2006 Leeum Samsung Museum
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art is proud to present as the first exhibition of the new year ArtSpectrum 2006, was inaugurated in 2001 with the goal of surveying diverse tendencies in contemporary Korean art and of envisaging its future directions. For this first presentation at the new museum, Leeum curators each selected two artists who are currently active and show great potentials of growth. The curators' choices were made regardless of the artist's age and the genre and subject of his or her work, in order to broadly recognize artistic diversity.
ArtSpectrum 2006 includes 14 individual artists and teams: Choi Sung Hun+Park Sun Min, Chun Kyungwoo, Jeong Jeong-Ju, Jeong So Youn, Jeon Kyung, SUNG HWAN KIM and a lady from the sea, Hyungkoo Lee, Lee Zune+Chang Jaeho, Park Sang-Hyun, Park Yoon-Young, Jinnie Seo, Shon Jeung-Eun, Song Sanghee and Yim Ja-hyuk. Their unique and distinctive practices engage in, among others issues, daring interpretation of space, investigation of the unconscious and collectivity, and reflection on time and existence. Altogether, these artists are highly expected to provide Korean art with new energy and to grow to become established presences in an increasingly diversifying art world.
This year's ArtSpectrum consists of many video and installation works as well as paintings and drawings, thus collectively representing the defining characteristics of contemporary art-experimentation with various media and subjects. In their artistic endeavors, we are able to witness their talents along with the rapid transformation of contemporary art.
With each installment of ArtSpectrum, Leeum hopes to continue to foster young artists' creative voices and potentials. We also hope that this exhibition serves as a foundation for their growth in their own context as well as internationally. My deepest gratitude goes to all participating artists and those who have given much effort to realize this exhibition.
February 16, 2006
Ra Hee Hong Lee
Director General, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
Woo Hyesoo (Curator)
Woo: The colors in your drawings are so fantastic and the figures so fairy-like that the drawings initially impart a feeling of being pretty. However, when we look at the images up close, we see that the human figures have either a wicked look, are in an erotic mood, or are experiencing physical pain. Why do you show such shocking scenes through such soft and childlike images?
Jeon: I like my work to be light in color and space, and the characters to be sweet and beautiful. But, I also allow things to come out freely in my work in a free flowing, stream of consciousness way. The images I draw are directly affected by my mood. The scenes in the paintings are sometimes weird or twisted - which means, I may be angry, anxious, or stressed. There are also sweet and funny scenes-which may mean I am in a good mood, or something happened that I found humorous. I enjoy when I see people look at my paintings and laugh. Then, if they stand there a moment longer, they realize that there is something deeper in the image. I always try to push myself to create images that may be difficult for me to express, and others to look at, although I do not always understand what those images mean. My hope is that the viewer can connect to the piece by relating to some aspect of it, or trying to decipher its meaning through their own life experiences.
Woo: I was told that you are Korean-American. It is interesting that you use traditional Korean paper made of the bark of mulberry trees native to Korea for your works. Living in New York, you are not familiar with Korean culture. Are there any particular reasons you use traditional Korean paper for your artworks? Do you intend to deliver some messages about Korea or Asia through traditional Korean paper?
Jeon: Yes, that is correct, I am Korean-American. My parents came to the US in Nov 1973, and I was born in America two years later. About 7 years ago, my father visited Korea and I asked him to bring me some rice paper. He brought me a big roll of Korean rice paper. I liked the delicacy of the paper, and how it would rip and tear because of my inexperienced use of it. I created paintings with the rice paper, and I would fix the rice paper on vinyl, wood, or shower curtains, etc. I then came up with the idea of preparing canvas, and carefully laying the rice paper on the canvas. It was a struggle to find a way to use the rice paper that fit me, and once I came up with this technique, I have used it since. I definitely consider the paintings to be Korean in that I use the Korean rice paper, and the characters are Korean. But, I also feel that the boldness and strangeness of the images comes from my growing up in America, and feelings of embarrassment or shame do not prevent me from expressing what I feel. Being one of the few Asians in my school, made me always feel different. I never really felt like I fit in anywhere, so I tried very hard to be American. In doing so, I rejected my Korean culture, which is why I do not speak Korean. But then I began abstract paintings of tree root; roots to symbolize my background and heritage. I wanted to take it even further; so I asked for the rice paper.
Woo: I think that your paintings suggest that human is manifested from the subconscious. Sorrow hidden behind joyfulness, happy marriage and tragic separation, and wickedness disguised as goodness as depicted in your paintings cause viewers to discover another aspect of themselves, as if they are reflected in a mirror; and make them feel embarrassed, as if something they (the viewers) were caught out in the open with nowhere to hide. Is there something you want to consistently express in your works, and if so, what is it?
Jeon: I spent a lot of my childhood feeling embarrassed about who I was, not fitting in at school, and worrying about what others thought of me. I came to finally accept who I was during my college years; studies philosophy and art. I grew more comfortable with myself, and the decisions I made, and have never allowed those childhood feelings to return. I usually go with my gut instinct, and my inner voice usually steers me the right way. My philosophy is to try to be unique, and not follow the customs that society says you must do; marriage, steady job, children, etc. I think it is a harder route, but it's more fruitful for me in the end. If the viewer sees my work and can relate to some aspect of it, although it may embarrass them, the paintings have successfully done their job.
Woo: Looking at your works closely, you seem to think that man is by nature evil. Good is sacrificed or harassed by evil in your works, and evil seems to always win. What do you think about the nature of man?
Jeon: I think human nature is good, but with exceptions. In my paintings, the characters portray exaggerations of emotions. Usually the little girls are innocent victims, but guided or tempted into twisted acts by the fairies, and sometimes by boys. I think that the evil fairies in my work represent the subconscious thoughts we may have to do naughty things, and the fairies always act out exactly what they want.
Woo: Then, do the evil fairies symbolize 'desires' which is immanent in every human being? That is, desires being suppressed by social system, customs, moral sense etc.
Jeon: In most of the paintings, the fairies do symbolize the desires that get suppressed by the social system, cultural customs, religion and moral sense. I think of the fairies sometimes as cupids, but not just shooting arrows of love, but also arrows of sexual deviance. Sometimes the fairies whisper or tempt like the snake in the story of Adam and Eve. Often times the fairies do the bidding of the big Evil Fairy, and hunt down innocent little boys and girls to bring back to the Evil Fairy for nourishment.
Woo: There is a narrative in your works. How do you develop the subject, human figures, and stones of your works?
Jeon: I started off looking at illustrations from Korean children's folk tale books that I grew up with. I also look at traditional Korean paintings. Many ideas for my pieces come from when I am falling asleep. Images come to me, and I draw them out. The stories seem to develop as I work on the painting. I don't actually think of the story first, the story usually finds me.
I then I try to interpret what is going on in the painting, but I don't always understand the meaning of it. A lot of the paintings are just glimpses of a starnge moment, as if you had just opened a door and caught some strange activity and then quickly close the door behind you.
Woo: You said that images generally appear in the subconscious state, as in dreams. Does this mean that your works have no logical meaning?
Jeon: Some images come from the unconscious, while there are some that I draw awake. The ones when I am awake, I think of as a journal entry; they are my thoughts and experiences that day. My images are personal; I am exposing my own inner demons. I deal with the frailty of the body, medical and emotional. And I work through many of my thought through humor; weird exaggerations of body parts, and then these body parts acting as if they have their own will, doing things that I find ridiculous. My advisor at Graduate school had suggested that I go see a therapist...I laughed when he said this, but I think he was serious. I told him that my paintings would stop being interesting if I went to a therapist.
Woo: Most of your works presented at ArtSpectrum 2006 are about death, sexual abuse, and motherhood. What special considerations did you have in producing these works?
Jeon: For the theme, yes you picked up on the issue of death. As I said before, I work through personal issues in my life. Someone close to my family recently passed away from cancer. It was the first time death came so close to me, and I was really taken aback. She was 62, and left behind 2 daughters, my age. So, in my paintings you will see the fairies taking away the mother, and the daughters reaching out for the mother. I thought about how unfair life can be, and was really frustrated by it.
But then my closest friend told me she was having a baby, which turned around my mood. I thought about the idea of motherhood, and the many different reactions and opinions everyone had about it. So I had fun with it.
Woo: I heard that you are preparing a Fairy Tale book for adults. Could you tell me more about it?
Jeon: I thought it would be fun to write and illustrate on continuous story, rather than bits and pieces of a story. I developed the main character and called her Mi Ja. To write the story, I looked at the writings by the philosopher Plato, and the story Socrates told about the Allegory of the Cave. The Wizard of Oz, Korean children's folk tales was also an inspiration, as well as The Lion, The Witch and The Warddrobe. These are all stories about coming out of darkness into the light, a kind of journey to find oneself.