Jang Min Seung earned his BFA and MFA from Chung-ang University, in Seoul, South Korea. He has had solo exhibitions at Space Willing and Dealing, Seoul (2014), One and J. Gallery, Seoul (2012 and (2010), Art+Lounge Dibang, Seoul (2010), and Seomi & Tuus, Seoul(2008 and 2006). He has been included in group exhibitions at Seoul Museum of History, (2014), Kumho Museum, Seoul (2013), Gillman Barracks, Singapore, (2012), Culture Station 284 Seoul, (2012), Salon de H, Seoul, (2011), KIMUSA, Seoul (2009), Seoul Design Week, Fuorisalone, Milano, Italy (2007), Cais Gallery, Seoul (2006). In 2010 Jang was awarded a grant for Visual Arts by the Seoul Art and Culture Foundation, the SeMA Young Artist support program by the Seoul Museum of Art and a grant for Mullae Arts Plus by the Seoul Art and Culture Foundation. He was named the 2006 Korea Design Award: Young Product Designer of the Year.
Jang’s work is sometimes collaborative and other times not, however his work is generally sensitive and carefully constructed from observation of his subjects. Jang is one of a younger generation of artists that has experience that cuts across disciplines and does not adhere to the gallery as a main form of exhibition. I first became acquainted with Jang’s work when he showed large-scale photographs of windows in abandoned apartments titled In Between Times. These photographs of windows looking out onto nature are much like paintings of nature from an earlier age. Initially installed in an abandoned house, the buildings structure underscored the in between quality of their context. Jang’s background in design and music inform his work in photography, sculpture, and sound. His is a hybrid, one that developed as a natural outcropping of his interests. Jang is nothing if not thorough in his approach and attitude towards making. It is this drive that makes his works definitive.
The following interview questions, which where answered via email, are based on a conversation Jang Min Seung and I had in June 2014.
Julia Marsh: I understand you did not start out as an artist. How or why did you make this transition?
Jang Min Seung: Since I was a teenager, I was deeply into rock music, and I when I formed my first rock band, I met my collaborator, Jung Jae Il, who was the band’s guitarist. Our music back then was just copying Western heavy metal and rock numbers. Sometime after, Jung was noticed for his brilliant music and quit school to take the path of a professional musician, while I became an art student at a university. But after I got in, the school did not feel particularly fresh or new to me. It was 1997, and Hongdae was, more than today, filled with musicians and artists of various fields, as well as their exchanges. At that time, I was a bassist in an independent rock band and played for many festivals and events over the whole country, and time to time, participated on some soundtracks with Jung. Also after my first trip to London in 1998, I became obsessed with electronic music, and because of this, I even ran a club for a short time. With these experiences, I passed my 20s embodying the subcultures of the time. I started my military service in 1999, and after I was discharged, when I was 23, I founded a soundtrack production company with my friends, who are great musicians. The Korean film scene was in its golden era at that time, so that I could participate in the field as a producer and coordinator for about 20commercial films, in a short period of time. In response to the fatigue that came from listening to music as a job and commercial activities, I started to make furniture as a hobby, which was similar to my major. When I was in the college, I was into minimalism and so when I formally launched the furniture line I do so in this style. Looking back, there were almost no competitors, who were both making and designing furniture, so it was a very smooth debut for me as a designer. At that time, I thought I was meant to be a furniture maker. Naturally, I stopped working on the music related jobs. My tables were very popular so that I could freely observe my clients’ living spaces, so when I was about 30 I began to compare the different contexts of the things in spaces and the cultural taste of the owners. Sometimes I had severe prejudice on these things, which made me feel disgusted by my self. So I began wondering, if someone who doesn’t have a career background like mine, could they look at things without comparison or prejudice? So I stopped making furniture and started to take photographs ofthe offices of different embassies in Korea, and taking large scale pictures of various spaces for three years, which resulted in A Multi-Culture (2010) at One and J. Gallery, and In between Times (2010) at Art+Lounge Dibang. Based on the various cultural experiences in my 20s, this was the turning point at which I presented my formative language.
JM: Your work tends to have very concrete parameters with the exception of Willing + Dealing? Why is that?
JMS: I think your point is very accurate. I tend to consider formal beauty andits pleasure as very important, sometimes too much. Although the narrative is important, I believethat the message of one image, musical piece, or their formal beauty and texture (or finish for design) sometimes exceeds the narrative. Maybe this thought came from my direct experiences in the different focuses of my youth and the techniques and collaborative styles that I acquired from these interactions. (Later I had thought that Sanglim would never be possible without these experiences.) Critics say of my works, that they find a common formal beauty whether the work is a piece of furniture, a photograph, or in a new media form. My working process often starts with excessiveness and goes through steps that leave the minimum, and I hope the audience can find more stories because of this process. In Japanese literature, there is the poetic genre Haiku, which is a very simple verse with a fixed form, and because of its brevity and implication, the readers can have different personal interpretations. So every time I released my work, I intended to have an opinion, but not to state it. Sometimes this feels like dogma, which use to I lock myself in my own formal structure. But in the case of the exhibition in Space Willing + Dealing, I intended to be different from my earlier work and be very flexible, which was to not make any additional works for the exhibition and just comfortably lay out and mix the leftover pieces that were not released, (including photographs, furniture, and sculptures), and roughly show my hybrid identity, or rather my work. To realize this, I chose a coarse and vertically and horizontally distorted space for the exhibition. Especially, the for exhibitionHidden Track, I released my work TABLE 2, which I’ made for 10 years, and also exhibited research materials, like A Multi-Culture and B-cuts from In between Times. I could feel that the way I look at things had widely changed from before. A big awakening about my series of works came to me through this exhibition, so that I felt it was a kind of retrospective of mypast 10 years.
JM: Besides your photographic works, with your collaborator Jang Jae Il, you have done many sound works. This type of media work is increasingly finding its support and a place in exhibition. What are some of the challenges you have faced in realizing a project like Sanglim?
JMS: The biggest and the toughest problem that I confronted, while I was processing Sanglim, was the perception of how to look at the form of this work. Sanglim was a pilot project with the cooperation of central and regional organization and professionals to overcome both the standard form of public art and the practices that solidify the form. And the objective space, Sanglim Park in Hamyang, Kyungsangnam-do, is a park and also a forest, which its name implies, and at the same time, it is a natural monument and a neighborhood park. The scenery was already cluttered with many objects, so we suggested not placing anything, and instead make an invisible work, and one without the most important attribute for proposing public art: durability (or permanency), so that it will perish as the time passes. At the beginning, the process of convincing for this was the most difficult thing.
JM: The three sound pieces that you worked on Sanglim, Mullae and at Jeju Island, could also be called site-specific. Do you think there is a need to distinguished between genres or is it all the same?
JMS: From time to time, I have been asked to summarize the work of Jang Min Seung + Jung Jae Il. In fact, it is hard for us to explain our works and we do not explain it as a certain thing or a genre, but we do think that we have been showing results that no one else ever did. The works in Sanglim, Munlae-dong, and Jeju are different in their site-specificity and background, so that the experiencing audiences are also different; in turn I recently felt there is a disparity between works that are freely made and those that are commissioned for certain purposes. This question is suggestive of the change in our future works, which will be different from previous works. So I would rather not classify the works of Jang Min Seung + Jung Jae Il, and just anticipate our works. In the distant future, I hope our work becomes a genre, not a style. I even wish it will not be recognized as art.
JM: Your works each have an underlying social concern, like housing or construction. Would you say this is true for your latest work Willing + Dealing?
JMS:I think the answer will overlap a lot with my previous answers. All individuals, including artists, are making connections to the environment (city, society) they are living, but different from the others. I think artists actively find it and make a statement about it. I was once confused with my very Westernized design language, which I found in my 20s as a designer. To resolve this, I took many pictures of new town areas and other scenes, like an anthropologist does fieldwork. These were not for public eyes at the beginning, yet some of them became projects, while others did not. Maybethe reason why the images I showed at Space Willing + Dealing could be seen that way, is that they were less refined than the other works that has become projects and exhibited. Correspondingly, Hidden Track was an improvisatory mixture of leftover wooden scraps from making commercial furniture, while B-cuts were photographs and sculptures, and the furniture fragments and images that I took near the exhibition site.Each installation I put there was one element, and I hoped the exhibition site to become one big work.
JM: You seem to move between commercial work and art making with relative ease. What do you think is the relationship between art and commerce in Korea?
JMS:Because I don’t have much experience making money as an artist, I cannot really speak about the relation between art and commerce in Korea. But what I feel is that the size of the art market in Korea is too small. This is not just about the size of the artwork deals, but the price for the artist is also too small, no matter in the art field or commercial field. This is why artists naturally tend to have another job. Simply, it is hard to make a living from making art. When I see the many musicians around me, they commonly do different activities, like sessions for popular music, and their own music. Through this, I see they keep their work habits and persist in their creative works, yet I saw many artists who think this is shameful, and that they are tainted by such work.
For my case, it may look easy to come and go, but actually it is a very difficult matter. There was a time that the music, which I was interested in, became my means of living, and after that my interest moved to design. And then design became the means of living, then I had my late start on art based on the view I learned from design. Now being an artist became my job and I spend most of my time doing it more than before, but the good thing is that this work cannot be my means of living at all. (Especially because I am more and more attracted to ephemeral works, which is non-materialistic and communicating through some particular experiences.) So I think this is the work, which I can keep doing. If this becomes a major moneymaker, I will definitely feel bored. Commercial films, popular music, and the design field, which are in a love-hate relationship with me, have bigger capital, newer technology and more trained and reasonable people than in the art field. I am not just making money from them, but also discovering the materials and learning many things that nobody can teach me.