Moment to Monument
This exhibition takes a close look at both collective and individual narratives within the context of Korea’s history of industrialization and modernization. The show features works by the artists Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, Jung Jaeho, and Lee Taesoo. Each artist offers their own perspective on the period of rapid modernization South Korea had to endure, and offers insight into some of the effects and ramifications of industrialization, still pervasive in the country to this day.
Jung Jaeho's hyper-realistic depiction of dilapidated buildings serves as a record of the country’s modernization, whilst embodying ambivalent nostalgia for those times. His work is deeply entrenched in his interest in the modern cities and buildings of South Korea. His paintings are often derived from his efforts in researching and archiving a plethora of elements, present within the old city districts throughout the peninsula.
The worn out industrial-era buildings depicted in Jung's works ultimately reflect the country's attitudes of neglect and denial toward its own tumultuous past. He urges us to remember the lives that once dwelled behind the concrete walls - lives that endured and persevered. The crux of his work is the representation of the “odor of life” permeated in the surface. To the artist, the act of painting is a means to recall forgotten memories; a means to reanimate things that are lost in the past. Therefore, the process of recreation is not merely a practice of imitation for the artist. Through his work, Jung traces and collects the marks of modern times.
Kelvin Kyung Kun Park's work is often centred around the loss of individuality within a collective. A Dream of Iron recounts the history of South Korea in the 60s, which witnessed major economic changes occur in the aftermath of the Korean War. The artist uses the symbol of ‘Iron’ to unfold the project's visual narrative, deliberately evoking the country’s modern history of reviving its primary industries - such as shipbuilding and steel industry - in an effort accelerate the process of modernization, and achieve the subsequent prosperity. The work shows the collective hope of the nation for a new beginning, but also its philosophical search for the divine - a sense of direction.
A Dream of Iron's various components are linked by an overarching imagery - dreamlike sequences of whales and the calming blue of the ocean, juxtaposed with the red hot sparks and flames characteristic of industrial work. The combination of red and blue inevitably brings to mind the South Korean flag. This is coupled with original footage from the 60s, in which the proletariat movement and the following political outrage are recorded. Park does not shy away from expressing his grief for the nation, where the sublime was sacrificed for the illusion of modernity.
Lee Taesoo plays with optical weight; heavy metal beams are scantly supported by wine glasses; gigantic stones hover in the air, held up by fragile glass panels. In actuality, Lee's stones and iron beams are made out of polystyrene, barely weighing over a kilogram. Through his work, Lee critiques our society's obsession with superficiality. Just as an object that seems heavy is near weightless in reality, we are invited to reexamine how we have prioritized our values in life. Have we perhaps forgotten our true humanity and autonomy, distracted by the surface value of artificial progress?
Lee's decision to recreate industrial materials effectively underscores his work's link to the era of industrialization. In a nation rife with cutting-edge technology and the comforts of prosperity, he cannot help but feel an absence of humanity. He is wary of the illusion of modernity, brought on by senseless indulgence in rapid progress. Lee invites us to carefully examine the properties of an object beyond what is visible, and as such, prompts us to take a moment to reflect on the reality beyond the perceived progress.
The show’s diverse body of work allows for a glimpse of Korea’s modern history. It invites the viewer to meditate on the effects and ramifications of modernization, and as a result, opens up the possibility of a deepened understanding of the country’s conventions and culture today.