Pixels and Politics in the Age of Fake News

Installation view of Sunwoo Kim, “Flat is the New Deep” (2018) at the 12th Gwangju Biennale, Imagined Borders (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

GWANGJU, Republic of Korea — I am looking at a screen. With each scroll it grows bigger, bigger, and bigger, morphing into an array of RBG pixels. And these pixels — they too grow, becoming grandiose, revealing more pixels within. This ineluctable progression stops only when they suddenly transform into an isometrically-rendered building.

This is just the beginning of Sunwoo Hoon’s web cartoon “Flat is the New Deep (2018), presented for the first time at this year’s Gwangju Biennale, Imagined Borders. As it is often the case with new media works, it is tempting to consider the pixel as a mere self-referential motif to the medium of his work. But in fact, it operates as a powerful metaphor for the South Korean artist, who first encountered it as he doodled with Microsoft Paint during compulsory military service. For the pixel, as a unitary notation of any digital image, symbolizes not only the utopian representation of individuals in a democratic society, but also an ever-increasing flattening relationship between technological devices and politics.

Sunwoo Kim, “Flat is the New Deep” (2018), detail (image courtesy of the Gwangju Biennale)

The latter issue is explicitly at stake in this work’s narration of the history of protests in South Korea. We see events ranging from the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, when hundreds of protestors were brutally murdered by the authoritative ruler Chun Doo-hwan, to the current #MeToo movement, unfold on top of buildings that symbolize public space. Slowly, the flat face of websites emerge between buildings, ultimately morphing together. Here, the story becomes about the…

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