An Insect's Sight
Ifie Sin
Basis, Frankfurt
by Isabelle Tondre Laura Wünsche

Ifie Sin, Emotion of Leg, 2018, video still. Courtesy: the artist

Ifie Sin has been the selected AIR_Frankfurt guest artist from Seoul (MMCA Residency Goyang) at basis Frankfurt from July to September 2018. The exhibition No matter how thick the glass, organized by Laura Wünsche and curated by Isabelle Tondre, concludes the three-month residency and presents, amongst others, the artist’s new video work Emotion of leg and the installation Cabinet of Curiosities.
LW A residency always means changing your life intensively for a certain amount of time. Now that your AIR_Frankfurt residency has come to an end, how would you compare your expectations, plans and visions from the moment before your arrival with your 'real' experiences in Frankfurt?
IS When I move to a new country for a project or a residency, I try to keep my own artistic vision, but I collect images and inspiration from the place where I am. Before coming to Frankfurt, my plan was to focus on questions around food supply and food trade, on a global scale but also more specifically in Germany. At the time, I was particularly interested in the production and marketing of honey, and the fraud scandals that involved two big companies from Germany and from the US in the making and selling of “fake” honey. When I finally came to Germany, I went to visit natural history museums such as the Senckenberg Naturmuseum in Frankfurt and the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. From then on, my interest shifted: I started to look more at systems of collection, conservation and preservation in museums here, the practice of taxidermia and other methods – keeping animals in jars for example, in liquid – and what it says about our ways of preserving things and of looking at them. There is something both fascinating and scary about these collections.
IT This feeling of discomfort that you’re talking about, between fascination and fear, is very present in your videos and installations. Your most recent film Emotion of Leg, for example, deals with dead bodies of insects, animals, but also humans. You’ve captured images from natural history museums but also from memorial sites, such as the KZ Theresienstadt in Terezin, in the Czech Republic. How do you connect these different places?
IS In Emotion of Leg, this feeling of discomfort doesn’t emanate from the dead alone, but rather from the ways they are conserved and displayed. In fact, it was a very similar feeling for me while visiting the Museum of Natural History and when going to the KZ Theresienstadt. The immensity of the site, the number of graves, the alignment of stones and names astounded me, and it got me to think about the gap between the individual and the collective. Through my work, I tried to focus on what for me was missing: looking closer at the individual identities. The parallel with an insect, here, comes as a reference to smallness, and quite pejoratively, also to the idea of insignificance. The work openly questions our ways of remembering, and of transmitting stories.

Ifie Sin, Emotion of leg, 2018, installation view, basis project space. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Nathalie Zimmermann

LW You are an observer, researcher and, as you have mentioned, a collector, Ifie. How did you 'collect' your images for Emotion of Leg?
IS The images that appear in the video Emotion of leg are the result of filming in different locations - in natural history museums, memorial sites and a beekeepers’ garden at the Wasserpark, in Frankfurt – but also taking objects and tools back into the studio and from there, looking closer and filming them again. I tend to focus on smaller scales, like looking through a very small window. I used the camera as if it were a microscope: to look closer at things and focus on the detail. Also to look more “slowly”, in a way. This somehow connects to the parallels I draw between the collective and the individual. The scale is constantly changing, but I often come back to a microscopic point of view. My working process is comparable to scientific work, as you say, through observation, collection, and by tracing links between things.
LW In your video An observatory without window and your film Emotion of leg, text plays a central role - on an aesthetic level as well as on a content level. How would you describe the relationship between image and text in your work?
IS Text is really important in my video work, to bring in narration. For these projects, I decided to use only written text, without a voice-over, to keep the identity of the narrator as anonymous as possible. In that way, it could be a human or an animal, an insect or not even a living being – there is no fixed identity, and this allows the viewer to project him- or herself as well. Having a voice to read the text would immediately suggest a gender, an age, even perhaps a nationality.
LW …although written text also automatically implies a language and therefore, maybe, an identity. Could you tell us more about your decision to use two languages, English and Korean, in the film?
IS I like to have both languages in the work, because the process of translation interests me. I start in Korean and translate into another language. One always formulates more complex and sophisticated sentences in one’s own mother tongue. By translating my texts into a language that is not my own, I obviously have to simplify what I am saying and go straight to the point.

Ifie Sin, Emotion of Leg, 2018, video still. Courtesy: the artist

IT That’s a really interesting thought. You’re somehow using translation as a filter, to get rid of the superfluous in a sentence and only keep its essence.
IS Exactly. The sentence keeps the same accuracy and still contains the poetry I try to put in it. The idea remains the same, or might actually even become stronger through translation.
IT We talked about insects earlier, but as they appear in very different ways throughout your work, I was wondering where your interest in them came from. Insects seem at times to be a metaphor, a symbol in your films, but you also study them as scientific subjects. How come?
IS Well, like many people, I’ve had a fascination for insects since I was little. But my real interest began after I started working with video as a medium, around 2006. I was looking for different systems of vision, and I got to know that insects have highly sophisticated ways of perceiving things. I became curious about how the eye of an insect captures image and light – it’s a completely different process from the human eye. There is a thoroughness and preciseness in an insect’s sight that is absolutely incredible. It’s natural perfection, and that’s how they are able to survive. In natural history, it’s assumed that insects existed way before humans. Some of them even have a compartmentalized vision and are able to perceive the colors of the UV spectrum. I’ve been integrating these aspects in my latest films and was therefore also playing with the question of who is looking and who is being looked at.

Ifie Sin, Cabinet of Curiosities, 2018, installation view, basis project space. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Nathalie Zimmermann

IT You mentioned the idea of smallness and insignificance as related to the image of insects too. Your films and installations also bring up questions on social and gender issues, looking at smaller circles and minorities within society…
IS …not only insects, but more broadly nature, or matter, as something to constantly zoom in on and out from, is a central aspect of my work. Looking at things from a micro-level allows me to explore the different scales that exist in society. I somehow look for ways to dismantle social structures and understand censorship throughout different cultures, by starting at the core: proceeding like a naturalist in a laboratory. This interest I have for “smallness”, as you mentioned, comes from my own feeling in society. My studio helps me balance this feeling: studying small objects gives me a sense of superiority and emancipation.
LW If we now again “zoom out” and look at your exhibition, I think it carries a very poetic and at the same time almost oppressive atmosphere that is underlined by slow and deep sound-work. Where does this aesthetic approach come from?
IS I think the sounds that I integrate in my work are often related to what one could consider as silence. For the installation Cabinet of Curiosities, I worked with Christos Voutichtis, an artist and architect based in Frankfurt who works on the limits of the audible, the human perception of sound and its interpretation. He developed a four-channel piece based on low frequencies and vibrations that create a bodily experience. Sound is a material that one can feel in space. There is already spatial resonance on the bottom floor of the project space AT basis. By adding this soundtrack, we wanted to create the atmosphere of a tomb, which might relate to what you sense as both poetic and oppressing.

Ifie Sin, An observatory without window, 2018, installation view, basis project space. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Nathalie Zimmermann

IT The basement really felt like the right place to install Cabinet of Curiosities, a kind of laboratory without windows, completely isolated and private… It’s great that you were able to find a connection between your work and the exhibition space. You’ve also met many people involved in art and have even started collaborations. What is your overall impression of the time you’ve spent in Frankfurt and the way it has influenced your work?
IS While staying in basis I was able to meet many different artists who came from everywhere. It was important to live and work there to build relationships and collaborations. I was able to exchange on many levels, on my research but also technical questions, or simply to discover the city… The time I’ve spent here has definitely opened up new questions in my work, and as three months passed way too fast, I hope to have the opportunity to come back to Germany, to use what I’ve learned and live new experiences.

Ifie Sin is a visual artist based in Seoul. She is currently a guest at basis in the context of the residency program AIR_Frankfurt in cooperation with the MMCA Residency Goyang (South-Korea). Recent solo exhibitions include A sleep in whiteness at SongEun ArtCube in Seoul (2018) Discomfort on purpose at the Seoul Olympic Museum of Art (2018) and Laboratory – Another Death at Waley Art in Taipei (2016).