"many of the political incidents in Korea worked as a method to hammer in the political power of censorship and oppression to its people, and these have successfully become internalized in me to limit my thoughts and actions."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
While I began learning art from the age of 11, due to the nature of art education in South Korea, I understood art only as a mere form of acquisition of a technique and was trained accordingly. I never had a chance to practice critical thinking or exchange diverse opinions in discussion settings until I went to university.
I majored in Oriental Painting in Seoul National University as an undergraduate, yet even the school had teachings of traditional techniques and single-sided evaluations on these techniques as its main educational policies. Over the last couple of years, it was a strenuous task of mine to break the uniform, narrow-minded view of art that had grown within me under such an environment. It had not been long since I was able to have an overall understanding of contemporary art and form my own specific critical awareness and practice of art. I now major in sculpture at Royal College of Art.
The performance “A Prayer for My Daughters” is a poignant reminder of some of the atrocities under the Japanese imperial regime, could you talk about this project and the ideas behind it?
It is a performance as a ritual for girls being killed as Japan's wartime sex slave during the World War 2. A Buddhist drum in the middle, twenty hangers with traditional cloth of Korean woman, and I are the main parts of this ritual. There are two main ideas lying on this work.
First, I tried to express my condolences to almost two hundred thousand daughters of those days. This is primarily because there is no way I can turn my face away from their horrible pain. So, I beat the drum again and again. Traditionally, beating the Buddhist drum has the meaning of a consolation for the dead and praying them to go to the better world.
Furthermore, I think remembering this brutality of human beings is crucial to not repeat the same tragedy. Through the continuous resonance of the drum, I wanted to imprint this on my and our minds.
Your work often teaches or reminds the viewer of past and present actions by a political system, could you talk about how these actions have affected you and your practice?
A nation’s political system functions as a fundamental force in forming the view of the world of those individuals who belong in it. Especially, while South Korean political system claims to advocate a republican government and liberal democracy, ideological censorship and oppression had been persistent with the particular circumstances of North-and-South confrontation under truce. So far, many of the political incidents in Korea worked as a method to hammer in the political power of censorship and oppression to its people, and these have successfully become internalized in me to limit my thoughts and actions.
Internalized censorship and limitations especially symbolize ‘anti-communist ideology’ to me. I aim to delve into how power of state, anti-communist ideology, functions within each individual and reveal how internalized power of the state is reproduced and expanded by the society and the individuals through my works.
Your more recent works are collage based, with heads cutout to reveal the red paper behind the image, could you talk about these works and what these images mean?
I approached and conveyed internalized power of state in two perspectives. The first is the individual as the receiver of oppression, while the second is the Individual as the agent of the oppression.
<Untitled> is the work focused on the individual as the receiver of oppression. Here, Decoupage reveals an individual’s subconscious or the unconscious by removing the person situated within the photograph, thus showing its other side. Moreover, the collage of red papers under what has been ripped off represents three different meanings of power: (1) they clearly reflect the state power, anti-communistic ideology engraved in the unconscious, (2) they show how the state power had totally eradicated the diverse and specific others into one ideological color, and (3) they contain my rooted and still functioning fear, stemming from the banned questions and reflections facing the government.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?
These days, I spend more time reading books than working on projects. Since I recently am working on photomontage and text collages, I read historical data on photography, visual culture and critiques about the system, and discussions regarding contemporary art.
Besides, since data serves as the basis for such art mediums like photomontage, I a lot of times collect photos and documents recording events that had happened in Korea, along with texts with meanings in art history.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I think that my work in a way poses a problem to myself and the audience. My hope is that my posing of the problem provides an opportunity for the audience to reconsider and discuss the power of the state and art institutions that very well exists to this day. After all, state power and art institutions also constitute distinct individuals themselves.
How do you go about naming your work?
Because I tend to start the actual work after the critical conscious or the concept of the work becomes concrete, many a time the title of the work is finalized during the conceptualizing stage. Most of my recent works are based on historical data, and therefore, there are a lot of cases where the name of the specific incident is appropriated for the title of my work.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
‘Live and Let Die, or, The Tragic End of Marcel Duchamp,’ co-created by Eduardo Arroyo, Gilles Aillaud, and Antonio Recalcati was very impressive. Even though the work was created quite some time ago – in 1965 – the scene where the three young French artists challenges Duchamp, the master of modern art, to even commit murder is yet well engraved in my memories. It was how the murder had happened not as a mere accident but under meticulous planning that had stroke me the most.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I am currently completely involved in my ongoing work. The tension, density, and my passion from the working process are overflowing. I want to retain and make progress with my urge to express and my intellectual acuity as for now. I will also be involved in a residency in Spain this fall. I have no clue for what future to expect, but I surely am stoked!
Publishing date of this interview: 12/08/16