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K.NOTe no.12

Kyunghwan Kwon


Total Museum of Contemporary Art Publisher

Nathalie Boseul SHIN Editor-in-chief

 Jiyeon Paik Editor

Daeil KIM Designer

September 2014 Date of publication

© reproduction of the contents of this magazine in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.

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How to Sit on Chairs, 2014 Wire used at construction sites, 44 × 48 × 90cm **

Image Credit Ilmin Museum of Art Ilmin Museum of Art 152 Sejongdaero, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-050, Korea http://ilmin.org


K.NOTe no.12

Kyunghwan Kwon


The Signal of Directions

K.NOTe #12

The Signal of Directions

Seewon Hyun Art Critic

The space in front of the Ilmin Museum of Art, adjunct to the Gwanghwamun Square, is full of sound from speakers installed by the people with different political positions. For them, what is more important than the content of sentenced spat out is the loud voice delivered to a group of people through speakers, a selfconfirmation of the fact that they are talking to the world. One can hear voices of pledge and rebuke. Yet, one cannot hear anything. Borrowing the words of Agamben, the countless “wills” and “promises” repeat the signaling system of empty sending-receiving without any listener. In The Rule before Drying, Kyunghwan Kwon departs from touching the time that is fixated by directions and orders. If one remembers the rising white cloud towards the sky in his black drawing Untitled(2007), one could tell that the artist took a step back in the current exhibition in regard to his position. What Kwon seeks to find in The Rule before Drying is the traces that are not easily to be seen, existing behind the spectacle of the reality lurked by a mushroom cloud. It is the scratch that exists behind the rules made of such traces. This leads to the artist’s attempt to examine and dig up the inside of the traces created by directions and orders. The concrete figures that took important part in Kwon’s previous works, such as drawings depicting missiles as sublimating mushroom clouds, weapons of war, or cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse or Astro Boy with innocent faces, are not present in the current exhibition. The works in The Rule before Drying do not reveal their bodies in a sound manner for those with their eyes open, existing like hidden MacGuffins behind the reality. The tactile images that seemed to be possible to touch in a close range were hidden in the back of the stage. Until now, the driving force that initiated Kwon’s work was mainly the images discovered from popular media. His work depended on the immediate capture and representation of such images before they were digested. Mass media send spectacles every few seconds, and they are composed not of assumptions but of temporary affirmations. In that sense, Kwon’s way of making images by responding to images transmitted by mass media enabled him to

This text was originally published in the catalog of artists Kyunghwan Kwon by the Ilmin Museum of Art solo exhibition.


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Impure Compromise, 2014 Cement, plywood, variable installation


have a kind of contemplative perspective that fabricates certain fictional documentary. Different from this, in the new works in the current exhibition, what appears anew at the place of fiction is the artist’s own space-time of ‘(doing) art.’ The physical space-time of the artist and the conversations and movements that point out the essence of his methodology appear as a material for the artist that questions about the rules. And the rules he experienced around this ‘doing art’ connect to discovering traces of standards, limitations, and violence that are seen in the reality. What the artist sees might be the grotesque violence that cannot be captured by the one-way model of production-consumption and sending-receiving. And it would also be the exceptional situation of ‘discordance’ between the violence and the discipline that tries to betray it and overcome it. Kwon mentions a few scenes he observed near his studio in Ogindong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, as common yet special part of everyday life. The dashing of a loud motorcycle in the middle of the night or a trace of a cat are mere part of one’s daily routine, which do not connect to a narrative or an image. However, the many fragments of the reality that share the characteristics of appearing at the same time coincide with an image of another group that wanders by themselves. It is the frequent wandering of the police on the street to protect the Blue House near the artist’s studio in Ogin-dong, wearing fluorescent uniforms. The existence of police that the artist encounters frequently near his studio changes the neighborhood in Jongno-gu into the street of control where unexpected inspection is repeated. What the artist has witnessed directly in such a concrete space-time appears in the time of The Rule before Drying in a simultaneous manner, and as a trap of the fragmented reality. What is clear is that Kwon sets down the drawing and painting in which he had been capturing the reality through the gesture of ‘eyes’ with stress on retinae and with a sense of crafts. He tries to tell the structure of suffering that one physically senses through the ‘body.’ This will let the artists have a sense of distance from his work-activity. A few actions of direction that does not result in a single representative image leave traces of movements in different scales in many spots in the exhibition. For example, an installation with a long title, Open Up the Plastic Bag Round and Tight with the Help of Change and Unity, Balance and Contrast, suggests a huge precondition that an artist cannot help but to propose a process following certain orders through concrete conversations and examples. Together with a few people that receive hourly payment to assist him, Kwon produces an installation of plastic bags with a structure made of bamboo and steel wire inside. If the structures


are a few samples as a result, the record of conversations the artist had with the assistants is a discourse where directions are layered one by one. As the title indicates, the attempt to transform a plastic bag towards a desired state of ‘tension’ through ‘change and unity, balance and contrast’ seems to be a reversal of a goal and the means to achieve it. The platonic phrase of directing change and unity, moreover the balance and contrast, without any explanation on why one should keep the tension indicates the fact that this proposal cannot make a perfect success by any means. At the same time, the itinerary of the process, conversations, directions and makings reveal the temporariness and fictionality of the rules that the artist has come up with. Kwon operates a system of signal that constantly changes itself by reversing its order and updating the appraisal, confirmation, and directions. The process of ‘doing art’ where the artist attempts to transform the weak materiality of a plastic bag by bent bamboo sticks and a black plastic tape shows that he is a being that observes the external rules and denies them while also a being that suggests different rules to himself and those around him. The interesting point here is that the feeble structure is directly exposed both in terms of physical presence and the inner meaning. Similar to the bamboo structures that remain after transparent plastic bags are removed, what remains is not the result of directions and orders (a tensely unfolded bag), but the traces deprived of the result (a structure that sticks out). What are the things that the artist entitled as rules in The Rule before Drying? Kwon denies the dichotomy of top-down chain of command and repeating the command from the top. He explores the possibility of making variations of the standard and the way of existence as if he plays with a lump of mud in some other places. Through this, the artist tries to experiment with the ground where it is possible to have different rules of the game that is embedded in a temporary situation before it becomes firm and rigid. However, he knows that no one can possess an attitude of ruling the rules from an omnipotent perspective. Rules operate as nonsense that makes his work fail or continue once again in the middle of his action of ‘doing.’ The traces that are visible in the exhibition remain as strange footsteps left on a lump of cement (Impure Compromise) or as an occasion where audiences can leave a few words inscribed on their bodies by pressing them for a few seconds (From 5 to 8 Seconds). The structure for producing works, which is the rule that the artist tentatively established in the process of production, many produce another event or not, depending upon the choices made by the audience that will either deny it or follow and perform it.


Instead of following a unilateral arrow sign between sending and receiving, The Rule before Drying proposes a job to guess the fragmentary indication that resembles the experience of reading a detective story. The footsteps left on a wide mass of cement arouse a déjà vu. What brings curiosity in this place that is neither a muddy beach nor a construction site is a guessing of an incident, which are the point of time and the process of how the footsteps were left. The drawings on the wall that show different movements of layering feet induce one to guess what had happened before the cement dried. But the drawings and the traces are images that instigate a conspiracy theory in a sense that they make it impossible to know the narrative with set steps in regard to who followed the rule in order and who has been directing it. The Trace of Rules The act of direction is circulated faster upon its proximity to punishment. Reading a direction and moving upon the direction requires very short amount of time, depending on different situations. While Kwon seems to points out the relationship between the rule and the group that performs it from a cynical attitude, but the intriguing point of the current exhibition is that he is interested in the ‘stage’ as a place of generating and circulating rules. As a member of a group that produces and maintains rules, he tells that there has always been a stage around him as a particular situation, rather than taking a singular attitude towards the rules. In this way, the stage works as another important initial motif in The Rule before Drying. The motif of the stage can be found in the artist’s interest in the morality plays and satirical cartoons that he researched while preparing for the exhibition. At first, Kwon references Everyman(written by an anonymous author in the 15th century), an exemplary piece of ‘morality play’ with an aim to educate the mass in the Middle Ages. Morality play is a form of theater originated from sermons that preached good life and preparation for the time of death. Everyman is a short fable that portrays conversations of ‘everyman’ who is on his way to death, which leads him to salvation. It creates a play that centers the spoken words of order. The conversations in the play are very simple as one side gives orders while the other side accepts it. They are made of exchanges of orders without a possibility of questioning and responses to the orders. In the meantime, the satirical cartoons recognize the square-shaped cartoon strips as a small stage that


^ > From 5 to 8 Seconds, 2014 Carved writing on a brass, variable installation, 2.2 x 1.2cm


^ Open Up the Plastic Bag Round and Tight with the Help of Change and Unity, 2014 Balance and Contrast Plastic bag, bamboo, wire, black tape, variable installation


conveys the contemporary period, and the animal figures that frequently appear on the stage repeatedly represent images of the otherized groups. For example, animals such as snake, tiger, and horse are used to satirize politically different groups as stupid, rat and chicken are used as tools to make caricatures or rage not in a heavy sense. The images of animals in the satirical cartoons are connected with the morality play in the Middle Ages in regard to their employment of the rule of representation for stereotypes in order to persuade and prove something to the contemporaries. The social norms, embedded in different parts of the society of today and of different times, create different directions by processing timely tools for transformation and application as the masks and props in Kwon’s exhibition. Though the normative system that gives lessons or directions feel infinitely heavy and instructive, they become a play of transformation that continues in the back of the stage or on the stage without any lighting. Taking the cliché of the moral play as a basis, the artist imagines that one axis of the contemporary moral play is the use of body. From leaving different forms of footsteps in an improvisatory manner by modifying material to create objects a bit by bit using plaster, the works in the exhibition propose to induce certain movements from the artist himself and from the audience. From 5 to 8 Seconds lets the exhibition the visitors to the exhibition to make marks on part of their bodies by pressing on the brass types of words inserted in the wall. The words are those that frequently appear in congratulatory speeches, such as ‘love’ and ‘bless.’ Here, the artist persists the lightness in circulating these words of discipline. Expecting the audience to reach their arms or put their faces on the wall for a short 5 to 8 seconds for inscribing the words on their bodies, the artist separates part of vocabulary from the context of sentences and consumes tattooing and labeling as if they were entrance stamps to an amusement park. From Kwon’s perspective, the system of discipline and punishment that is close to stigmatization is perceived as a kind of playful entertainment. Kwon suspends the method of production where fine skills of craft and drawing played important roles and employs the rules and orders, which are the whole social system, in his work. Instead of becoming serious and heavy, he continues his playful ideas from his previous works. While From 5 to 8 Seconds tells about the stereotypical standard of the perception in the words produced in a small font, How to Sit on Chairs, a series of strange chairs that remind of a mass of thorns, functions as an image of zero gravity linked to an eccentric instructions about leaving ‘the weight of spirit.’ Referenced for countless times in the history of art, a


^ A piece that is easy to crumbled(detail), 2014 Plaster bandage, wire net, leather, leather subsidiary material, cloth, 44 x 48 x 90cm


chair becomes a result of craft and a religious object of pain and stigmatization that everyone refuses to sit on. The chairs sit in the exhibition as they expose the steel wire structure that resembles the crown of thorns. Kwon’s works exist in the exhibition as if they made it their principle to walk around in the back of the stage after trying to get on the stage. Instead of having a holistic experience of a singular object, the viewer comes to see severed fragments of different forms. An assortment of sculptures in the exhibition, Sculptures That Are Prone to Break accompanies traces of jokes and “original conceptions”(Chan-kyong Park), which were persistently present in Kwon’s earlier works. The sculptures resemble the forms of amputated body parts such as a sharp canine tooth, a huge bump, or a long tail. It is intriguing to see that the figures refuse the association with Borges’ imaginary animals inspired by Classic of Mountains and Seas or images of heroic monster creatures. This is because Kwon’s plaster sculptures desire not to become certain images, but the tools for the next movement or a play on the stage. The artist prepared all the objects as wearable instruments, and wearing them is also a way to enable the escape from social norms through a very simple measure. With the title A Piece That Is Prone to Crumble, the sculptures of severed body objects seem to be waiting for others or everyman to use them as props when they get on the stage one day. The stage in The Rule before Drying has amusement of enjoying the transformative state before drying. Today, many things change by a word of direction from a certain person, in a surprisingly ridiculous level. The artist does not hide his intention to repeatedly look at the inner structure by stripping the solid walls surrounding the act of direction. Looking at the footsteps of a disparate being that cannot be read properly though the standard of norms, we can assume the traces as evidences of dark incidents or deny their existence that they are nothing but things like dust.


Kyunghwan Kwon Kyunghwan Kwon received his MFA and BFA from the Korean National University of Arts. He interest lies in the hidden images of Korean society that can be found by observing his environment and surroundings. Kwon’s work spans multiple media platforms include painting, drawing, video and sculpture. He has created series of works that explore the notion of warfare and death, as well as labors in art. Kwon has had three solo shows including The Rule Before Drying (2014) at Ilmin Museum of Art, I can Do Anything, but I Can’t Do Anything (2012) and Another Boring Day (2009) at One and J. Gallery. Kwon has also participated in numerous group exhibitions such as the 2011 Biennale Giovani Monza, 2010 Busan Biennale, and the 30th Anniversary of the Young Korean Artists at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010.

Seewon Hyun (Art Critic) Graduated Korean National University of Arts with a thesis about Korean contemporary art. Having published Walking Magazine with her friends since the spring of 2006, she worked as a reporter in the esc team of the Hankyoreh Newspaper. She has written diverse articles since then, including her book Design: Opposite Poles (Haggojae, 2010). Hyun also organized art exhibitions such as Cheonsu Mart 2nd Floor (National Theater Company of Korea 2011 / Festival “Bom” 2012) and Be Awakened, You Command Group (2010), as well as some projects like Writing band (2012, www.writingband.net). sonvadak25@hanmail.net


K. NOTe is a monthly digital publication that aims to introduce Korean artists and curators to overseas audiences. Much like an exquisitely interwoven Korean ‘Knot’, K.NOTe hopes to become a medium that creates strong ties and solid knots within the contemporary arts scene by publishing e-notebooks of Korean artists and events that are worthy of ‘Note’.


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