[VIEWPOINT]Unasked questions rankle“Hallelujah!” I screamed after receiving a phone call in my car. I did not scream because I am religious. I shouted out of joy because my manager had called and told me that the “KBS Moscow Open Concert” was indefinitely postponed. If the concert had not been canceled, I would have missed the long-awaited press opening of the Gwangju Biennale when I boarded a flight to Moscow. In other words, I could have ended up being somewhere else and doing something else on the opening night of the Biennale even though I am not only a participating artist but also the promotional ambassador of the event.
There are two main reasons why I screamed “Hallelujah!” First of all, I was able to go to the press conference of the Biennale. Second, I could make my artistic capacity known to the world. Just wait and see! I would personally show my creations to art reporters, art critics and art managers from home and abroad, take their sharp questions and give clear answers to each of them, making their jaws drop with amazement. Ah! It is like a perfect dream just thinking about it.
It is truly ironic that I did not miss the opportunity of a lifetime and was able to go to Gwangju instead of Moscow, thanks to the hostage-taking terror incident in Russia.
I put forth every ounce of my energy toward making my piece all through last summer in preparation for this day, even not knowing whether it was hot or cold. I said to myself many times, “If I had practiced singing as hard as I am making this now, I would have quickly become a world-famous singer.” That much, my compassion and ambition for fine art was as high as the sky.
Art needs a plan too. I set a plan for my piece so that it would not stray from the theme of the 2004 Gwangju Biennale, which was “A Grain of Dust, a Drop of Water,” and a basic overall plan to keep in line with the audience participation system the sponsors introduced for the first time in the world.
First of all, I chose a subject for my piece that goes with the main theme of the Biennale. My subject was, of course, Korean playing cards, also known as flower cards. After all, I am known as an artist who draws flower cards. The deeper meaning is that you can get small consolation, much like a single drop of water, from one game of flower cards, which is transient like a single grain of dust. Art has to offer something new all the time. This time, I put up a three-dimensional sculpture of flower cards. Then I added twelve more sculptures of the participating audience. Twelve is also the number of flower card groups. I sculpted ten bright artists and added two mysterious people. The ten artists were the godfather of modern art, Pablo Picasso, Lee Joong-sup, Park Soo-geun, Kim Hwan-ki, Kwon Jin-gyu, Park Saeng-gwang, Paik Nam-jun in a wheelchair, Chun Kyung-ja lying on a sickbed and Jasper Johns, who has created several interpretations of the U.S. flag. One of the two people added to this group of great artists that I aspire to are one philosopher and one poet.
This part is the most important point of the whole piece. The philosopher is Na Chul, who devoted his entire life to a tribute to the founding father of the Korean nation, Tangun, and the poet is Lee Sang, who wrote poems like “Wings” and “Oh-gam-do.” My ambition was letting the whole world know about these two people through my sculpture.
I wanted to let people know that whether we are Confucian, Buddhist or Christian, the hard fact is that we are all descendants of Tangun, and also that the Korean poet Lee Sang was a far more talented poet that such famous poets of the world as Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Edgar Alan Poe.
I finished my preparations for the press conference of the 2004 Gwangju Biennale. I was well-armed with logic and expertise of my own. All I had to do was be inspected and pass the inspection. Then I would not be an outsider anymore. I would acquire an identity in the art world at once.
Finally on Sept 9, the press conference day, I stood in front of almost two hundred reporters, critics and art managers from home and abroad. I intentionally stood between the sculpture of Na Chul with a round aureole around his head and the sculpture of the poet Lee Sang with a gold crown on his head. Four days passed. Who would believe it? To this day I have not even once been asked the great question, “Who is Na Chul, and why is Lee Sang standing there?” In other words, I ended up being totally ignored. Darn! I should have just gone to Moscow and sang a song.
* The writer is a singer. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cho Young-nam