If you go along to Park Chan-kyong’s solo show at Iniva, make sure you set aside enough time – at least a couple of hours. And those of you who went to his talk at the Korean Cultural Centre in November last year will wish you had been better prepared on what he was going to be talking about, and that you had taken copious notes, because many of the topics he addressed find their way into the Iniva space.
Physically the largest item in the exhibition, and conceptually at its centre, is a large screen showing the compete ‘fantasy-documentary’ Sindoan (2008) which focuses on the Utopian aspirations of various communities who over the past century have congregated at Mount Gyeryong in Chungcheongnam-do. Maybe, once you have watched that film in its 45 minute entirety, your memory of that talk will come flooding back.
One of my own memories of the talk was a brief discussion of how the meaning of the word minjung (the masses / the grass roots / common humanity) had changed over time. I can’t remember which particular sense Park approved of, though I think he was arguing in favour of a depoliticised meaning. It is a shame that despite the fact that his English was better than that of his interpreter, he nevertheless spoke in Korean. If I had understood his point better I would understand why it was important for him to include in his Iniva show a couple prints of works by noted minjung artists (Oh Yoon and Shin Hak-chul) on one of the walls – along with Joseon dynasty artists such as Kim Hong-do.
Another theme of the exhibition is Mount Kumgang – perhaps (along with Mt Baekdu) a symbol of the desire for unification, as an unattainable, longed-for beauty spot which once belonged to all of Korea. There is a number of reproductions of paintings of these famous mountains on the wall, all captioned in English in Park’s own handwriting, scribed directly onto the surface of the wall. But the real treasure there is a North Korean book from the 1960s which is a collection of photographs of that iconic scenery. Looking at the photographs of scenes which are more familiar to us through the work of Jeong Seon indicate that the true view landscape painter was being closer to the truth than you might have thought.
The North Korean book is one of many catalogues and other volumes which are available for browsing at the various tables – you probably need to take a coffee in to the gallery with you (if you are permitted) so that you can enjoy a proper browse.
Also competing for your time are two video screens which are showing documentary footage of shaman rituals, while on the wall facing the reproductions of minjung and landscape paintings are his large photographic works Three Cemeteries (2009), whose location in Paju features in his documentary Manshin (2013). There’s a big Apple computer at another table showing some animated graphics which I didn’t get a chance to look at, some 1960s poetry in praise of Isabella Bird Bishop and probably a whole lot more that I missed because it’s always difficult to absorb everything in a busy opening evening. So I’ll be going back when it’s quieter and hope to make it more sense of it all.
Park Chan-kyong: Pa-Gyong – Last Sutra Recitation curated by Binna Choi is at Iniva until 21 March 2015.