Deformation Zone: Aase Berg and Fi Jae Lee

by on Dec.28, 2010

Everything Ascending Into Heaven Smells Rotten

I’ve been thinking recently about Warhol and media : how media are not just various materials but are also carriers for different kinds of temporalities, each implying different kinds of interaction in time (an oil painting versus a silk screen of a magazine cover versus a film versus a YouTube clip that marks off elapsed time as you watch it). As I think about the deforming temporal effects that result when you move from media to media, I’ve found my thinking tripling back again to Fi Jae Lee, the multimedia artist, and to Aase Berg: both their works propose anachronistic ‘deformation zones’ in which time becomes a material, capable of being shaped and warped. Time’s deformation has infectious, deforming effects on all other materials in the composition, including bodies and language.

Lee imagines time as a material thing that she can distend, pile up, carry in her arms. This materiality of time allows her to imagine a kind of deformation zone in which time runs backwards or erratically, infecting other surfaces and materials with its deformation . On her website,

I wish to travel back in time. I want to escape from the current art works in Korea that appear like handicrafts by putting a moment in everyday life, a specific moment in time, to a stand-still. I also want to hold protracted time, wound round and round a thread holder, in my arms. I want to bring together the time dedicated to my work without having to divide it up. I wish to load my own narrative onto each piece of work as does a roaming peddler who moves from one village to another loaded with a variety of goods for everyday use. I wish to move grudgingly forward in this world while bearing the growing weight of the load of narratives.

Here we see Lee’s desire to time-travel—that is, to re-render the spatial dimensions of time and travel in the degenerate direction—backwards. Time at a stand still will be material and in contact with the body: “wound round and round a thread holder, in my arms.” The suspension of linear time renders time material, free of hierarchy and tradition; Lee can bring this time together “without having to divide it up.” This overloading of material time in turn has generic effects; narrative becomes ‘loaded’ on each piece of work, becoming weighty, distorting Lee’s ability to interact with time. In this final image, Lee’s own body becomes debilitated, burdened, impaired by the “load of narratives”, the excess weight of genre disfigured by time. If Einstein said, “Time is so that things don’t happen all at once,” Lee’s parable shows what happens when, through anachronism, things (the material blankness of the term ‘things’ seems important—things as events rendered material) do happen all at once.


Lee’s statement recalls the deformation time that characterizes Aase Berg’s Uppland, a selection of which is included in Remainland from Action Books. Berg’s book revolves around an analogously distorted event, an airplane crash that becomes permanent, durational: “a dog year lasts a houndred years.” In this “deformation zone”, both time and materiality are deformed; time is “mealy”; birth and death are excluded, while incubation and decomposition as processes which both measure time and effect the body become paradoxically simultaneous and involuted. Distorted chronology and hyper-materiality form a ‘mutual pupa’; even language, which syntactically depends on time signatures for its sense making, becomes infected with sub-historical temporalities and globbish corporeality: “Our doughnut-fatso slops/in peace and quiet,/ as if shock-muffled/by ripples/in the plump.” This is why the crashing speaker can say, “We want to be remains here.” In this statement, the event of death is syntactically elided; no longer can it enjoy the status as a punctuating event, the ultimate punctuation. Instead, death’s sentence is rewritten as the continuous state of being remains, a durational aftermath.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Great post. The line “We want to be remains here” is even more apt in the Swedish. Something that Aase does amazingly is create temporal or syntactical loops within the sentences. In the Swedish, the line begins “we vill bli kvar” – which means “we want to remain.” But then she adds “levor” (“lives” roughly) which makes the “remain” into “remains” (corpses). That is to say, the text loops back and we reread the sentence. There’s a loop in the very syntax. And like always, Aase’s work asks one to break down these compound words: we want to be remains, we want to remain, we want to be remain-lives, we want to be remains. Here. No here. Deformation zone. Translation zone.


  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    I also want to add that, in the first paragraph, I’m not proposing a medium-specificity, but rather, media deformation. Media are open wounds, always open to degradation by other media and are always ready to deform other media; this potential for deformation is also the potential for anachronism. When we move among media we conflate temporal positions and realize a deformation zone that has diabolical, deforming, degrading, and even reanimating effects for all the materials the media touch, including content, physical context, economic value, the artist’s body, etc.