From There to There and Back Again: Sentences of Sequestration and Circuits of Conciliation in Jin Meyerson’s Sequence 2 | Catalogue Essay for Gallery 2, Jeju Island

In a space, both real and imagined; both ambient and virtual, a hushed conversation takes place between two objects. Both found. Both lost. Both displayed. Both displaced. Jin Meyerson’s installation, Sequence 2 (2021), is made up of two elements. On the wall hangs a small painting of a seascape. The boisterous maelstrom of its crudely executed waves echoes its ruptured physicality, with the canvas ripped open, dangling from the support like Marsyas’ flayed hide. The distressed condition of the painting is a result of it having been lost at sea, surrendered to the elements by a North Korean ‘ghost ship’ and subsequently washed ashore on the Japanese island of Sado where it was retrieved. Sitting quietly next to the painting is a chair: a rickety, rudimentary piece of furniture swaddled in a Japanese fishing parachute which, again, was reclaimed from the same Japanese island beach as the painting.

The still air is here perfumed with binary intimations of loss and longing; of abandonment and belonging. The somewhat jejune state of these pedestrian objects fuels their curiosity and poesy when seen in juxtaposition. Yet the animus of the dialogue between these two queer and quaint objects remains profound and cuts to the quick. It’s a dialogue that delves deep into the problematics and politics of rupture. It touches on the schism of a modern Korea, bifurcated by war. It points to a post-colonial Japan, still engaged politically in an epistemological vibration between the facts of history and the flux of historiography. Of truth and who owns it. It speaks to the artist himself who, when just five years old, became an orphan and was adopted by an American couple, moving to America and raised there and who, recently, returned to his homeland. This is a candid installation that reverberates in entangled ellipses of time and place, form and function, material and memory. Both a burial and a baptism, it operates as a litany of seemingly random junctures whose phenomena open secret doors to dark confessions whilst shutting others tight, behind which lies the caprice of coincidence. For Meyerson, chance does not exist. There are only unknown events, protagonists or narratives that, as time hurtles through space, eventually manifest into sequences of shared experience and collective meaning that can – and do, very much so for this artist – shape the way we see the world around us.

I am writing this introduction from my home in a tiny village in England called Sandy Lane in the county of Wiltshire. By my rough calculations I am about 9,385 kilometres from the beautiful mandarin orchards of Gallery 2, nestled on the edge of Hallasan Mountain on the island of Jeju. That’s a lot of distance between two places; two people; two moments. Yet my connection to the artist and his work remains dear. My segregation from Sequence 2 is, of course, forced upon me by the Coronavirus pandemic which, still, runs riot across our planet. So it is that this physical separation amplifies even further the anxiety of estrangement I feel pouring through every rip, tear, crack and puncture of Meyerson’s two objects. Fissures between nations; between my own memories of my numerous visits to Korea and the stasis we all currently experience. The gaps of memory and identity of a tiny boy then and an adult artist now - not from here, not from there - with a past if not erased then certainly obscured, yet from somewhere, who became determined to understand and forge the direction of his future. One that dovetails with both his present and his nebulous, indistinct past.

In many ways, then, Meyerson’s clever interrogation of the status of the object, filtered through various Duchampian, Johnsian or even Joycean strategies of text and context; of Image and Index chimes with a stream of consciousness that acts both as an affirmation and catechism of personal identity. The plurality of means adopted by the artist when presenting Sequence 2 is also telling. Just as this installation zips between the trinity of object, subject and abject, so too does it morph between its consequence as physical installation; conceptual thrust; charged polemic; virtual exhibition; digital display; public lecture and, simply, a moment of personal protest. The installation can – and does – exist in various states, both tangible and intangible, offering (in fact demanding) a multi-lamination of experience which, in so many ways, neatly articulates the dissonance and assonance of selfhood that is so crucial to Meyerson’s art. For years his practice has attempted to unravel society’s various threads of entangled identity – collective and personal - as a kind of Rorschach of intractability, marshalled by a geometry in his painting that seeks pattern, rhythm and nexus. So it is that here he has created an installation that, ironically, feels almost weighed down by anonymity yet fizzes with the abstracted life of history. The matte of the unknown supplanted by the gloss of celebration. Just as with his paintings, its pulse is propelled by a desire for association. That condensation of collated sensation that cautions us individually to go gentle and slowly into this new, hopeful light of revelation and reconciliation.

In the final analysis, Meyerson’s Sequence 2 is a kind of phylactery for our times. An object, space, idea and divulgence that keeps safe numerous truths. The truth of our collective disquiet at having been locked down for the best part of a year during this pandemic, separated from those we love. The truth of a past, bristling with national contention. The truth of an object, once lost, but now found. Ultimately, however, this installation represents Meyerson’s quest for his own personal truth. Once lost, but perhaps, now found. And if not found, then forgiven. Sequence 2 is his epistle to a past he never knew, but which he, now, tries to tessellate together with fragments of memory, desire and self-belief. That drive for self-understanding, like this installation, flows through place, space and time. It is real, virtual, remembered, invented. It attempts to wrest the artist – and his viewer – from the bondage of sequestration and dislocation and usher in a new chapter of dialogue and, at the end of the day, a new cycle of healing.