Review: Im Heung-soon

Prayer: Jeju 4.3 and Sung Si (Sign)

Peace Museum: space99, October 7 – November 3, 2011

Im Heung-soon exhibit at space99 suggested both exhilaration and sadness, like the prayer, his show’s title invoked. For the hope and despair of the believer, it also recalls the doubts that can accompany faith, whether political or religious. Amazingly, in the small space99 Im managed to create a sense of deep and indeterminate space through a series of dark, tunnel-like corridors, which connected the three stations of the exhibit. On these paths, viewers had to make their way in total darkness, feeling a little lost and unsure of foot and direction. At the end of the first passage, the video Sung Si was projected in a large in a black box. Another, smaller, single channel video, Long Goodbye played on a flat screen with headphones was located in a long narrow space found at the end of the second corridor. In the third gallery, Im arranged Archive of the Dead, a series of four altar-like installations: Seal of Kim Bong Su; Spoon of Lee Duk Ku; Video Tape of Kim Ju Ik; and Orange and Green Colors of Poet Kim Sung Ju each made up of objects and images. In order to exit, viewers had to retrace their steps back through the darkness. Obviously, the structure of an exhibit is always important to its meaning, as much as any choice an artist makes, but especially here where the artist has taken pains to create the sense that viewers are submitting to a process within the confines of the gallery. That process it seems in Prayer was to move the viewer into a mindset of reflection, and while doing so, help each enter the claustrophobic space of conflict that is both the historical and current on Jeju-do.

Im portrays the complexities of Jeju Islanders desire to remain free from harm during the bitterest of days between the end of the Japanese occupation and the division of the Korean peninsula in Sung Si, a choppy mix of cuts from appropriated and shot footage including newscasts, a Korean language show from Japan, overdubbed narrations about the past, a conversation between two harmani (할머니), and people walking up hill in the light, and at night. Sung Si suggest in its jumps and discontinuities that every, and all perspectives are questionable, except the anguish of those left behind. In this layered and disconnected treatment of horrors performed and lived, the manifest nightmare of 4.3[1] and its latent remainders of the real underlying damage done to the identity of the place and its people overlap and conflict, like a nightmare. The second video Long Goodbye is a fantasy, but both an idyll and an ode, about the meeting of two kindred spirits: Doeck Ku Lee (1920-1949) and Joo Ik Kim (1963-2003)[2] whose sacrifices for liberty intersect. Im imagines these two men, who never met, enjoying a day on a sunny beach between darkening skies. The editing of Long Goodbye is softer, sweeter and sadder primarily because the music Im used. The song “Long Goodbyes” by Camel, a progressive rock band formed in the 70s, is, if you are from the West, tinged with a kind of clichéd emotionalism of that period and yet in the context of Im’s video it transcends its overwrought sensibilities and drags you into it’s images like the undertow of the beach where two young men are seen romping in the surf.

Certainly Jeju-do is and has always been a place apart, but not only because it is an island. The atmosphere of separation existed, even before the Japanese colonial period, when Jeju-do was the distant place where Chosun sent its exiles. This place is so unlike the mainland as to almost not be Korean, and yet it is. Im’s works defines loss and degradation of these people without falling into indignation. Moving, without being demanding, Im’s Prayer quietly implores, and beseeches. As much as art can and does call attention to issues, the merging of poetic and politics and poetics must walk a fine line to avoid being instructive or insipid. Without the didactics, Im’s homage is respectful and sincere, like a jaesa (제사)[3] he gives space to those people we should not forget.

Reviewed by Julia Marsh

[1] 4.3 or the Jeju Island Uprising, the massacre of Islanders by government forces happen on Apr. 3, 1948, just before the US sponsored elections that brought Syngman Rhee to power.

[2] Doeck Ku Lee (1020-1949) was the Commander in Chief of the Jeju-do 4.3 Partisans and Joo Ik Kim (1963-2003) was a worker at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction.

[3] An annual ceremony in which Koreans pay respect to their ancestors.


Review: From Blank Pages

Curated by Heejin Kim in collaboration with Reuben Keehan

Art Space Pool, October 21 – November 30, 2011

Brook Andrew, Alicia Frankovich, Deborah Kelly, Jung Yoon Suk, Donghee Koo, Minouk Lim, Bona Park, Rho Jae Oon

Thinking about heading up to Art Space Pool on the far northwest side of Seoul I often find reasons not to go: it’s too far away; it takes too much time to get there. But I was compelled this time, mostly to see the work of Jung Yoon Suk who’s work Home of the Stars, at Platform 2009, had impressed me so much with its inspired and humorous critique of the military Junta. Another reason to check out From Blank Pages was its title’s reference to that void from which artists of all stripes work, denoting a perhaps formalistic exhibition at a space that has a tendency toward the more socially engaged. Upon arriving I had almost forgotten about how inviting the venue of Art Space Pool is—tucked back off the road, on a hill—simply transporting. The trek up proved worthwhile. The show, which included five video works,  two sculptural installations, and a book project was a mix of reflections on subject ranging from sex and bodies, space and location, markers and boundaries, as well as making.

Especially entertaining was Deborah Kelly’s visually engaging dose of eye candy, Beastlines in its short three minutes. The dance between collaged animated bird-reptile-insect-mammal women and men suggested an informed reflection on ideas of beauty and sexuality, and for that matter who is who or what, in a world were looks and sexuality are almost as interchangeable as fast fashion. In the gathered works that made up From Blank Pages Kelly’s stood out, not only its color, and dynamic editing which gave it a pictorial punch but, but for its underlying suggestions about the nature of living beings.

Kelly piece brought life to a rather colorless and uneven, even disconnected field of participants that could be attributed to the perhaps loosely unifying theme. For instance the complexity of Kelly’s short animation outshone any of the meaning or resonance of Brook Andrew’s You’ve always wanted to be black (white friend), made up of op-art boxes stacked and easily ignored in the first room, feeling like the plop art they mimicked, without the possibility of displacement or making the viewer feel aware of their surroundings. Alicia Frankovich, Bison, and Undisciplined Bodies; Ballerina, also were underwhelming. Although Frankovch’s was bodily, like Kelly’s, Frankovich’s was a familiar exercise in bodies in space that stood apart, perhaps literally. Also notable was, Bona Park, FREE Flight, Manual to Present Doers as Individual Subjectivities Latent Behind their Final Products as an insightful look at the way people who make are the sum of their products, but the presentation of this book felt like an afterthought.

The enigmatic works under the title A Partisan 33849.4 – 54477.4 Stardate Series by Rho Jae Oon demanded contemplation by the viewer, for its coded references to another place and time. This work, perhaps the exhibition’s most poignant, is dedicated to the memory of the curator Kim Heejin’s late grandfather. The mood of this piece engenders a somber, steely, even rigid comportment in it’s post minimalist use of materials and space, which was augmented by the fact that it is comprised of a tombstone and glass plate bisecting the room.

The other standout, far more diminutive than Kelly’s, was Donghee Koo’s video Under the Vein. Her circular narrative, which depicts a man divining for water or more obviously the teasing girl who appears and disappears repeatedly, offering duck calls as she passes, taunting her pursuer. The maps tattooed on this diviner’s arms and his antenna divining rod suggest a search for a taproot, while the title suggests a feeling that cannot be gotten rid of like, a lingering presence. Koo’s work is perhaps the invisible ink on the paper. What is already there; what we can’t see, but is staring right at us.

So when I did sit down to watch Jung Yoon Suk’s video Siren Night, it wasn’t that I was disappointed, but I had expected more. In fact his work in some ways best fit to the shows title, using a dark, empty, building site to bang about, both creating and destroying aimlessly without seeming purpose. The space reads like a haunted house, emphasized by the actors’ ghostly presence, using structures to make sculptures and drawings upon its blank surface.

This show was less about the blank canvas and more about the flexible projection and transference of signs and symbols in art making, despite the high minded objective laid out in the curators statement, which they also downplayed with the caveat that this group is not obliged or perhaps willing to address the disconnect between politics and economics which mark this era, although some did indirectly. The poem which the exhibition is hinged on and named after suggests that our rules about art making are themselves reflective our ordered societies which restrict blending and blurring of edges which in the poem and in the show, in places, actually yields brilliant results.

Reviewed by Julia Marsh