Rooms of emotional alienation

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Rooms of emotional alienation

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The art installations currently being shown at Project Space Zip, an alternative art gallery in southern Seoul, are both horrifying and heart-breaking. The collection of half-human, half-rat figurines and a disturbing collage hint at a world that is alien yet somehow weirdly, frightfully accessible via the world of our own.
The exhibition’s Korean title, “Sin-Bi-Jeon,” is an abbreviation that stands for the two components of the show: the voice of its young artists and that of their critics.
The show gathers five up-and-coming artists ― Kim Si-yeon, Roh Jin-ah, Yu Kyoung-yeon, Kwon Jae-hong and Choi Xoo-ang ― whose works are paired with five art critics: Seo Jin-seok, Kim Chan-dong, Jung Yong-do, Ko Chung-hwan and Lee Sun-young.
The critics are members of Art and Discourse, a group of 10 Korean art critics founded in 1997 that planned and organized the exhibition.
Because of the way artists were individually brought on board, there was originally no central theme for the exhibition, but once the event came together in one venue, both the artists and critics found that they had been looking at, and looking for, the same thing.
“Although it wasn’t intentional, we found while observing the exhibition that all the works showed traces of post-humanism, in which the subjects, which have similarities to human forms, have a proximity to reality but are not quite there. The elements in these artists’ works all express a sort of disenchanted feeling, generated through created forms that are close yet distant from human forms,” the art critic Lee Sun-young said in the introductory statement of the exhibition.
A series by Yu Kyoung-yeon titled “A Room with Paintings” comprises five oil paintings that look like a collage of European dolls and Korean folk paintings.
The paintings are meticulously done, and showcase a world where a Peter Pan dines with naked girl dolls that are larger than the house they live in.
“When I was a little girl, I couldn’t afford to buy dolls,” Ms. Yu said. “I guess my ‘obsession’ started then. Because I couldn’t buy any dolls on my own, I got really excited when I got a hold of even little bits and pieces of old dolls that people didn't want anymore.”
The art critic Ko Chung-hwan compared the layers in Ms. Yu’s works to the various forms of texts in a body of work theorized by the French philosopher and theorist Roland Barthes.
The installation of pointy salt cones by another artist, Kim Si-yeon, might look out of place in the overall atmosphere of the exhibition. Yet her minimalist all-white installation, along with the black-and-white photographs of the installation on the second floor of the gallery, appears on first sight to be small mountains in the corner of a room.
The array of salt cones are intended to express feelings of disillusionment and bring the viewer back to reality.
“Some time ago, I found out that the sodium content of tears of sadness is different from that of tears of joy,” Ms. Kim said. “The salt cones express bottled-up emotions in everyday settings.”
The simple, tongue-in-cheek elements of the works would risk being misunderstood by the general public as too straightforward, or even shallow, if they were presented alone without critical comments on the side.
The pairing of the work and its criticism is the strength of the exhibition, bringing to attention the hidden layers of complexity in the context and emotion of the work.


Q&A
The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with the art critic Lee Sun-young on current art trends and the work, “The Test Mice,” by the artist Choi Soo-ang:

Q. What was your first impression of Choi’s work?

A.I noticed how detailed the figurines of the half-human and half-rat were. I could even see the veins on them. The second thing I noticed was the idea. Although I’m not a fan of overly abstract art, his works were very raw, which I found interesting.

Are Choi’s works with or against the current trend in the art scene?
I would say that he is definitely a part of the current trend, but one step ahead. There are a lot of works at the present that deal with the faces of post-humanism, in which the subjects are shown to be alienated and disillusioned. I find that his work is special among these because he expresses emotional states with his own brand of irony and humor.

Do many people find the exhibition grotesque?
Yes. I think they feel this way because the dolls in the exhibition look like themselves, but at the same time they are deconstructed and fragmented in a chilling way. It is this proximity, along with the unfamiliarity, that people find grotesque and scary. The exhibition has the potential to be very shocking and controversial.

What’s your response to people who say the exhibition is shocking and controversial simply for the sake of being shocking and controversial?
The elements of shock and controversy are necessary in order to grab the audience’s attention. However, there needs to be a context that follows this. At present, I think both context and shock value are decisive factors in the contemporary art scene.

What is the relationship between horror and art?
I think that almost every feeling that we feel is connected to fear. Simply put, even our efforts to survive everyday life are connected to fear. In that respect, this exhibition touches upon a small but crucial fear that we all share as human beings.
In Choi’s work, there is the fear in transformation that we see in half-human, half-rat forms, similar to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” Also, there is the fear of invisible forces that control us. When you think about it, it is terrifying to think about humans controlling other humans, or having natural forces override our will.


by Cho Jae-eun

The exhibition "Sin-Bi-Jeon" runs until Sunday. Admission is free.
Project Space Zip is located at 543-14 Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The nearest subway station is Sinsa, line No. 3, exit 8. Walk straight and make a left turn at the J-Tower building at the entrance of Garosu-gil. Project Space Zip is opposite Cafe Bloom & Goute.
For more information, call (02) 3446-1828 or visit the Web site, www.projectspacezip.com.
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