Korea Artist Prize finalists use their stage to challenge societal norms

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Korea Artist Prize finalists use their stage to challenge societal norms


The works of this year’s nominees for the Korea Artist Prize all question ideas forced onto people by conventional society, such as Young In Hong’s installation “To Paint the Portrait of a Bird” (2019), which questions the hierarchy between people and animals, right, and Park Hye-soo’s piece about the idea of community titled “Perfect Family” (2019), left. [MMCA]

This year’s finalists for the Korea Artist Prize are all about subversion. Whether it be about art itself or ideas that people have taken for granted, the artists - Young In Hong, Park Hye-soo, Kim Ayoung and Jewyo Rhii - nominated for this year’s award will give visitors to the “Korea Artist Prize 2019” exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) Seoul many things to ponder when they walk out of the gallery.

The Korea Artist Prize, co-organized by MMCA and the SBS Foundation, has been held since 2012 to “discover and sponsor artists who have ardently persisted in paving their own way to artistic success, thus providing an avenue for the advancement of Korean contemporary art” according to the museum. Each nominee receives 40 million won ($34,000) to create a new work for their exhibition, and a winner is chosen among them. Last year’s winner was Siren Eun Young Jung.

“For this year, we focused on making a very dynamic exhibition,” said Yang Ok-kum, the curator of the exhibition. “So we have in the exhibit hall performances, seminars, surveys, online streaming and some works that will be completed during the exhibition period through visitor participation. The goal is that the exhibit changes the visitors, and they shape the works in return.”

While this is the first time that all of nominees of the prize are female, none of their questions actually focus on gender. Rather, they poke at big themes and social issues from various angles through various media ranging from sculptures to videos and music.

It begins with Hong and the word equality. The word is often discussed, but to what extent do we really consider the role equality plays in our lives? Rather than lecturing people on the ways society is unequal, Hong opens up the exhibition with “To Paint the Portrait of a Bird,” a gigantic bird-cage that people must walk through. Instead of encountering a bird inside the cage, people will see the shadows of huge birds projected onto the outer walls. In the middle of the cage is a shrine with a portrait of birds that Hong says is “a question to the conventional dichotomy.”

“The shrine is taken from a Confucian one, of which women are traditionally excluded. So with the picture of a bird where there’s supposed to be a man, it questions the hierarchy between animal and people and men and women,” she said.

Park similarly questions the meaning of what “we” are, poking at how the way individuals treat their communities and how a community treats its members are different. Before the exhibition, Park gave a questionnaire to people asking their thoughts on family, friends, their country and so on. The results of the questionnaire are on display in the exhibit, while on one side of the space people can answer the questions for themselves. In her other work “Perfect Family,” Park sheds light on how society demands people have friends and family just for the sake of having them and to keep up appearances.

The exhibition continues with Rhii’s work, which suggests a new way that art should be created and that artists should think about how the environment changes their work and how they change it back. Kim’s work on migration talks about how some people, like refugees, are forced to move and presents data accumulated from around the world about people who are marginalized by society.

Outside of their exhibition, each artist and curator will hold performances, talks and seminars. Details can be found on MMCA’s website. This year’s winner will be announced on Nov. 28 and will take home an additional 10 million won. TV channel SBS will also produce and air a documentary about the winner.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]
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