You can’t use refined language when it comes to Seunghee Kang’s work. It’s vibrant, lively, robust, and anything but refined. The colours leap out at you, the images full of fun but also somehow disturbing. And it’s difficult to know what to make of them.
The centrepiece of the “Odd Couple” show in Bermondsey is a traditional Korean screen. Except what’s on the screen is anything but traditional.
Instead of ink or colour on silk images of auspicious animals with flora symbolising fertility and longevity, it’s colourful embroidery work, cartoon style. What’s going on it’s difficult to fathom, but it sure is fun trying to figure it out.
On the back, something more questioning: the slogans, mottos, thoughts of a stranger in a foreign land:
“I don’t understand why nobody takes off the shoes when they enter the house. Is it rude to suggest taking off the shoes?”
asks one panel. Another expresses confusion at London traffic coming at her from all directions. Here you’re tempted to say: have you never tried to cross the road by City Hall in Seoul? Another panel comments on the Londoner’s endless patience in queuing.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, you are taken into the world of a children’s playroom. Except nothing feels quite right. There are emblems of London – model taxis and routemaster buses – but then you realise there’s a headless doll in the background. There’s a seedy-looking male doll in a morning suit, seeming to leer at an overdeveloped but undersized female doll. We asked Kang if this was the wonjogyoje1 picture, but she said that the mention of wonjogyoje in the press release was in fact referring to a previous exhibition of hers.
The medium of some of these pictures is interesting. Even looking at them close-up, it’s hard to tell what it is they’re made of. It looks like acrylic on sponge. But it is in fact ink drawing with shining crushed rock on canvas.
Continuing on the playroom theme, one picture depicted dolls of Lee Young-pyo and Park Ji-sung, dressed in their respective English premiereship strip. A tube of glue and a nearby modelling knife suggests the dolls have only just been constructed from an Airfix kit.
Other pictures were fruitier. A work in a portfolio standing in the corner of the main exhibition room showed a curvaceous female nude fleeing a chaotic scene in the background: an observer suggested it was a reference to a recent fire in a Korean public bath-house. Continuing the raunchy theme, the farting “Mrs Blair” embroidery from the Jerwood Space show made a reappearance, reminding us again of the themes of alienation felt by a foreigner in a strange land; while the theme of a surveillance society, with all the CCTV cameras in the latter work, was picked up in one of the panels on the back of the free-standing screen, and continued into one of those weird playroom pictures, with a strange spy-cam doll ogling the rear of another doll that seems to be involved in some sexual act or other.
And exposed posteriors seems to be another recurring theme. Here’s a detail from the embroidered screen:
Altogether riotous, down-to-earth and thought-provoking fun. Go and figure it out for yourself.
Thanks to Jeon Sung-min for the pictures of Seunghee Kang and of the screen and the footballers. I managed to leave my camera at home, so the other pictures are from my mobile phone.
Links: Gallery Yujiro website
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