that has permeated individuals and society as a whole, since the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now in a time of transition. Terms such as hyper-uncertainty, Anthropocene, and Meta-verse, which define the current era, make it clear that we have already entered a new world.

Exhibition The Uncanny World - The Value of Anxiety in Times of Transition
Date 09.12.22 - 26.03.23
Curator BUSAN MoCA Curator Park Hannah
Venue Museum of Contemporary Art Busan
All images Courtesy by the artists and Museum of Contemporary Art Busan

Artists: Kawita Vatanajyankur, Son Mongjoo, Moon Sohyun, Li Setbyul, Sim Seungwook, Keum Hyewon, Kim Myungjoo, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roh Jinah, Mooni Perry, Ed Atkins

Now, we are standing at a period of transition. In other words, it can be said that we are in the moment of breakaway. Something unfamiliar and scary emerges through the cracks, heralding the arrival of a new era. This has become even more evident post the COVID-19 pandemic. The specific language of ontact (online connection), the Anthropocene, the socio-political turmoil around the world, and the ecological disasters on a planetary scale evidently demonstrate this current. In any given era, the transitional period was filled with confusion and fear, and there was a process of vigilance and acceptance toward the unfamiliar. However, there are certain strange points that are different from the past. The sense of capturing the unfamiliar loses its edge. What diminishes is the sense of detecting the signs of the rupture that cracks the familiar world.

This exhibition ultimately intends to illuminate things that are familiar yet feel unfamiliar in our time. When one senses it, we call it anxiety. Before we dismiss anxiety as something that disturbs reason or a harmful emotion, we need to think about how it works. Whenever something new or unfamiliar emerges, there always emerges the very first sign of it. And humans are innately capable of sensing it. We cannot logically explain the feeling of something eerie and bizarre, but we do experience it. We can say that anxiety is the primordial human sense to recognize unfamiliar things.

Beginning in the 20th century, the evaluation of the inherent value of anxiety began in earnest in the fields of existential philosophy and psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud’s concept of ‘uncanny’ explains a feeling of fear toward something familiar that one has known for a long time. The concept encompasses emotions that have been repressed then revealed within the self, such as desires, traumas, complexes, and primitive thoughts hidden in the unconscious. They are only camouflaged by the civilized society and self, and they are only to return and cause anxiety at any opportunity. Meanwhile, Heidegger refers to anxiety as a fundamental human sentiment. While it is difficult to recall one’s own finiteness and death in everyday life, worldly values lose their meaning and one has to face his bare existence when a fateful moment finally occurs. The sense of ‘uncanny’ is the very emotion generated by such a moment.

This exhibition is an attempt to encounter anxiety that explores hidden and concealed truths or takes on an initiating existence. It offers artworks that move between the virtual and the real in an exhibition space as a kind of stage, proposing the viewers to experience and imagine anxiety. There are eleven artists from four countries in the exhibition. While they employ diverse media and subject matters, they all investigate the ‘uncanny’ in relation to what is hidden within society and the inner minds of humans. Their works make fantasy coexist with reality, and they will initiate an encounter with what is truthful yet hidden in our time.

Of course, we cannot deny that anxiety is a painful and agonizing feeling. However, the exhibition emphasizes that pain and agony do not speak for everything. Anxiety leads us to discover unfamiliar things and detect ambiguous things that are not examined by language. In addition, anxiety stimulates the origins of human beings and drives a truthful life. Those who are facing a transitional period of our time need to evoke the positive aspects of anxiety, using this sensibility to reconstruct the self and society. The first step to do so is to look straight into anxiety. It is to look into the unknown things in the deep of darkness without turning away from them. We need to observe them with ambivalence of interest and vigilance. That is the attitude we need to take as we are about to face a breakaway into a new world.

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