Notice of I-MYU’s latest exhibition, which is well worth a visit.
Korean Old Pop
Text by curator Min Byung Jic
This exhibition is not about the ‘old’ Korean Pop Art. This is because we consider Pop Art as something already inherent in contemporary art ‘for a long time’, not as a fixed form or style of art permeated or combined by the elements of popular culture. Pop Art as represented in this exhibition is closer to a matter of attitude or state of mind than to that of style. It is an attitude or spirit to transfuse the looseness and freedom of popular culture into the strict and stern realm of fine art, or to attempt at communication or disjunction with different, non-art fields. It has, in fact, freely and frequently crossed the border between art and life as something very old in contemporary art.
So, we intended to approach what were the original problematics of Pop Art in a new way through artists who appropriate the Pop art elements in a broader sense, that is, naturally and implicitly in their own way of life or activities as an artist, not through the so-called Pop artists who apply them in their works intentionally and strategically. This exhibition will not provide a genealogical investigation of the Western artistic trend called Pop Art as was implanted in South Korea. Instead, it aims to successfully show that the Pop-art aspects have been already developed and bloomed in Korean contemporary art scene. In this credited birthplace of Pop Art, London, we are going to offer an opportunity to explore this trajectory and traces vividly found in the works of three Korean artists from far away Asia.
The three artists participating in this exhibition are quite different from those who declare themselves as Korean Pop artists (the so-call K-pop), though they are occasionally introduced as such. All of these artists work in areas too diverse and scattered to be grouped in a single category, even in art. In a word, they all differ. If there is anything they have in common, it is that they make so many different activities that make you hesitate to say their main occupation is art; that they dare not separate art and life and meet the world with that freedom; and that they enjoy things in the already-given world just as you read a comic that is anything but serious, but nevertheless, not altogether funny.
Kim Ki-yong (김기용) who is more known as a curator and critic has been preoccupied by what is trivial and insignificant, or what is anonymous and unknown. His interest in old toys, figures, and odd objects are recently extended to dummies used in car collision experiments or in ventriloquism. Dummies silently carry out many roles as a faithful substitute of human. And what attracts the artist is also not that they can represent mass-produced products in this age, or passivity, or fake but that they could be an object of very special experiments in that they exist for man. In this way, Kim’s unique attitude toward things imbues quantity-oriented popular culture with an emotional sensitivity. Here, ordinary everyday items are moved to the territory of specific experience, the realm of aesthetics not by general interest but by an artist’s attention. The natural interest as an artist in the world of things or an artist’s attitude to change them to what is familiar, which is found in his works, will make you reconsider where Pop Art begins―the old interest in objects that have been here and there around us commonly and insignificantly since long time ago.
Kang Young-min (강영민) has been engaged in activities as diverse as his career as a painter including cultural planning, events, performances, fashion, and design. Kang’s omnivorous works themselves may possibly be called Pop Art. His way of seeing paintings is not so different these multifarious practices. A frank and freewheeling gesture toward the world or a naughty boy-like attitude with a twisted point of view is frequently found both in his life and art. In this sense, the heart symbol which has recently and constantly fascinated the painter is a far cry from its common meaning of love. Though in various forms, the symbols in his paintings are usually poor-looking, sad, and sick. But sometimes they also show an attitude to affirm their humble everyday life vigorously, and other times look footloose and fancy free and experience mood swings like the artist. As his argument, “love and you lose”, suggests, they are a statement as well as a double of the artist who determines to live this world briskly with the spirit of the non-mainstream. His heart symbol, though appropriating a popular icon, works as a medium to express his carefree and unrestrained feelings about the world, his unreserved and extremely easy statements with a wry attitude.
Shin Il-Seop, known as “the Jack”, (더잭) was an underground musician and cartoonist and is currently working on a series of performance projects titled Loser Jack. Though Jack is an isolated, helpless character in popular culture, the performances given by the artist in the persona of Jack are not so pessimistic. Above all things, the Jack evokes our sympathy through his shy, open-hearted, and interesting character. He demonstrates an unflinching and candid attitude of ‘losers’ in our time who are willingly with powerless people in the world. By creating this character, the Jack covers a broad range of contemporary cultural scenes in Korea which he feels rather awkward and messy. He watches them largely in a delightful mood but still with the eyes of criticism. His kaleidoscopic Pop Art extends from pieces combined with animations, illustrations and impromptu scribbles to art products produced in collaboration with private companies. The Jack’s works are truly an integration of the freedom, fertility and affinity of Pop Art in this age.
Generally, their works are not serious. They are easy, loose, soft and sometimes, even hilarious. They, at least, seem to lack the ‘depth’ of the old art and thus, are simple, straightforward, and wayward. However, these external feelings or impressions fail to define Korean Pop Art. For what Pop Art is in Korea has been also a sensibility or an attitude proper to contemporary art, that is, what is old and familiar. Korean Pop Art is not a direct result of importing the Western one but something generated in the independent, indigenous stream of Korean contemporary art. Perhaps, in a way, it might be a type of the old art that has expressed uneasy or delightful emotions about the world candidly and freely, though it looked loose and shabby on occasion. And it is this always-new but old art to makes us feel at ease and free that the three artists are practicing themselves inside and outside of their works.
KANG YOUNG MIN
Kang represents the so-called ‘loser’ character. His works are occupied by disappointed and frustrated individuals and their melancholy feelings. He reveals weak and negative emotions like sadness and pain that are very common and genuine but cannot be exposed to others as they really are. This straightforward way of expression is intended to cast a suspicious look at the mainstream culture of today where emotions are excluded and only ideas survive. The artistic value of his painting comes from frankness, authenticity, and energies emitted from basic feelings. Kang calls all these ‘underground.’ His free imagination which evokes a smile shows the quick-witted youth of the artist but simultaneously, is considerably infused with a sense of resistance against the mainstream art world. His originality lies not in making a character out of the heart symbol but in true emotions hidden behind it. The dismal situations of his characters created from cartoonish imagination remind us of various experiences which hold us trapped in painful feelings. (from the catalogue for his 2008 solo exhibition “Love and You Lose”)
KIM KI YONG
“I think Pop Art is a very old aesthetics. It is neither new nor fresh. I think it might be a mere designation to an illusionary place that has already gone but is still considered alive. The world of Pop Art is composed of things and images that are very old and found everywhere. The aesthetics of Pop Art settled down in Korean society somewhat late but its sensibility and desire can be found in many parts of the recent Korean contemporary art. The belated acceptance and expression of the Pop Art spirit could be explained by our specific history of contemporary art that passed through the time of rigid ideology. The shift and change of generations are requisite for the development of contemporary art. It seems to me that one of the virtues of Pop Art lies in making us to carefully look back on the past track of our sensibilities. The various experiences and events occurring around me constantly confirm my conviction that the Pop Art is an old sensibility and old art.” (in ‘Artist’s Note’, the catalogue for his 2007 solo exhibition “Old Pop Dummy”)
The Jack who is a ‘loser’, pursues minorities, and works in the underground intervenes or participate in many events as a cultural interventor. He is always a weak person. He invariably shows himself surrendered, kneeling, taking the punishment with his hands up, or scratching his head with the right hand. The Jack attempts to actively communicate with the public by using diversified media of arts, for example, by having guerrilla performances, planning art products, performing musical activities by creating a band, or making animation films. Working with underground comics, photography, performance, video, and installation, he brings to the front the images of the inferior, the defeated, and minorities neglected in our society through the Jack character. (in the catalogue for his 2006 solo exhibition “I’m ashamed”)
Korean Old Pop
26 June 2009 ～ 18 July 2009
Organizer: I-MYU Projects
Curator: Min Byung Jic
Artists: Kim Ki Yong, Kang Young Min, The Jack
Venue: I-MYU Projects, 23 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3PB
Sponsor: Art Council Korea, Art space Hue
(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.