Power nexus with a thousand facesWho would you rather trust ― Coca-cola or Bruce Lee?
In essence, that’s the question asked by a new exhibit that explores the idea of power and its application, currently on display at a leading gallery in Seoul.
Ssamzie Space’s sixth annual “Emerging” series, which spotlights young artists, contrasts two applications of power ― the manipulative and redemptive ― with works focused on marketing by a multi-national corporation and images of superheros. The show, titled “Absolutely Invincible” consists of installations and paintings by Jo Hae-jun and Shin Chang-young.
The “Emerging” series is an annual exhibit at Ssamzie Space that introduces noteworthy new artists through two or three simultaneous solo exhibitions. Although most newcomers are limited to group exhibitions, this rare show provides artists a larger space to make a more personal and focused exhibit.
The series has been quite successful in picking artists that later go on to greater things ― “Emerging” has already introduced several accomplished artists including Park Mi-na, Sasa, and Ham Yeon-joo. Ms. Ham participated in the second series and was later invited to join the residence program at the acclaimed Yongeum Art Center. Meanwhile, Ms. Park and Sasa have been selected to participate in “Spectrum,” a similar exhibit for new artists at the highly distinguished Hoam Art Museum.
“We choose artists based on their talent and potential through our own research,” says Ssamzie Space curator Shin Hyun-jin.
The theme of power in this year’s exhibit was a coincidence, says Ms. Shin. What makes it interesting is that “their approach was drastically different. So we decided to title the exhibit ‘Absolutely Invincible’ to observe their separate paths.”
“The Pioneer’s Visit” by Mr. Jo, 33, is a symbolic narrative of the invasion of Korea by foreign multi-national corporations. The show was inspired when the artist saw a truck collecting broken Coca-Cola bottles one day.
Pieces of broken glass from Coca Cola bottles are the main material used in the four installations showcased at Ssamzie. Some bottles are used whole, while others are shaved and sculpted into objects resembling brilliant jewels.
One installation is titled “Play Points (Red),” which is a social critique of a recent marketing campaign by Coke using the same title. In the promotion, consumers receive “play points” with each purchase of Coke. The points can be used on the Coke web site to download music or play games. Mr. Jo says that the “pioneer” ― Coca-Cola Inc. ― is presenting these gifts to the surrendering public.
Viewers may be perplexed, but that may be because they are too dazzled by marketing machinery to see what is really happening, according to Mr. Jo’s view.
“Companies like Coca-Cola and Nike possess power for two reasons,” says Mr. Jo. “One, they have a positive image generated by glossy multi-million dollar advertisement campaigns. The other is because consumers admire these conglomerates.” Prior to this exhibit, Mr. Jo, who is a graduate of the Korea National University of Arts, concentrated on examining the role of multinational corporations in Korea’s economy.
If Mr. Jo depicts the manipulative side of power from a cynical perspective, Mr. Shin’s paintings render hope and fantasy entwined with the redemptive use of power.
A life-affirming hero worship appears to be the main theme. His detailed yet cartoon-like oil and acrylic paintings depict scenes inspired by the artist’s youthful addiction to comic books and Hollywood blockbusters. One piece titled “Power Up” simply shows a giant flaming fist that is rendered the size of a door. Another, called “Teaching,” illustrates Bruce Lee surrounded by martial arts gurus dressed in white and black robes.
Mr. Shin says he hopes to “engage in a world of absolute good prevailing over evil.”
The 27 year-old graduate student of painting at Hongik University says that the morality and optimism of his work should be taken seriously.
“I know it sounds juvenile, but I want to help people through the trials and tribulations of life in order to gain hope and strength through my work,” says Mr. Shin. “It’s not about escapism, but about fighting against harsh reality through faith and conviction.”
by K. Tina Hyun
The exhibition, “Absolutely Invincible,” is running until Nov. 4. Ssamzie Space is located on 5-129 Changjeon-dong in Mapo-gu in northwestern Seoul. Admission is free. The gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The nearest subway station is Hongik University station, line No. 2, exit 5. For more information, visit the Web site, www.ssamziespace.com or call (02) 3142-1695.
At the exhibition, the IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with the artists, Jo Hae-jun and Shin Chang-young, about power in today’s world:
Who do you think should become a world leader?
Shin: Me ― Nah, I’m joking. I know it can’t be President Roh Moo Hyun or George W. Bush. It can’t be Bill Gates either. I think the leader of the world should be a nice ajeossi. No, now the feminists are going to get mad, so I’ll rephrase ― A nice person.
Cho: A genius. A “genius government” should emerge.
Who was your idol growing up and why?
Shin: As an adolescent I was very into rock music. I was applying to colleges and thinking about my future as an artist. Music was the only outlet I had to release pent up stress. I remember Kurt Kobain’s death affecting me a lot and also the suicide of the Korean pop star Kim Sung-jae. I thought that stars that shine so bright in a split second were even more beautiful.
Cho: My father because he truly amazes me. I had a chance to collaborate with him on a “docu-drawing” production. He has some experience having his amateur artwork exhibited at a solo show. This was a sort of documentary style drawing that followed 40 years of my father’s life. I’d always had a good relationship with him before, but after working on this production together, I developed pure admiration for him.
Do you believe in the power of the media?
Shin: The media has a great power and that power is very important. The question is, is it real? Or is it a fabrication? But I do have admiration for journalists because I see the amount of effort they put into a story. Sometimes they tend to distort the truth, but I believe they try and don’t have malicious intentions.
Cho: I actually feel negative about the power of the media. The media has too much control over public opinion and often fails to serve its rightful duty. They focus too much on the market economy and not enough on our culture. When they do focus on our culture, it’s driven by its economic value.
What’s your favorite comic?
Shin: I loved this Japanese anime called “Bukdueui Singwon” [“Hokuto No Ken,” aka “Fist of the North Star”]. I used to cry reading it. It’s a strong comic book for men. Do you know what it was about? Love. About the life of a man who loved a woman ― I got it! I know who I think should save the world. A person filled with love.