Artists chart transitions of adolescent stage

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Artists chart transitions of adolescent stage

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Adolescence has its roots in the Latin word dolor, which means “pain.” This period between childhood and adulthood represents for most people a time of being plunged into chaos and confusion as they face the responsibility of seeking their direction in life. Besides the apparent physical transitions of adolescence, the emotional state of adolescence, torn between rebellion and vulnerability while being caught in a constant state of transition and the mystery of youth have often been themes depicted in art. An exhibition titled “Symptom of Adolescence” currently held at the Rodin Gallery in Jung-gu, central Seoul, throws light on the “adolescent” stage of Korean art since the 1990s and ties this theme to the personal definitions of adolescence by 12 Korean artists.
“In contemporary Korean life, gravity and speed collide, and self-pride and inferiority complexes coexist,” stated Hong Ra-hee, the director general of Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. She added, “In that context, this exhibition is also inspired by surprising similarities and emotional correspondences found between the psychological conflicts experienced by contemporary artists and the concept of transition, characterized by alienation and anxiety.”
The exhibition, running until Nov. 5, has paintings, sculptures, installations, photography and video art by 12 artists: Young Whan-bae, Chang Jia, Choi Min-hwa, Gim Hong-sok, Hyeon Tae-joon, Lim Min-ouk, Oh Hein-kuhn, Park Area, Suh Do-ho, Yang Man-ki and artists who go by the names flyingCity and YP771207001@.
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When walking into the gallery, the first work visitors will notice is a painting with a background of faded pink, with two shirtless young men, lying languidly on the ground, drinking. Titled “Pink ― My Life as a Shit.” It was painted by Choi Min-hwa, an artist who has been involved in the 1980s minjung art (an art movement in Korea with strong proletarian and realistic characteristics that literally translates as ‘people’s art’). This painting is a part of his Pink Series, from 1989 until the mid-1990s. Pink serves as a symbol of adolescence expressing anguish, impulse and reservation. Although Choi has been linked mostly with epic paintings that have a strong historical presence as well as other works which demonstrate his political views, his Pink Series takes a sullen, symbolic approach to Korea’s social climate and presents the theme of adolescence in a personal way.
“In the course of its formation, modern Korean society has experienced schizophrenic changes and moral confusion as well as numerous fissures and conflicts in various areas. These are far from the kind of maturity one may expect of a society with a history of more than 5,000 years,” commented Ahn So-yeon, the chief curator of Leeum.
A video installation by Chang Jia shows a single-channel video of a woman on screen being tortured by an anonymous hand, with her hair and head being grabbed and having eggs thrown at her. “Through the video, Chang expresses that the process of becoming an artist is compared to surviving the criticisms and beatings of the viewers and critics,” said Huh Yoo-soon, the docent at the gallery.
Adolescence as submission can also be seen in six black-and-white photographs by Oh Hein-kuhn. In his pictures, schoolgirls in uniform are shown in an oddly sensual, yet vulnerable way. One photo shows two young girls holding hands, another shows a girl coyly crossing her legs. The artist, who earlier created an ajumma (married woman) series, has recently featured girls caught between childhood and womanhood.


by Cho Jae-eun
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