London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

A belated tour of March’s First Thursday openings

It was always going to be difficult to get round the three openings last Thursday: Bethnal Green, Bloomsbury and Mayfair are not easy to squeeze in on the way home after work. And as it happened I got to none of them, instead entertaining an overseas work colleague at the Old Justice, which I think must be the contender for the best Korean food in London.

Art 14 gave previews of two of the shows, but nevertheless it’s always good to see the full exhibition, so last Saturday was devoted to playing catch-up.

Chung Heeseung: Inadequate Metaphor, at HADA Contemporary

Chung Heeseung: Mirror (2013)
Chung Heeseung: Mirror (2013). Offset print pile (1,000 sheets), 70 x 94 cm (Courtesy of HADA Contemporary)

HADA contemporary’s exhibition of new work by Chung Heeseung is sombre and mysterious, seeming to reference twentieth century avant-garde movements via the most traditional medium of still life. Mirror, a study of reflections in a mundane white tiled washroom was placed playfully on the floor, echoing Duchamp’s Fountain, while in the opposite corner of the room a huge dark black and white photo of a curtain inexplicably drawn diagonally across a room was puzzlingly surreal. The curtain seemed to serve no defined purpose, and hung from the ceiling as if suspended by magic.

Chung Heeseung
Chung Heeseung: L to R: Slash (2013). Brass tube, 3 x 300 x 3 cm; Two Wedges 1 (2011). Archival pigment print 66 x 49.5 cm; Curtain (2013). Archival pigment print 158 x 215 cm (Courtesy of HADA Contemporary)

Mirror was placed in between two very different works, both originating from the artist’s garden. An untitled work, which looks like a petridish full of an unpleasant culture, or, if you look from a distance, like a pock-marked lunar surface, is in fact the top of a dirty garden table, placed on its side and photographed against a wall covered with faded wallpaper. Inexplicably, it also calls to mind a communion wafer being elevated during Mass.

Chung Heeseung: on left, Untitled, 2013
Chung Heeseung: on left, Untitled, 2013. Archival pigment print, 175 x 120 cm. (Courtesy of HADA Contemporary)

To its right was a very moving and striking photograph: Dead Bee – in an otherwise pitch-black space the insect – found in the garden – is carefully lit, lying on the edge of a bevelled glass surface, almost nestling against its reflections surrounded by the void.

Chung Heeseung: Dead Bee (2013)
Chung Heeseung: Dead Bee (2013). Archival pigment print, 107 x 80 cm (Courtesy of HADA Contemporary)

Much of HADA’s main gallery space has been painted a dark grey for the exhibition, picking up the monochrome of much of Chung’s work, meaning that those photographs which use colour stand out more. The green of the Two Wedges 1 and the browns and yellows of the bee and garden table attract the eyes. That’s not to say that the curtain itself isn’t striking and questioning – covering neither window nor door, and obstructing but not perfectly dividing the room it challenges us to seek meaning in it, maybe to search for the metaphor. But even if there is no metaphor to be found, it’s a satisfying image to contemplate.

Chung Heeseung: Inadequate Metaphors is at HADA Contempoary until 30 March.

Sun Ae Kim: Quotidian, at Mokspace.

Sun Ae Kim: Health and Safety (2014)
Sun Ae Kim: Health and Safety (2014). Porcelain, slip casting,and hand-build, lustre decorations.

A quick journey along the Central Line brings you to Mokspace, near the British Museum, where an enjoyable exhibition by Sun Ae Kim is a complete contrast to the muted and restrained atmosphere of HADA. Kim’s work is an exuberant exploration of the world of the figurines produced by 18th Century Staffordshire potteries, but brought up to date for the 21st century. She captures little vignettes of contemporary everyday life – the cyclist on the street, a group of girls out on the town.

Sun Ae Kim: Three Sisters (2014)
Sun Ae Kim: Three Sisters (2014). Porcelain, Slip casting and hand-build, lustre and enamel decorations

Her compositions often contain a number of figurines, cast from the same mould, but each figure has its own unique features and decoration. Thus, in Pardon Me? There is a football match tonight, one of the three footballers has his right leg pointing out of the picture straight at the viewer, while for the other two the leg is implied.

Sun Ae Kim: Pardon Me? There is a football match tonight (2014)
Sun Ae Kim: Pardon Me? There is a football match tonight (2014). Porcelain, slip casting and hand build, enamel decorations.

The figurines are normally mounted onto a hand-painted board which forms the background for the vignette. Sometimes there are additional features: in Red Knickers, for example, the eponymous article of underwear is stuffed inside the hollow back of one of the figures, with a small piece of elasticated waistband protruding. A free-standing Dancing Queen is bountifully decorated on her back with tiny blue flowers.

Sun Ae Kim: Dancing Queen (Blue Flowers) (2014)
Sun Ae Kim: Dancing Queen (Blue Flowers) (2014). Porcelain, Slip casting and hand-build, lustre and enamel decorations

This is a thoroughly enjoyable show, and once again Mokspace has pitched the prices to be rather tempting.

Sun Ae Kim: Quotidian is at Mokspace until 22 March.

Bae Joonsung: Costume of a Painter / Hwang Seon-tae: Sunlight

at Albemarle Gallery / Shine Artists

A crammed and claustrophic ride on the Piccadilly line took me to Albemarle Street, where Albermarle and its younger offshoot Shine Artists are showing two Korean artists. Bae Joonsung’s work has been shown frequently in London (at the Saatchi Gallery in the Korean Eye exhibitions, and at the KCC’s opening exhibition in 2007, as well as at Albemarle), but this is his first solo show, and it’s always enjoyable spending time with his work. Bae continues his exploration of voyeurism and the way we look at art. His works are usually set in opulent Western art galleries featuring old master paintings, but a female visitor in the gallery, or depicted in one of the paintings, reveals herself as an Asian nude as well as a classically clothed westerner, depending on your angle of view. Bae has been using lenticular panels in his canvases since 2006 according to the exhibition catalogue, and the majority of the works in the exhibition used this technique. The effect is difficult to capture in a still photograph, and instead you often see people getting their smartphones out and taking a movie of a work as they walk slowly past it. The catalogue of the exhibition is available on the Albemarle website and it’s well worth a look – for each major work they have included three pictures which show the different images embedded in the lenticular panel.

Bae Joonsung: Tarzan of Balzac Museum
Bae Joonsung: Tarzan of Balzac Museum. LED panel and oil on canvas 194 x 259 cm

But one work, Tarzan of Balzac Museum uses an LED panel. It’s almost as if a Lee Lee Nam video work has been embedded in an oil painting, but the animation is so subtle that unless you look closely you might miss the fact that in the tree there’s a tiny creature swinging from the branch. This work represents a new direction for Bae and it will be interesting to see how this develops over time. And the illumination coming in through a sunlit window provides a nice link with the exhibition downstairs.

Hwang Seon-tae: installation view
Hwang Seon-tae: installation view of part of the Sunlight exhibition, at Shine Artists / Albemarle Gallery

Downstairs at Shine Artists is the solo show of Hwang Seon-tae. Hwang debuted with Shine in 2013, and his return has already reaped rewards for the gallery, with many of the pieces sold. Hwang studied glass art in Germany, and his works involve the use of decal techniques to transfer an image onto tempered glass, which is then lit from behind with LEDs. The medium is particularly suited to depicting interiors illuminated by sunlight through a window. As well as being pleasing studies in perspective and light and shade, Hwang’s interiors, always Spartan and free from clutter, are nevertheless strangely welcoming and homely.

Bae Joonsung and Hwang Seong-tae are at Albermarle / Shine until 2 April.

Hwang Jihae: A letter posted one million years ago, at the Strand Gallery

After an afternoon in the galleries and the London Underground, I made the journey to the final exhibition of the day on foot. At the Strand Gallery, Korea’s best-known garden designer was participating in a three-day show of ten top designers. The hook was that each garden was printed by a 3D printer, so what was on display were ten models. And in a use of capitalisation which would appeal to at least one reader of this site, the title of the exhibition was the miNiATURE garden show.

Hwang Jihae: A letter posted a million years ago
Hwang Jihae: A letter posted a million years ago. Garden design using 3D printer

As this quick round-up is about the exhibitions which opened on Thursday 6th March, and this one had its PV the day before, I’ll write about this one later. Besides which, I need to get the press materials and some decent photos from Miss Hwang’s team. In the meanwhile here’s one of my inadequate snaps. The curvy infrastructure reminds me of her Lugworm’s Trail garden at the Suncheon Garden Expo – another long-overdue write-up which will be coming soon.

The miNiATURE garden show was 6 – 8 March at the Strand Gallery.

Update 12 October 2019: I never did manage to get the press materials from Jihae’s team, so I’ll just have to content myself with uploading my inadequate snaps of her Dokdo-themed design. First here’s the text that accompanied the exhibit:

The island of Dokdo is a tiny point floating towards the horizon of a vast sea. An ephemeral expression holds the secret of her existence and tells us that at any moment she may either disappear into nothingness, or, from small signs of growth and renewal, regenerate herself. The island of Dokdo is a haven for migratory birds on a journey from far away; her longing for “nature” revealed through wild flowers and forests, as if a response to our desperate quest for that something “unknown” to us. Dokdo answers our constantly chattering minds with a silence that speaks of the meaning of our lives and how we happen to exist. To those greedy human beings who cannot see beyond their own gain, the island of Dokdo is not only beautiful and sublime, but reveals the mysterious flow of time and the essential laws of nature. My design takes the ever-changing, unfixed form of waves as a metaphor for the meaning of life, and renders these through the technique of 3D printing.

Talking to her about it since, I seem to recall that she wasn’t 100% happy with the technology and hardware used to “print” the garden: the physical results didn’t quite live up to the design concept, illustrated beside the model.


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