Ethan Swan, Education Associate, New Museum, New York


Through her use of fiction, misdirection, and surprise, Bona Park has created a boundary-less, spellbinding body of work. Although she has worked in installation art, photography, publishing, and performance, Park’s preferred medium is best described as storytelling.

Beginning with X, 2007, Park has created a series of works that share three core elements: text, binoculars, and a street-facing window. The window and the binoculars both ask the viewer to look outside the gallery space while the text directs this action. With a tone that feels breathless and awestruck, each text reads like a transcript of gossip, a first-person account of a scene staged through the window’s view. In X, this story begins when the designer who works in the office opposite Park’s studio finds a handgun in the street. This discovery leads to a dramatic confrontation, a surprise break from the monotony of the designer’s everyday life. Today, according to the text, everything has returned to normal for the woman, who has resumed her quiet life. Viewers are instructed to spy on her with the binoculars, perhaps to search for evidence of the action, but nothing is to be found.

The second such work, XX, 2008, mischievously turns the expectations of gallery visitors against them. The text describes a talented MFA student who works in a studio opposite the gallery. This artist’s elaborate process is de­scribed in detail, including the silver tweezers and controlled breathing that will ultimately allow her to create thirteen thousand tiny boxes. Fulfilling the most pervasive myth about artists, this passage of text concludes that the student “is doing well as she does not mind sacrificing everything for her artwork.” Unfortunately, the boxes are not included in the MFA show—the text explains that the artist is not ready to show her work to the world yet. By way of consola­tion, viewers are encouraged to use the binoculars to peer through a facing window to see the student at work. When the work was shown as a part of the Goldsmiths MFA exhibition in London, viewers who followed the careful directions (“X’s studio is on the left side of the 3rd floor. Yes, two floors above the white unit with the ugly silver pipe”) instead discovered other viewers peering back at them through binoculars, as an identical installation was staged in the building opposite.

In the shared framework of X and XX, Park is able to explore the nature of conjecture and expectation. Both narratives question the structure inherent in these processes: by overlaying a sensational event on the former, and by manipulat­ing notions of type in the latter. Park’s stories reflect common imaginative flights, creating an easily relatable act that is subverted through her deception. For X, the story demands that viewers see more than what’s displayed; for XX, the story demands that viewers rethink their notions about the artist’s process.
The box in a plastic bag (La boîte-en-sac plastique), 2010, shifts the role of storyteller away from the artist herself. For her contribution to the 2010 exhibition “Out of Line,” at Space Hamilton, Seoul, Park circulated a questionnaire to the other participating artists in advance of the opening. The questions, which ranged from practical (“Do you have any food allergies?”) to ethical (“Do you usually buy organic foods or foods on sale?”) to inscrutable (“If you mostly have dinner alone but you do not watch TV, please describe what you look at while eating”), allowed her to sketch out the other artists’ dinner habits. Park used this information to purchase groceries for each artist, which were then distributed in bright yellow plastic bags at the exhibition’s opening reception. The conspicuous bags created a point of conversation, necessitating that the artists explain Park’s piece to attendees. While the work could be viewed as parasitic, diverting every artist’s voice to Park’s project, it is also generous. All the artists return home with groceries for dinner, and each was also given the opportunity to tell the story of The box in a plastic bag, thus creating their own rendition of the work.

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