The title of the exhibition is taken from a video work created by Yiso Bahc in 2002 that records the movement of the sun over a span of two hours in the early evening, just as day is transitioning into night. The video demonstrates Bahc grappling with a moment of ambiguity as he attempts to capture time in flux. This exercise of delving into uncertainty relates to the three artists’ individual struggles as they each attempted to define contemporary art in South Korea through their work amidst the major shifts in Korean society that took place at the turn of the century.
Since the 1950’s – following the end of Japanese occupation and after the Korean War– South Korean artists have developed a unique art history that reflects both the country’s traditional aesthetics and the influence of modern and contemporary art movements from the West. Due to this complex balance of old and new artistic practices in Korea, artists from the region have often struggled to establish their own identity – a challenge that became even more pertinent in the 90’s and 2000’s when the rise of new contact with the internationalized art world in Korea led many artists to leave the country for the U.S. and Europe to study the prevalent Western art movements at the time. Upon returning to Korea, these artists contributed to a critical moment; a big shift towards contemporary art in South Korea as cultural diversity, critical studies, and new underground art scenes, which began to flourish throughout the country, and conceptual art became a part of the mainstream. It is within this context that Yiso Bahc, Seoyoung Chung, and Beom Kim are considered as leading contemporary artists in the region at the time, particularly through their rigorous reflection and awareness to define their own art practice, which was not by dominant Western art trends, rather by the political, social, and aesthetic context that were specific to Korean society.
While the significance of their contributions to Korean contemporary art cannot be denied, these artists were often misrepresented under the confused reality of the Korean art scene in the 1990’s, in which both modern and contemporary art movements coexisted and were often not differentiated. As a result, these artists, and many of their peers, have fallen into a interstitial role having come “too early” to the cultural embrace of contemporary art at the time, and now “too late” to those who already recognized them as a very symptom and a emergence of Korean contemporary art.
Two Hours at Tina Kim Gallery attempts to remedy this oversight by showcasing how these three artists not only shared artistic sympathies, but also created works that reflected the many social and sensible aspects that would come to strongly influence the current contemporary art scene by the next generations of South Korea.
After attending universities in South Korea in the 1980’s, Bahc and Kim traveled to the U.S. to continue their studies, while Chung traveled to Germany. While this time abroad allowed the artists to develop a new global perspective and gain a comprehensive understanding of artistic practices in the West, they decided not to adhere to the mainstream market-favored Western styles that many tried to follow at the time. Rather, upon returning to Seoul in the mid-1990’s, the artists dedicated themselves to engage in a contemporary artistic discourse that reflected the complexities and particularities of Korean society. They refused to produce works in a signature style or medium, and instead experimented across sculpture, installation, two-dimensional drawings, and video. Bahc, Chung, and Kim distinguished themselves by incorporating critical commentary or social metaphors into their work without rejecting traditional practices with materiality, demonstrated by their use of ready-made industrial and manufactural market materials to satire Korea’s rapid and uneven urban changes at the time. This was propelled by a national grand narrative to emphasize economic productivity rather than cultural and ethical values. This specific environment was not the only critical focus, as they had also endured and struggled in their everyday lives within the conservative and authoritarian society.
One of the most recognized Korean artists of the 1990’s, Yiso Bahc obtained his BFA in painting from Hongik University in Seoul in 1981, after which he spent nearly fifteen years studying and working in New York before returning to Korea. While in the U.S Bahc spent time focusing on his own status as a minority within American society and within the years following his return to Korea, Bahc’s work garnered significant attention from the new generation’s local art community in addition to a few leading curators in Seoul. Bahc had increasing presence in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with a few international art biennials and exhibitions across Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Throughout his career, Bahc grappled with the challenge of connecting local Korean idioms with Western art theories. He strongly argued that the arc of art history in South Korea must be articulated differently, not simply applying to the West, yet proposed a more local and regional context for Korea’s burgeoning art scene that focused on the ambivalence between accelerated global capitalism, a quasi third world-like production custom that defined the Korean society at the time. Bahc actively participated in contemporary art criticism, keenly addressing this discrepancy between Korea’s deep fascinations with the Western discourse of post-modernism. At the time, the need to articulate and address Korean art in a complex local context compared to the other position-distanced the discourse which was first in the Western Society. Around early 2000s, Bahc imbued his artworks with a nihilistic sense of humor that at once satirized capitalistic, monumentalized and triumphalized culture. Bahc also revealed the poetic ephemerality and fragility of those living on the margins of a society as the other, a metaphor can be found in many of Bahc’s drawings and installation works like World Chair(2001), Your bright future(2002), We Are Happy (2004). In works such as Beginnings (2000), Avantgarde (1997), and Sculpture for A4 (2001), Bahc interrogates such fundamental concepts as the notion of “art” and the artists’ vain yet often futile desire to become a part of the art historical cannon.
Born in Seoul in 1964, Seoyoung Chung explores questions of form and materiality through various genres, including sculpture, installation, drawing, and performance. In her work, Chung emphasizes the arbitrariness and absurdity of everyday objects by combining cheap, Korean-made construction materials from the country’s 1990’s manufacturing boom – including styrofoam, linoleum, lumber, and plywood – with abstract work titles such as The Sculpted Bride (1997) and Ghost will be better (2000-2005) that imbue these otherwise banal manufactured materials with a combination of non-commonly related material. Chung also discerns allegories from the sculptural situations and abstract languages created by the physical surfaces and material nuances in her works. In her carbon paper drawing series (1996-2000), which will be exhibited on one wall of the gallery, Chung presents several shapes that can be recognized between a ghost, fire and a wave. She also creates stencil-like replicas of South Korea’s new industrial landscape. Compiled from the artist’s edited images of the new factories and cheap building materials scattered throughout cities in South Korea, these works are based on the modality of an urban environment in a culture of rapid manufacturing.
Similar to Chung, Beom Kim transforms ordinary, everyday objects in order to emphasize the limitations of our visual perception and reveal the profound possibilities once we tap into the power of our imaginations. In works such as the concise how-to guidebook The Art of Transformation (1997), Kim offers readers instructions on how they can transform themselves into inanimate objects such a tree or a rock. Other pieces on view, such as the mixed media work The Tree that Became Man and Found its Own Picture in Its Dream (1998), suggest an object-oriented world with a situation in which one may be in the state of a dream, while the drawing, Practice for Good Samaritan (1995), provides a scenario of slight humor by inviting viewers to participate in an activity that offers guidance on how to be a good Samaritan.
Through exploring the shared language and unique characteristic of Yiso Bahc, Seoyoung Chung, and Beom Kim’s practice, Two Hours offers new methods for understanding the development of contemporary art in South Korea and reaffirms these artists’ significant contributions during a period of radical social change in the region.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Hyunjin Kim is a curator, writer and researcher based in Seoul. She was a co-curator of the 7th Gwangju Biennale, Annual Report (2008), and recently worked as Director for Arko Art Center, Seoul (2014-2015). Since 2001, Kim has worked for institutions including Ilmin Museum of Art (2013), Vanabbemuseum, Eindhoven (2005-2006), Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2001-2003) and Ssamzie Space, Seoul (2000). She has curated a number of exhibitions and projects such as Nina Canell_Satin Ion, Hwayeon Nam_Time-Mechanics, and Tradition (Un)Realized, Arko Art Center (Seoul, 2014-2015); Seoyoung Chung_The Speed of the Large, the Small, and the Wide (2013), The Brilliant Collaborator, Ilmin Museum of Art (Seoul, 2013); Play Time: The Waiting Room of Episteme, Culture Station Seoul 284, (Seoul, 2012); Perspective Strikes Back, Doosan Gallery, (Seoul, 2009); and so on. Since 2009, Kim has closely collaborated with contemporary artists to produce performance pieces like In the Room 3 by Sung Hwan Kim, Performa (New York, 2009); Off-Stage /Masterclass by siren eun young jung, Culture Station Seoul 284 (Seoul, 2012) and Festival BO:M (Seoul, 2013); Ten Years by Jewyo Rhii, Mullae factory (Seoul, 2016) and Namsan Art Center (Seoul, 2017). Her catalogues and edited publications include: Satin Ion-Nina Canell, Arko Art Center and BomDia (2015); The Speed of the Large, the Small, and the Wide- Seoyoung Chung, Hyunsil Books, Seoul (2012); Inter-views, BigakuShuppan, Tokyo (2011); The Other There-Gao Shiqiang, Timezone8 (Beijing, 2009); Jewyo Rhii, Samuso, (Seoul, 2008); Sadong 30, Wien Verlag (Berlin, 2007); Dolores Zinny and Juan Maidagan, Sala Rekalde (Bilbao, 2007). She also has contributed to art magazines and journals such as Wolganmisool, Artinculture, Yishu, Art Asia Pacific, Art Review among others. Kim is currently an advisory member of Haus der Kunst der Welt, Berlin and Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong.
Press release courtesy Tina Kim Gallery.
On view from 22 September to 29 October 2016 at Tina Kim Gallery in New York, Two Hours is an exhibition featuring South Korean artists Yiso Bahc, Seoyoung Chung and Beom Kim. Curated by Hyunjin Kim, the 42 works span a period of dramatic political change between the late 1990s and the early 2000s.