JoSeub earned both his BFA (1991) and MFA (2001) at Kyung-Won University, Seongnam, South Korea. He has shown his work extensively, with recent solo exhibits at Palais de Seoul, Seoul (2013); Multispace EMU, Seoul (2012); and CAS, Osaka, Japan (2010); Gallery 2, Seoul (2008); and Space Beam, Incheon, South Korea (2007) among others. His works have also been included in numerous group shows including Hurroo Hurroo, Goeun Museum Of Photography, Busan (2013); Humor:us, Space K, Daegu (2013); PlayTime, Culture Station Seoul 284, (2012); Here Are People, Daejeon Museum of Art, Daejeon (2012); Platform Festival, Incheon Art Platform, Incheon, South Korea; Korean Rhapsody – Crossing the History, Leeum Museum, Seoul (2011); Eye of the Needle, Space99, Seoul (2011); Good Citizenship Award, Art Space Pool, Seoul (2010); Peppermint Candy: Contemporary Art from Korea, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, South Korea and National Museum of Fine Art, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2009); Art Toward The Society: Realism in Korea Art 1945-2005, Fuchu Art Museum, Tokyo (2008) and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan (2007); The 2nd Novosibirsk International Festival of Contemporary Photography, Novosibirsk State Museum, Novosibirsk, Russia (2008); Parallel Realities – Asian Art New, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Blackburn, UK (2006); Incongruent: Contemporary Art from South Korea, Richard Brush Gallery, New York (2005); and Imaginary Nation, Kyonggi Cultural Foundation Arts Center, Suwon, South Korea (2004).
JoSeub’s recent works are sometimes irreverent tableaus that show a more than different view of Korean traditional culture and history. Especially his series Moon Melody and Moon Melody 2: Eclipse (2013) show a delightful sense of play, while expressing the awkward dynamics and contest between traditional culture and modern life, and the painful truths about the lasting conflict between North and South Korea, respectively. I first saw Joseub’s work in the show Eye of the Needle (2011) curated by Shin Sungran, which focused on the relationship between labor and the conditions of capital. From that exhibit until now Joseub’s works give viewers something important to untangle and read. The works included in that show were especially compelling in the manner he transformed everyday experiences and objects into compositions with the kinds of underlying violence pervading social relations in late Capitalism.
The following interview questions, which where answered via email, are based on a conversation JoSeub and I had in February 2012.
Julia Marsh: When I was first introduced to your work one of your images in particular “Container series – Rice planting” (2010), caught my attention. This image seems to summarize the many tensions that exist between work and status as well as position and bodies. Can you say how labor relations and economies factor into your subject matter, especially this series?
JoSeub: The work, Rice Planting, is a photograph depicting the act of rice planting using rubber-coated, industrial gloves from my late father, who died in 2010. The motif in the work here is based on the personal sacrifices and historic repetitions of my fathers’ generation, born in the 1930s and 40s, who obsessively memorized and practiced the ideologies of construction, development, and national prosperity. I wanted to refer to the situation of labor and the differences between social classes, especially after the new political regime, with its adherence to neo-liberalism,came to power in 2008, making the conflict more and more acute. What I felt was strange at that time, was that most Koreans became very adaptable at the time. I think this condition is common internationally. This work was instigated from my curiosity as to the source of this separation.
JM: Perhaps it is obvious, but do you think of yourself as a political or ideological artist, and if so what is the role in society for political art? What are its potentials and shortcomings?
JS: Before defining myself as a political or ideological artist, I want to talk about artists and artworks, first. An artist, is a person who studies the space and moment s/he lives in now, while analyzing and contemplating how they are made. Artworks are the result of this activity. In the world, I think there is a huge gap between South Korea and the other developed nations. (And surely there are people in the developing world who live in greater agony). To understand this place and the time we live in, I had to understand such historic moments as the forty years of Japanese colonial rule, the war, the division of Korea, military dictatorship, regional conflict, etc. Thus, South Korea is the country, which has to live with this configuration. I think the biggest virtue of contemporary art is its ability to critically view society with humane introspection.
JM: Since many of your images have historical references, I want to ask you what do you consider the legacy for the arts from the political uprisings of the 80s in Korea?
JS: We share a lot in common, the political art at that time and my own, but I think there are many differences, as well. I don’t really think about those differences. Now is very distinct from the conditions of the 1980s, but I think I am addressing those distinctions. The 1980s convulsed with the urge for domestic democratization; while now we are experiencing rapid globalization. The changes in humanity toward vanity, arrogance, and materiality since that period are certainly topics of my work.
JM: When I look at your more recent images I think your lighting, especially reflects a coldness, or a dryness, but definitely a lack of warmth. Can you talk about how you construct your images, and to what effect to you aim at in your method?
JS: Because Container series were shot in the closed space, some people say it is rather cold or dry. I wanted to do it that way to clarify my intention, and also, reveal the cold metallic materiality of the container. It can be read as a bit of metaphor for the reality we live in.
Eclipse series, my most recent work, shot in a slightly different way, I tried to depict the picturesque, with an oriental mood, and color. I actively used lighting in this series; shooting at night without the sun. I aim for different effects with the method in each series, recently I am bacame interested in picturesque photographs, which have rich aesthetic sensibility. And I am always looking for a way of how to put irony and wit in my work.
JM: As an artist that uses photography do you think we can still be shocked or disturbed by images? Also what does photography give you as a medium that others do not?
JS: Looking at the 3D movies nowadays, such changes in the film industry show its potential future. If we accept this situation, many movies made up till now will immediately look out of date. So maybe, the future of the photography and fine art will reflect a similar condition.
Therefore, I think the real question should be: what is the role and position of the fine art, in light of contemporary technology and science? Facing the commercial art, which is infused with technology and capital, I think the only way fine art can survive is to express the sentiment, inspiration and emotion, which the commerical art cannot show. It is then the same for the painting, photography and sculpture; so in this reality, I use photography as my medium for its pictorial structure, while the different entangled situations produce certain narratives.
JM: Can you elaborate on whether the Korean context and related subject matters transcend local borders, and are therefore universal?
JS: From the beginning, I have never thought my works are stories only for Korea. Even though there are some emotional and cultural differences, theses are the common stories that happen all over the world: the human rights, capital, neo-liberalism, rich-poor gap, immigrants, discrimination, city, political power, race, etc.
My work is rooted in the juncture where a rational confrontation of my “self” becomes opaque (ambiguous) in post capitalist reality. I am making openings in the ideology of reality while creating conflicts between contradictory concepts such as reason and violence, logic and jumping of logic, grief and cheer.
I am most interested in highlighting the ironic ego that meet outside of this point of collision. Through my cheerful yet disturbing imagination, I present a type of barrenness that must be overcome to obtain a mutual understanding—not to be understood as an easy utopia based on the constructs of reasoning, but a new implementation of ideology and communication that must be idealized amidst this barrenness.