Art works that blur the line between the real and surreal

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Art works that blur the line between the real and surreal

Sometimes a small unexpected alteration of what is familiar and natural dramatically arouses people’s curiosity and imagination. In surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s series “The Empire of Light,” for example, bright blue skies above dark forests pose questions of time and reality to viewers who might expect shaded skies with stars.
Kwak Hyun-jung, the curator of Gallery Factory in northern Seoul, attests that such a mysterious experience of standing on the subtle boundary of the real and surreal awakens our dulled senses and makes our lives more interesting. “Art inspires you to question your life and offers intellectually challenging amusement,” she says.
For those who want to explore the surreal world through their imagination, Gallery Factory presents the exhibition “Surreally Real,” featuring 10 works of five emerging artists in Earth Project, an art gallery in Insa-dong in central Seoul.
“These works are not too abstract or complex to understand. They are very much like scenes from our real life,” says Ms. Kwak. “However, at the same time you will find something abnormal about the work.”
The life-size installation “Cold Table” by the artist Shin Gun-woo consists of three objects: a table arranged with two chairs. The white table appears to be an ordinary one, but hanging underneath it is an odd-looking creature: a truncated part of an oversized gold bug. Underneath one chair is part of a dog and cat, and under the other, a man and a baby.
Mr. Shin says he wanted people to become imaginative by observing two different sides of reality: one that is seen above the table, the other underneath. “I want each and every viewer to create his or her own story.”
About the strange figures that constantly draw audiences’ attention, Mr. Shin explains, “They are from my imagination and childhood memories. Especially, the gold bug has been a repeated theme in my work, representing my alter ego.”
Sometimes a subtle change of perspective alters everything. The photographic work titled “Bigplantsmallpeople,” by Choi Seung-hoon and Park Sun-min, offers a fresh perspective as it contains objects that are out of proportion.
“Small plants and animals that are normally out of our interest become the main objects of our works. This small change of focus opens up a whole new world,” says Mr. Choi.
“If you look carefully, you will find a little baby toy among the plants. We thought that it creates a fantasy like ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’” adds Ms. Park.
The married couple recently returned to Korea after eight years of studying and working in Germany. Earlier this year, they received the Daum Prize, an important award for emerging artists in Korea.
In their piece for the exhibition, Mr. Choi and Ms. Park placed a number of extremely magnified pictures of strawberry stems and other plants on one entire wall. From afar, or at first glance, the collage looks more like one giant tree in the jungle, creating an optical illusion.
Photographer Jung Kyu-hyun began his series of works by taking pictures of movie sets, inspired by his experience in Cairo, Egypt in 2002. Mr. Jung was shooting a documentary on a movie studio in Egypt when he saw locals working on their farms near the movie set that was made to look like ancient Egypt. “Seeing the juxtaposition of reality and fiction in one place, I felt as if ancient Egypt had come to exist in real life. It was much later that I realized the huge time gap.”
“Normally in the summer, people feel it is difficult to concentrate on complex abstract works,” says Ms. Kwak, the curator. “These works are easy to understand, yet provoke curiosity in the viewer’s mind about what reality is.”


by Kim Soe-jung

The exhibition runs through Thursday at Earth Project in Insa-dong in central Seoul. Admission is free. The nearest subway station is Anguk on line No. 3, exit No 6. For more information, call (02) 733-4883.

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