Monday, 4 February 2013

Contemporary Korean Art

While contemporary Chinese art has never held much appeal for me; too overhyped and market driven, recently there seems to be an emergence of Korean artists in the west. My attention was first grabbed when in a museum bookshop I came across a beautiful edition of Korean Eye: contemporary Korean Art following the exhibition Korean Eye: Moon Generation,  the first international exhibition of Korean Contemporary art. It features sixty of Korea’s most renowned artists. There were some delightful surprises, fresh innovative stuff that easily challenges the most recent work coming out of America or Britain at the moment. There did seem to be a recurring theme, of bodies and identity, whether due to the bias of the curators or the artists, I’m not certain.

Here are some of my favourites:

Kim Joon
Joon’s work depicts large group portraits of anonymous bodies uniquely tattooed with a variety of patterns and colours.  He uses 3-D animation software to construct the body or bodies he wants, grafting on the type of skin he desires - animal skin, artificial skin, or human skin, even the skin of a leather bag or skin of a shoe. He uses this surface skin and grafts it onto the 3 dimensional image he created. This computer program is called 3-D Studio Max. It is the program used to create animated films. Some of his works include tattoos of logos, a reflection of the inscription of universal brands in our daily lives, perhaps even a wry comment on the trend for tattoos of brand names. The artist sees tattoos as a form of collective identity: “In history, anthropologists will tell you that tattoos were used for different kinds of purposes. Sometimes they were used to define boundaries, or to have your own social groups. Then at other times it was to punish somebody in a negative sense, to reject you. There is a notion of acceptance and rejection- a sense of belongingness and non-belongingness. The tattoo or tattooing doesn’t have just one singular meaning, but has multiple meanings, and conflicting meanings”.

Bae Joonsung
In his series ‘The Costume of the Painter’, he paints onto transparent acrylic films. Using recognizable old master paintings, he inserts young Asian nudes that are only revealed as the viewer walks by as a sort of hologram. The use of photography to update and invade traditional paintings plays on the relationship between the two media, and suggests a way of harmonizing the two, rather than opposing them. The viewer interaction in order to reveal the female nudes also introduces an element of play, creating a sort of peep-show effect. 

Lee Rim
‘The Mess of Emotions’ are large oil paintings originate in artistic performances, drawn from photographs of the artist or a model covered in black and white paint. 

"Our relationships are not decided alone.
Through various experiences and
conversations, thoughts are shared,
learning our differences and similarities.
This is the moment when spirits
combine. This feeling is unique in
forming relationships. As such, based on
the feelings of people, I first perform the
nervousness that only I may feel and
then transfer the image of that feeling
onto a flat surface. Even though we live
in different environments, at a certain
point in time we feel the same when we
look at an object. When I am having a
conversation with my family and friends,
I feel that we are of the same mind.
I believe that one admits differences
and similarities of each creature through
interacting with each other. Based on
a perception of this commonality, I try
to put my incidental excitement into
a two-dimensional surface of colours
presenting you with another imaginative,
phantasmagorical world.”
-artist’s statement.

Here are a few more not included in the exhibition who still deserve a mention:

Yeondoo Yung

In the Wonderland series, the artist takes children’s drawings and recreates the scene which he then photographs. Here is the making of, as related on his website: Jung’s new series of photos, “Wonderland” (2004), presents costumed ado­les­cents posing in sets based as closely as possible on children’s drawings. He collaborates with many peo­ple to bring to life the boundless imagination in the drawings. For four months, Jung oversaw art classes in four kinder­gartens in Seoul and collected 1,200 drawings by children between the ages of five and seven. After pouring through them, he carefully selected 17 drawings and interpreted their meanings. Then he recruited 60 high school students by pass­ing out hand­bills at their schools in which he invited them to act out the scenarios in the children’s drawings. In order to recreate faithfully drawing details such as dresses with uneven sleeves or buttons of different sizes, he convinced five fashion designers to custom make the clothing for the photo shoot. He also made props unlike any scale found in real­ity but similar to those in the drawings.
“Wonderland” changes fan­tasy into photographic reality without the aid of computer-generated graphics. The works, entirely made by hand, are a tremen­dous group effort similar to a stage production that captures the sudden changes in the actors’ forms, in the midst of people going about their lives against the back­drop of the city.

Sora Kim
Sora Kim’s ‘Abstract Walking’, deals with a theme very close to my heart. A sound installation, it presented a vast spatial and temporal territory that encompassed diverse stories and interpretations, and invited viewers to walk in this abstract territory. Produced for the Artsonje Center in March 2012, Kim collaborated with different artists and participants throughout different stages. First she collected stories of journeys from the participants. Then nine writers turned the stories into scripts that included their personal reflections and interjections. Next, eight musicians created accompanying scores, which were edited into one sound piece by music director Younggyu Jang. In the gallery the finished piece is played, “creating an abstract territory where the detritus of the collected spaces and time and the interpretations of various artists are scattered throughout; and suggests ways to experience art in an emancipated way, walking in the artist’s abstract territory”. A video work also accompanied the exhibiton. This creation of territories and emphasis on walking reminds me of the artist Francis Alÿs, who uses similar practices to create his artwork, as in the piece ‘The Green Line’,  in which he retraced the border between Israel and Palestine carrying a leaking can of green paint, telling the story of a fraught political history through the medium of walking.  Less politically charged than Alÿs perhaps, but Kim’s conceptual practice uses art as a means of communication, creating a space for non-hierarchical exchange and using elements from everyday life to produce unexpected dialogues.


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