Here are brief details of the works and artists appearing in the Spectrum Korean Contemporary Arts show at the Jerwood Space, 14-18 December 2007. The details are extracted from the exhibition catalogue.
Luca Sangjun Kim
My paintings are focused on materialization of fundamental elements of painting applied. With the properties of paint as material, a tension between thought and acting (conscious and unconscious) with large gestured layering, objectified rectangular canvas, and paint as pictorial medium and also as material substance.
Those works are perceived in time as they cannot look like traditional art object, neither like traditional art perspective or depth.
My work consists in creating a sense of space and surface tension through colour, shape, dimension, surface and texture. The result at the end, specifically installed paintings are more concerned in between painting and sculpture contexts.
Those works, experienced in time and space, interact with the viewer in a multidimensional context; they possess trueness and represent a reality as big as nature.
A marginal man is a person caught in the middle; a person born and grown up in another culture struggling to fit in to a foreign way of life in a new cultural environment. A stranger in both worlds, living an incomplete life in the margins of the societies.
I realise that I am a marginal man. My stay in London has been a short one, yet it has been a battle between my unforgotten habits from the old life and the incomprehensible new lifestyle. Here and now, I am in the margin of UK society. Time, space and the objects and subjects in between, I exist in the margins.
I wonder how many immigrants out there are thinking like me. When they contemplate their lives standing in the public space, what thoughts occupy their minds amongst the sounds and the phenomena surrounding them? Is this their utopia now, or is it just nostalgia for the old utopia persisting in their mind? Or maybe even the natives of the society sometimes feel they are in the margin too?
The image is a “language” that exists as an abridged phrase form
As EH Gombrich stated about Visual Language, lack of visual image or minimized visual image requires its observer to add the abbreviated stories into the artwork and also leads the observer to communicate.
The work titled “A thousand Words” in this exhibition is a familiar subject matter to many, and yet it intends that the observer would face to the full angle of the flower so that two appear to interact with each other. Overlapped layers of petals could be turned into a human face that starts talking to you, or into a thousand tongues.
Eventually, could it be that an image can deliver thousands of different stories depending on how the observer perceives and interprets it? Telling the hidden stories is perhaps a role given to the observer, and it might be a thousand stories that could be completed by the observer.
Like an oneiric house of Bachelard, the prototype of nostalgic house is known to be simple, small, calm and cosy. It stimulates homing instinct. People have a desire to come back and be protected themselves in that house. Therefore that small place can be a metaphor for the mother’s womb, which is the very place everybody wants to return. And it has two main but conflicting meanings for me: an invitation and a refusal to enter. House beckons me to enter but finally it refuses to come in. It is a fundamental character of nostalgia as well.
Even though having intense aspirations to return, one can never come back to the mother’s womb. The homing instinct is an impossible desire. Therefore the entrances of my works are removed. Even though they are still left, they look fearful to enter. Desire and fear, inviting and denying, coexist in the house. Through retouching colour on original photo images, I can wipe out needless details of background and emphasize my own imaginative view.
Additionally, the bleak mood of these houses reminds me of the atmosphere in my childhood in 1980s Seoul, so this series “Uncanny House” is not only a conceptual work but also a record of my individual nostalgia.
Starting from the idea of no possession, Junghee Roh sees people as just only people and as the one of them. She finds herself no longer special existence in public.
After all, the canvas seemed to be purified in terms of the vacant colour originating from the sky. The surface was scratched as a linear drawing which emphasized on the emptiness of people’s lives and expressed to reduce their greed. The figures seem very black, like a phantom such as people’s dry lives.
In the painting, the phantom could be defined as concealing, appearing, disappearing, and being paid attention. It also seems to be apathetic, just like people in the modern society.
She supposes nature symbolises permanency and humans are transient beings in comparison. In her art she endeavours to capture this very essence be depicting settings where the presence of people is only hinted at. Viewing the paintings from a distance the viewer is aware of a calm landscape which on closer inspection reveals delicate figurative drawings. Lines are scored onto the painting whilst still wet, an error means creation of a new layer of painting. It is like life, our actions today become a part of our history with every fleeting moment recording our present as our past. It is like birth, death and resurrection. Figures etched in error become concealed under a new layer of paint, like our own transient flesh that becomes a part of the history of the Earth, eventually hidden below the skin of the future.
The philosophy behind the work is based on prolonged contemplation of life and nature around herself. The figurative drawings are inspired by her observations of people’s emotions on a daily basis. Responding to people’s countless displays of emotions in the context of our daily lives shows how complex and fluid everything is. For her every emotion passes. At various stages in our lives we fall between two poles of extreme agony and ecstasy, it is part of life, it is human condition.
The background colour is a harmonious delicate and light shade of pastels. Light floats and dances over the surface where the etched figures cast a gentle shadow up on the surface. The viewer aware of the paintings composition becomes at once conscious of its surface and texture.
The source of inspiration for my work is essentially the search for perfect state in which love without the limitation of sex reveals a state of grace. This search includes a wide range of aspects, including mysterious things, freedom, nature, desire for another world and these are related to fantasy and feminism. This is largely because of my childhood. There are flowers, water and mirrors in my painting. Flowers which are reflected in a mirror and water represent a dream world where I can fly freely. I want to be as a bird and fly to another world where I can dream a lofty love. Mirrors are the mirror stage (self discovery in unconscious) in Lacan’s theory and water means freedom. I dream of paradise through nature, especially through flowers. However, it is very difficult to reach that stage in the real world. After the bird realised that there is no eternal “the Imaginary” (“the Imaginary”, “the Symbolic”, “the Realistic”, in Lacan’s theory) in this real world, it then desires for the subject that is not castrated in the bird’s dream world. Therefore, my painting is the screen which is in between the subject and desire.
I usually use photography, video, LED, painting and other new media in my socially focused but humorous work. Ranging from organised gang members and exercising housewives to multi-national fast food joints, multi-advertisement of a city and oriental china, my subject matters show the diverse yet somewhat standardised characteristics of modern life. I often represent my own understanding of human conditions in capitalist societies and the globalisation of such an environment. While raising serious social and political questions, the base of my art remains to be humorous and engaging, rather than just critical.
Review by Dean Kenning
Seunghee Kang creates scroll-like works which leap off the surface and yet are so full of detail that one needs to scan them over time: the image cannot be taken in all at once; each element is read as if the whole were a vast manuscript from which a narrative is pieced together. Something of the noise, speed confusion and media hysteria of the modern world screams out from her work, disabling the lamented but redundant contemplation that characterises a certain old-fashioned notion of the artwork. It’s as if the artist were a sponge absorbing an overflow of disordered information to be squeezed out again in an endearingly unpretentious expression both playfully humorous and sinister. In the transition point between the manic overflow of social phenomenon in signs, systems and behaviour on the one hand, and its reconfigured expression in the artwork on the other, lies the artist herself – the chronicler. Not a distanced spectator but a participant and victim in the pageant of modern life. It is perhaps Kang who is represented in gigantic proportions amidst a populations of Lilliputians in the machine-embroidered digital print entitled “Being British? There is nothing left but hatred even the ashes!” The colossal figure is bound to the ground Gulliver-like, surrounded by the diminutive peoples of this weird island. Wearing a converse trainer on one foot, a stiletto on the other, this unfortunate woman is distorted in a scream. A large sheet fails to cover her modesty as breasts pop out impossibly on either side, it bears the legend – repeated on a nearby flag – “Who cannot speak English is not ARTIST”. While I think this comically distressing image should not be read solely in allegorical terms but in part as an expression of generalised sexual and misogynist imagery in mass media (a camera crew has arranged itself between the giantess’s legs), there is clearly a sense – blatantly apparent in the work’s title – of the entrapment and violation that has accompanied the artist’s travels to the UK. (A feeling shared, it should be stressed, by many overseas students who are welcomed in the first instance for the money they bring to the college, before experiencing the alienation barriers of cultural and language difference, and are finally required to leave promptly before their visa runs out).
Kang has written of how her work taps into the contemporary currents and concerns of society. A sometimes garishly-coloured and excessive comic book figurative style has been employed to represent issues in Korean society such as the sexual exploitation of children and the consumer worship of designer labels. (Wonderland and Love Hotel) Another piece, “Peeping into our society with the code of desire”, re-imagines society’s objectifying obsession with body image as a sci-fi nightmare of automated reconstructive cosmetic surgery with post-op manikin-like women moving along a conveyor belt to have their new breasts stuck on by a clown in a doctor’s mask. Coming to the UK from Korea then presented the artist with the inescapable reality of cultural specificity: the differences found in the smallest details of everyday life that have such significance, and can create such boundaries for outsiders. Being British then represents an idiosyncratic amalgamation of concerns in a miniature world. The hierarchy and economy of art naturally looms large within this vision; so the old master of modern art rebellion Vincent Van Gogh is greeted by the lego-land denizens of Kang’s embroidered print with raised-arm salutes, whilst a supposed “Theory of the World” is reduced to a three-stepped pyramided relation between money (on top), the gallery (in the middle) and the artist (at the bottom). A Dalmation parked outside the gallery urinates against its showy walls (it obviously “cannot speak English”, unless it is what the English love to refer to as a “piss artist”). Other details give us an insight into what natives might miss through familiarity: a wealth of detail such as dress codes permeate the work, making it a journey of discovery for the viewer; something to take time with but never to get lost in. The picture is read, and words too are embroidered on – enigmatic sentences (part of one becomes the work’s title) lending a potent dimension to the pictorial image: fleeting voices forming mini worlds of human response floating over this strange land.
Dean Kenning is a regular contributor to Art Monthly, Modern Painters, and Art Review, and is currently in the finishing stages of a PhD on “The Political Nature of Art Today”. He also teaches Critical Theory at University College for the Creative Arts, Canterbury.