Disorientation, plastic surgery and the North

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Disorientation, plastic surgery and the North

Mina Cheon’s “Dizz/placement,” currently being shown at Insa Art Space, is an exhibition that focuses on the subject of North Korean women. The work is timely, as it depicts Western views of North Korea, as well as South Korean media’s representations of North Korean women.
The exhibition also examines ways in which, in the artist’s view, the American media have highlighted and isolated North Korea through a “post-colonial perspective.”
Cheon explores various cultural symbols of North Korea, trying to describe how South Korea has exploited its northern neighbor by “exoticizing” its cultural traditions,in much the same way that a Western imperialist might.
The artist uses pictures from photographic books on North Korea, focusing on how such images as a North Korean waterfall, or traditional dishes like dumplings and cold buckwheat noodles, are regarded here as particularly “authentic,” and are viewed by South Koreans with a sense of both nostalgia and cultural superiority.
In “Half Moon Eyes,” the artist makes reference to how Western media often treats Asian women’s eyes as exotic ― “small and delicate” when compared to Caucasian eyes.
The same piece also alludes to the fetishizing of North Korean women’s beauty ― particularly their eyes, which Cheon sees as a metaphor for a South Korean desire for cultural purity.
Through these symbols, the artist seems to argue that South Korean media exoticize North Korean women, much as Western culture exoticizes Asian women in general.
The references to women’s eyes are particularly significant in her work because they also allude to “double eyelid surgery,” a plastic surgery technique that’s undergone by many South Korean women who want their eyes to look “Western.”
Another part of Cheon’s exhibition features a mock-up of a voting booth and a ballot from the recent U.S. presidential election.
Visitors to the exhibition are invited to enter the voting booth and choose from various images on touch screen monitors. These images include animated North Korean army dolls, North Korean cheerleaders, video footage of cameras being inspected and tape confiscated, and footage of eyelid surgery being performed.
After “voting,” visitors find that they have been videotaped with a surveillance camera while in the booth, and that their image has been transmitted to a screen elsewhere in the gallery.
Overall, the exhibition creates a sense of disorientation. One’s sense of space is affected; visitors at times may actually feel dizzy.
In her statement accompanying the work, Cheon says the common thread that ties the various images together is the idea of subversion ― that they subvert our common understandings of gender, race and national identity.


by Park Soo-mee

“Dizz/placement” runs through Feb. 6. To get to Insa Art Space, take subway line No. 3 to Anguk station and use exit 6.
For more information, call (02) 760-4721.

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