Oh Seung Yul
Solo Group Show
Last month I sat down with Oh Seung Yul to talk at length about his works. The following review is informed, in part, by that conversation.
The new works of Oh Seung Yul, featured in his Solo Group Show, on view last month at ggooll, encompassed many styles and mediums, including painting, sculpture, video and photography. A resident of New Zealand, Oh responded both to the space and to the local environment’s flavor and materials, by making works specifically and on site for this exhibition. Because he used only materials and objects he could purchase or have fabricated locally, these works ultimately differ from his previous work in their obviously less refined style. In the end the objects and images show more readily the different impulses artists can have, but may withhold from their audiences, in order to demonstrate a more defined image as a cultural producer. In contrast to his other works, Oh’s work in ggooll had a decidedly rough and immediate character that was both refreshing and impetuously fun.
When entering ggooll, a space that is both café lounge and gallery, at any time, one may not see the difference between the gallery and the café, because there is no difference essentially. There are art object placed throughout the two main rooms in a way that can lead the customer/viewer to think that these are all of one piece or by one artist, until they enter the more gallery like rooms in the rear of the first and second floors, where exhibitions are typically centered. For artists this kind of space always presents the challenge of how or whether to try to distinguish one’s own work from that which is in and of the space. As a site of artistic production ggooll is perhaps one of the most ambiguous kind, as it is a gallery: an empty box, but also a defined space: a lounge, while at the same time contradicting both of these imperatives in it’s moody demeanor and fun house feel. And since the space of ggooll is, itself, distracting, for someone like Oh, who has characterized his previous work as “distracting the space,” and is more accustomed to working in a more sterile and static gallery environment, this balancing act was at times difficult.
Where Oh’s site-specific production succeeded in this fight to be seen and heard in the larger context of ggooll were his two works that filled the space both physically and audibly. The Ability to Blow Themselves Up, an ongoing video project, shows a series of people blowing up balloons to the point of bursting. This video played loud enough to cut the space as each balloon popped loudly. The other work Balls, made up of two inflatable ball-like structures, literally filled the entrance of the space. Oh’s use of local materials to make these objects, in contrast to much of his previous work, could be called DIY, even crappy craft, by the standard of craft set by his other earlier fabricated works. But these works, especially the three objects making up Gaze, constructed out of paper and glue, placed in the second room, showed, in all their messiness, some of the limitations of such materials, while lending the space a kind of funny reflection, unintentionally perhaps mirroring some of the ridiculousness of the café society of Korea back on its denizens. In the end Oh’s experience and experiment produced some interesting findings that are already making their way back into his more refined practice: last month he opened a show in Sydney’s 4A Gallery, where Balls was the inspiration.
reviewed by Julia Marsh