About the exhibition
From May 1st to May 31st 2020, ONE AND J. Gallery hosts "Study of Green-Seoul-Vacant Lot", the solo exhibition of the artist Honggoo Kang. Since the 90s, Kang captured the ulterior facets of the capitalist society through digital landscape photography; hereafter 2009, he went back and forth from Seoul and Busan as he documented the increasingly perishing images of their neighborhoods owing to urbanization and redevelopment. From then on, he commenced his method of layering acrylic colors upon canvas-printed black and white versions of photographs he took. Here, two aspects are evoked from Kang's gesture of covering up a photographic image with acrylic paint: First, a deep-rooted distrust towards the photographic medium—i.e. a doubt of the visible subject or a chronicled truth, and second, an uncanniness generated from the artist's gesture(painting) of enclosing the subject.
The vulnerability of the image(information) is bluntly exposed by the split screen and the paint upon it, and the original image concealed below the paint requests an act of voluntary judgment and imagination to the viewer. Kang's manipulation of this sort alludes to how our society is yet another product of our society's manipulation, and the process of exploring Kang's control becomes the course of tagging along Kang's line of thinking. Simultaneously, the works do not meekly approve of the desire to consume the images as plausible artworks hung on white cube walls of galleries, ceasing its engagement with those kinds of active thinking. Mundane scenes of the everyday are defamiliarized through images artificially fabricated into black and white; and the subjects struggling to seek their original color in the artist's hands degenerate into artificiality, eventually turning into "natural" images awkwardly striving to acquire "naturalness." This bizarre attempt instills an uncanniness that arouses the sense of guilt, discomfort, and fear triggered by an unknown cause.
Meanwhile, the artist refers to society's increasingly elaborate violence in his notes for this exhibition. However much we strain ourselves, the bare face of the spaces screened by his green paints, and the agents of that violence are unperceivable. Due to the intricate nature of the structure beneath it, there is no way to scrutinize what lies at its end and what the truth may be, and now, odd happenings and situations, and freakishly slick images are all that besiege us. This might as well be the same for Kang who is carrying on his study of the green for over a decade. Since he merely displays either himself blanketed with those images or the strange blanked images, instead of delving into the complicated structure.
I used to teach aspiring artists at the old Hankook Ilbo building that has disappeared. I can't remember whether the lecture room was on the 9th or 10th floor, but if I looked down from there, I could see the accommodations of U.S. embassy staffs. American-style buildings stood leisurely being surrounded by a green lawn, large trees, and high stone walls. Somehow that scene made me think that it was an extraterritorial area.
In the Joseon Dynasty, 36,642㎡ of Songhyeon-dong vacant lot was called Songhyeon(松峴), a forest garden outside Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is said that there were private residences of royal family members and high-ranking officials including Prince Anpyong, Prince Bonglim, which were later owned by the pro-Japanese group Yoon Deok-young. During the colonial era of Japan, the Korea Fisheries Bank bought and used it as the site for a private residence, which later became the accommodation site for the staffs of the U.S. Embassy. Samsung Life Insurance purchased the site for 140 billion won in June 1997, and Korean Air bought it again for 290 billion won in 2008. They fail to build 7-star tourist hotel, and now they are going to sell it for 400–500 billion won.
Starting with the vacant lot in Songhyeon-dong, I have looked at the vacant lots still remaining in Seoul and the Green covering them with interest in recent years. The cancelled Development Zone of Yongsan Station, the Cheonggye Creek(Stream), the Yongsan U.S Garrison that moved to Pyeongtaek, the islands of the Hangang River, Eunpyeong New Town, the vestige of quarries in Changshin-dong, and several other parks were the targets. The more expensive and spacious vacant lots such as Songhyeon-dong and Yongsan stations, the more violence and desire for development under the name of history, causing a delay of development. And these sites, ironically, are with a thick growth of trees and bushes so that they are covered in green. The green trees and grasses, especially in large vacant lots, seemed to temporarily cover large wounds.
Places still remaining in green in Seoul are places that barely cover their wounds or luckily haven't been hurt. Inwangsan(Mt.), Namsan(Mt.), Naksan(Mt.), and other mountains and some of the islands of the Hangang River have narrowly avoided the damage. Bamseom(Islet), in particular, is a case where the island that was blown up in 1968 to build up the Yunjungje in Yeouido was revived by itself. Nodeulseom(Islet), Seonyudo(Islet), Yeouido(Islet). etc., they are still in green, and so is Jamsil, which has completely changed its appearance. The small vacant lot in Changshin-dong, up and down areas of the cliff, where there used to be a quarry near Naksan, is being used as a vegetable garden, and the vacant lot where used to be full with Bridal wreath trees in Eunpyeong New Town area has been disappeared. As Foucault said, vacant land as a type of Heterotopia were temporary utopia and destined to disappear.
Of course, dealing with all the vacant places in Seoul was not the goal of the work, so many places were excluded, and in fact, I couldn't even handle all places. The way the work is made is acrylic coloring on digital photo print. It's the way I have been doing for more than a decade, and it is an attempt to create some documentary images between photos and paintings, but this time it seems a little closer to painting. I don't care what this means anymore. I just chose it because it was fit to say what I wanted to say, and because I could do both shuttering and painting.
Land and real estate experts explain that vacant land stems from the differentialization among urban spaces. The value of a city's land determined by its location, is a kind of location capital. And the difference among sites that arises from it, that is, how much benefit can be made, determines the priority of development.
Seoul, which can make a large amount of benefit, is an area where the entire city is subject to development and at the same time violent. Of course, it's not just Seoul but the whole country, but Seoul is the worst place. The violence against humans, space and nature without qualms has been committed, and the result is what it is now.
In the summer of 1976, when I graduated from the university of education I came to Seoul. I was about 21 years old. I was teaching painting in a studio in Mokpo waiting for the order of assigning as an elementary school teacher. I came to Seoul to see the exhibition of impressionist at MMCA Deoksugung by taking a 12-hour long night train. I don't remember what I saw in the Museum, but a busy street because of subway construction on Line 1. When I went to Seoul Station to get back to Mokpo, people trying to catch the train were swarming at the station square. Everyone was ready to run, as soon as the train comes in and the turnstile opens.
At that time, the train didn't have a reserved-seat, so anyone could jump in and get a seat. Accidents were frequent, and sometimes people crushed. Perhaps because of that, when the train was close to arriving, station clerks showed up with long bamboo poles. Then they began wielding bamboo poles to make the people standing to sit down. The poles wielded by three or four men forced the people to sit down, and no one protested against them. Because I thought I couldn't take a seat anyway, I was far away from the crowd and the bamboo poles but that violent way of maintaining order cannot be forgotten by time. That imprinted Seoul on me as a particularly violent place. While growing up under the military dictatorship, I took for granted the violence and oppression of most part, the scene is still vivid in my memory, even after more than 40 years. Living in the daily life of violence and oppression means becoming numb to it.
Violence and repression have become sophisticated more and more over the past 60 years since the 1950s when I was born and raised. Capital and power use a softer way of violence through delicate institutionalization instead of direct physical and mental violence. But there is no essential change. Perhaps that is what can be found in the vacant places in Seoul. Because of this, vacant lots will one day be transformed into a place where nice buildings and facilities are built. But if you look at who owns it and how they benefit from it, you may find the real abyss of violence.
About the Artist
Honggoo Kang (b. 1956, Shinan, Mokpo-si, Korea) studied in Mokpo Teacher's College in Korea and received his B.F.A and M.F.A of fine arts in Hongik University in Korea. He held solo exhibitions Study of Green-Seoul-Vacant Lot, ONE AND J. Gallery, Korea (2020); Frost and Mist, ONE AND J. Gallery, Korea (2017); Cheongju-City of Seven Villages, Wumin Art Center, Korea (2016); Under Print: A Sparrow and Jajangmyeon, ONE AND J. Gallery, Korea (2015); House of Human Being-proxemics Busan, Goeun Museum of Photography· Wumin Art Center · ONE AND J. Gallery · Trunk Gallery, Korea (2013); Study of Green, ONE AND J. Gallery, Korea (2012); Gloomy House, Memory and Document, Goeun Museum of Photography, Korea (2011); The House, ONE AND J. Gallery, Korea (2010); Vanish Away, Mongin Art Center, Korea (2009). Participated in duo exhibitions City We Have known-Photographs by Honggoo Kang & Area Park, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea (2015); Manner of Escape - Honggoo Kang, Choi Jin Wook, Gallery Lux, Korea (2015); Old Dog and Rolling Stone - Honggoo Kang, No Soon Tak, Gallery King, Korea (2009). Selected group exhibitions featuring his artwork The Possibilities of Urban Regeneration: Partnerships, Seoul Urban Regeneration Gallery, Seoul, Korea (2019); Wanderers: A Video Chronology, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (2019); Frames after frames: Modern Photography Movement of Korea from 1988 to 1999, Daegu Art Museum, Korea (2018); Samramansang from KIM Whanki to YANG Fudong, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (2017); SeMA Gold <X: In the Nineties Korean Art>, Seoul Museum of Art, Korea (2016); Mille-feuille de camellia, Arko Art center, Korea (2016); When Words Fail, Hite Collection, Korea (2016); Peace Voice Nice, Gyeongnam Provincial Museum of Art, Korea (2015); The Relics of Old Seoul, Seoul Museum of Art, Korea (2014); Dictate, Doosan Art center, Korea (2013); Korean Art: An Era of Grand Navigation, Busan Museum of Art, Korea (2013); Thousand Villages, Thousand Memories, Seoul Museum of Art, Korea (2012); Seoul, City Exploration, Seoul Museum of Art, Korea (2011); Contemporary Korean Photographs 1948-2008, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (2008). Work by the artist is held in museum collections, including National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Art Bank, Korea; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea; Busan Museum of Art, Korea; Samsung Leeum Museum, Korea; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, France; Art Sonje Center, Korea. He published books such as "The story of art, which meet out of the museum 1,2"(1995); "The beauty of ordinary things-20 years after"(2018) and he was a director of Goeun Museum of Photography from 2018 to 2019.
Press release courtesy One And J. Gallery.