New Waves, Korea

A dominant feature of contemporary Asian art has always been the reflection of cultural and historical frameworks within which such works are produced: firmly entrenched in tradition, yet forward-looking thanks to the far-reaching changes – and homogenisation – brought about by the formidable impact of globalisation. Even though artistic production in South Korea seems to follow this trend, it is problematised by the emergence of young artists who juggle ambivalent attitudes towards their inherited legacy with the need to establish practices steered by their individual philosophies and interests.

Kim Kun Ju, Myth 1, 2007 (installation view), mixed media, 180 x 190 x 11 cm, 2007. Image: Courtesy of Taksu gallery.

New Waves, Korea in Taksu gallery is a show that seems to serve as a modest introduction to the broad field of contemporary Korean art, surveying the artistic output of three artists (Kim Kun Ju, Sang Taek Oh and Sung Chul Hong) working across a variety of media to highlight the fundamental issues of urban living such as desire, isolation and re-contextualisation. Kim, Sang and Sung share a common background; they were born in Korea but educated abroad in the West. Even their seemingly disparate artistic visions are perhaps more similar than they seem, championing the thoroughly (and the fashionable) postmodern notions of arbitrariness and disjointed narratives.

Mounted on a bright orange canvas, Kim Kun Ju’s Myth 1 (2007) comprises a myriad of reliefs or cut-outs of familiar shapes layered over each other in order to form a new, unrecognisable entity that hangs in three-dimensional space. As disparate as these elements are, like part-painting and part-sculpture, they coalesce with striking visual impact, a defamiliarised site in which multiple signs converge.

Sang Taek Oh, Closet 23 - 25, 150 x 95 cm each, photographic colour print on canvas, 2012. Image: Courtesy of Taksu gallery.

Clothes gently billow in the black, endless closet spaces of Sang Taek Oh’s photographic prints like still life portraits of the inanimate. But if traditional still life is an expressed fascination with the science of vision and the natural world, Sang’s painterly depiction of lavishly formal attire seems to eschew the natural in a bid to capture the constructed consumables.

Sung Chul Hong, String Hands 0338 , print on elastic string and steel frame, 150 x 100 x 14 cm, 2013. Image: Courtesy of Taksu gallery.

In Hong Sung Chul’s Strings Mirror series (2011-2013), pictures of parts of the human body are printed out on strings, then reconstructed on different levels to yield a three-dimensional-like image that remains nebulous to the eye. The illusory, or mirage effect created by the gap between the strings would mean that the ‘whole’ image is never fully revealed; consequently, it is only the viewer’s movement around the canvas that will bring different parts of the image into focus at varying standpoints. Intertwined hands in String hands 1365 (2011) look as though they are grasped in solidarity or struggling to get free from one another when observed from differing angles. It is in this manner that Hong’s works emphasise the subjectivity of human vision, where intangible ideas of entanglement seem more real than the tangible image.

New waves, Korea will be on show at Taksu Singapore until 29 May, 2013.