한반도를 바라보는 다섯 개의 시선
KR | EN
Noordelicht Gallery, Groningen, Netherlands
8 feb - 13 apr 2014
Jaegu Kang 강재구
Insook Kim 김인숙
Suntag Noh 노순택
Seung Woo Back 백승우
Xuezhe Shen 심학철
Five Views from Korea
KR | EN
Every day, the papers are flooded with news heralding tension on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps because they are in the eye of the storm, but the people living in the southern half are largely skeptical of an outbreak of war. The feeling closest to fear they experience is annoyance, as if they’ve been reminded of a particularly stubborn splinter that might never be removed. The projects of five artists introduced here are the result of the frustrations felt in everyday life by this reality.
Noh Suntag is a photographer who has persistently pursued how Korea’s divided condition functions in the North and South, both in political and social aspects. His interests lie in showing that although the ideologies of the two countries conflict, the way in which each country protects its system is similar. For example, the spectacle of North Korea’s synchronized choreography of the mass games and the worship of extremist Christian groups in the South are similar in their collective fanaticism. Underneath the pretext of unification or peace and security, South Korean society continues to both visibly and invisibly exercise ideological violence, which is easily overlooked for the pure reason that this is a divided country. “The State of Emergency” is a work that addresses the contradictions of South Korean society within the context of the North. While in the bigger picture, division affects politics and society, it also rules the minutiae of our daily lives. So in the artist’s view, a divided Korean Peninsula is as critical a situation as ever. He determines that it is exactly because this state of emergency has become institutionalized that it is urgent.
Kang Jaegu’s “A Private” is a series of portraits of soldiers who have freshly joined the army. The nervous expressions on their young, early 20s faces encapsulate the essence of military culture in Korea, a country where all men are obligated to serve. “12mm” refers to the required hair length of all recruits, part of Kang’s ongoing project that covers all aspects of military culture. Alternatively, “Reserve Soldier” is portraits of reserve forces, men who have already been discharged from the military. Unlike the nervous, timid figures of “A Private,” the reservists wear the military uniform as if draped in high fashion. Their uniforms are casually worn according to each individual’s taste, and not a trace of anxiety can be found in their on-camera poses. Clearly delineated in the two series are the army, uniform and system, representing the anonymity and de-individualization injected into us, but also the desire of the individual to come out from under it all.
“Utopia” by Baek Seungwoo captures and magnifies images of buildings cut out from North Korean propaganda photographs obtained in Japan. He then twists and synthesizes them into styles of Russian constructionism or German Bauhaus. The forms are exaggerated and the colors are distorted. The space within his photographs is so obscure that it doesn’t even appear as an imaginary utopia. It transports viewers to a dystopia absent of all human trace.
Meanwhile Shen Xuezhe’s “Doumen River on the Border” depicts the actual scenery of the Tumen riverbanks as seen through the eyes of the artist. Currently residing in Korea, Shen (Korean name Shim Hak-cheol) is Korean-Chinese, born and raised in Yanbian, China. The ethnic Korean populations are descendants of Koreans who were displaced from their homes during the Japanese occupation. The riverbank seen from the side of the Chinese is so barren it verges on the point of surreal. At the same time there is an air of melancholy to it, like a scene from an old memory, from a childhood home.
Kim Insook is a third generation Zainichi currently based in Seoul. Many Koreans settled in Japan during the era of Japanese occupation and a large number of them were unable to return to their motherland even after the war. Zainichi is a common term for ethnic Koreans residing in Japan. Whether their cultural identity is Japanese or Korean is a question they must bear while they are faced with yet another crisis of self: when they are forced to choose between South and North Korean nationalities. Through the student work of attendees of a Zainichi school run by Jochongnyeong, a pro-North Korean faction, Kim shows the labor of having to overcome the world’s prejudices. In the work’s background is her own experience of feeling pressure to choose between the three countries of Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. Even if she were to select one, she would have to suffer the prejudices connected to whether or not it was the right choice.
If Noh Suntag’s concentration is on showing us the shades of ideology that covertly operate within our day-to-day lives, Kim Insook speaks to the individual lives people lead to overcome prejudices built up by ideology. The fact that an individual can’t make a whole of parts of three different countries is also a paradoxical problem. She is in the midst of a 20-year project, following these students to their lives after graduation.
Ultimately, these are narratives regarding five perspectives on either the nations tied to the divided Korean Peninsula or the identity of those who live within the countries’ influences. Invisible ideologies attempt to control us in whatever way possible, while we struggle to overcome that restraint. It is the things unseen that dig most deeply into our everyday lives, irrevocably bore into our skin.