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K.NOTe no.29

WON SEOUNG WON

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K.NOTe no.29

WON SEOUNG WON

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Publisher Total Museum Press Pyungchang 32gil 10, Jongno-gu, Seoul Korea (03004) Tel. 82-2-379-7037 total.museum.press@gmail.com Director Jooneui Noh Editor in Chief Nathalie Boseul Shin, Yoon Jeong Koh Cordinator Hyosup Jung, Taeseong Yi Intern Minseo Park, Eunyoung Park Designer Hein Sohn Sponsor Arts Council Korea Date of Publication 2017. 4 Š Author and artist The reproduction of the contents of this magazine in whole or in part without written permission if prohibited.

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K.NOTe #29 Showing Seeing: Won Seoung Won’s Wonderland Ki Hey-kyung Won Seoung Won works in digital images. Her work, which fills the canvas with countless images in combination, is a reflection of the digital era, in which images without original version proliferate, forming imaginary spaces that exist nowhere in the world. Yet despite what the results actually show, Won’s working process does not conform at all to the digital era. In a word where one need only go online to find innumerable images roaming around virtual space, Won Seoung Won ’s method of finding images for her work is similar to that of a traditional artisan. Instead of virtual spaces, she goes about seeking the images she wants in actual spaces – an arduous process of tedium and endless waiting, conjuring up images of looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Should someone recognize the contradiction between the work as product and the process of achieving at and wonder why Won goes through it all, the artist will say that the similar images to be found online are merely similar, but that they are not the right images for that place. Won thus works with digital images in the digital era, but engages in analog work that conflicts with the digital era. It is a characteristic that comes from Won seeing herself as a messenger ahead of being a photographer, and from the nature of her work, which begins entirely with the reality she knows. 2x4-Meter Room After graduating in sculpture in Korea and narrowly managing to study abroad in Germany, Won Seoung Won unwittingly found herself having to quit working. Having never entertained a moment’s doubt that she would become an artist, she had to take a step back and answer certain questions – Who was she? What did work mean to her? What did it mean to be an artist? – before 4

she could make sense of the situation she had stumbled into. And


> The Star Apartment of the Eldest Son 180x144.5cm c-print 2013

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so she began a process of examining and defining herself. One part of this involved arranging everything the 2x4m room where she lived. One need not invoke the media logic of McLuhan to see the room as signifying an expansion of the senses of the person inhabiting it, functioning to reveal that person as he or she is. The artist went to work, setting the rule that she had to photograph and contextualize everything that came out of it. Won ultimately took around 700 pictures as part of this work, each of which she contextualized with a title, date, and related information. Dubbed My Life, the project unsparingly shared everything about Won as a female Korean art student living in Germany in 1999, including her personal relationships, the state of her health, and even her daily habits. A documentation of everything the artist used in her life, My Life emerged out of a process of Won delving down to her very foundations in search of herself. My Life became the turning point that allowed Won to start working again. Since then, the artist has stuck to a rigorous approach of starting her work from things that she is closely acquainted with in her life. It is an approach that forms the backbone of Won’s work. This work also marked the point when the artist moved away from three-dimensional and installation pieces and began using the photographic method – although the way in which she uses photography is different from the approach of photography majors. Rather than delving into the technical aspects of photography stemming from differences in cameras and lenses, or the resulting photographic aesthetic, she uses photography as a tool to examine her own life. This approach, which ties to Won’s attitude as an artist who defines herself as a “communicator of stories,” forms another central element in her work. From “What If” to Wonderland After My Life, the artist’s next offering was the Dreamroom series, two works from which were submitted for the exhibition Lies of Lies: On Photography. Where Dreamroom-Seoungwon 6


has its origins in the artist’s dreams of lush, warm, leafy spaces as an artist making do without so much as a blade of grass in her tiny, cold and damp German locale, Dreamroom-Beikyoung features an underwater room created for a friend who could not swim, but dreamed of being able to someday. Just as Won had used the objects from her room in My Life as a way of confronting herself and the situation she faced, the Dreamroom series had the artist revealing her friends and their stories through their spaces. Dreamroom can be understood as a transformed version of My Life in way it uses rooms – the most private of spaces – to show the stories of the people dwelling in them and all their hopes, frustrations, dreams, and desires, while using artwork to grant the wishes they could never achieve in real life. In 2008, Won began moving away from these works using her friends’ spaces to reveal them and grant their wishes, and began observing those friends’ situations and making artwork of the borderline landscapes where they were situated. This project, which came to be known as the Tomorrow series, starts from an imaginary “what if” scenario. Village of Dogs came from the idea, “What if there were a village where only dogs lived?” It depicts a village of dogs that were raised to live with people, but were ultimately abandoned by their owners. Set against the backdrop of a ramshackle neighborhood redolent with human traces, the village of dogs alone, with no humans in sight, offers a stark depiction of their abandoned reality. In this way, the Tomorrow series uses the imaginary “what if” scenarios to more clearly inscribe the real-world situations faced by the works’ subjects. Around 2012, Won Seoung Won returned to her own story. 1978, My Age of Seven, which focuses on a seven-year-old girl going in search of her missing mother, was intended as the present-day’s artist’s way of overcoming the trauma unknowingly inflicted on her by separation anxiety in her relationship to her mother. Consisting of 11 images, the work depicts the girl’s bafflement and sadness of having to be separated from the mother she seeks to be one with, her efforts to recover her, and the process of her learning 7


how to finally maintain ties with her mother. One need not refer to the theories of Freud or Lacan to see the way in which Won weaves a story all of us have experienced into a Bildungsroman-esque narrative structure. With this work, the artist reveals how memory is altered and adjusted through a continuum of seeing and speaking, as well as how these changes occur over time. In the process, she heals herself, while tending to others carrying similar scars. Seeing the Reality in Wonderlands In addition to her photography work, Won Seoung Won has recently presented drawings that provide a glimpse into her conceptualization stage. For the Character Episode I series, which she began in 2013, the artist identifies people’s characteristics and draws them. Her drawings are not based in vision, but are mental images as she understands them, and for this reason the subjects often appear as symbolized. For example, a drawing for The Kitchen Garden of a Parvenu, which visualizes the ways in which a parvenu shows off his wealth, presents a preening rooster bedecked with a peacock’s tail. Not all of these drawings from the conceptualization stage end up as artwork, but they are provided as a basis for understand the piece. Indeed, the resulting Kitchen Garden piece features not a rooster, but a peacock perched on a high tree branch, showing off what he has cultivated – a kitchen garden that seems like a busy tangle next to the surrounding scenery. In this way, the drawings in Character Episode I function as mechanisms to show the underside of the wonderland the artist has created. As an extension of the drawing that the artist used previously as a mechanism to reveal her unconscious, this function of drawing offers a peek at the hidden reality of the world she has wrought. Yet the drawing does not play a supplementary role to the photography. The relationship between drawing and photography is one between entities that are interconnected yet individual. Like a poem and epic novel about the same topic, the drawing draws out the central impressions of the subject, while the photography articulates it in meticulous narrative terms. This difference 8


between drawing and photography, and the complementary relationship formed between them, all the more clearly reveals the hidden truth of the wonderland, situating the drawing and photography as individual works in their own right. Showing Seeing There is no right answer to the question of what art means in this society, or what role it is capable of playing. If I am thinking of the work of Won Seoung Won when answering this question, I might say that her work holds meaning in society in that it “shows seeing.” We need not refer here the latest in cognitive science theory – human are animals, and thus we see things from the moment we are born. On top of this natural faculty of vision, humans acquire ways of perceiving objects through their historical, social, and cultural contexts within the society in which they live. This way of seeing, which is referred to as “vision” or “visuality,” lets us know that what we call seeing is not simply an activity of the eyes, but the product of cognition in the brain. For this reason, seeing an object means that we have completed a process of matching an image captured by our vision to data within the storehouse of our memory. Yet if, in our habit of seeing things conventionally, we overlook at the countless differences between the reality and our perceptions, we are unable to discover the truth of the object. The work of Won Seoung Won starts from this place – from seeing, yet not understanding correctly – and shows us seeing so that we can see the reality behind the object. As examined early, Won’s work plays the role of pathway, helping to achieve what the subject longs for or allowing them to confront a real-world situation. In leaving behind the harshness of reality and making the practically impossible possible through art, Won’s images appear as imaginary wonderlands. Yet the wonderlands she creates are different from the ones we know from fairy tales. To achieve her wonderlands, the artist uses digital photography collage, a kind of digitized version of the surrealists’ dépaysement or the Dadaists’ collage. The images thus creates are less shocking 9


like those of the surrealists or Dadaists that they are all too similar to the real world in which we live. This is not to say that the spaces in Won Seoung Won ’s images correspond to reality. They are situated in a borderline region that is not entirely reality yet not wholly imaginary. It is at this boundary point that Won’s wonderlands capture our perceptions. The wonderlands on the borderline that Won Seoung Won creates come across as familiar to us, yet somehow strange – delaying our arrival to the realm of understanding. When we stand before an image we cannot define as one thing or another, our eyes and brains roam over it looking for things to make sense of. This delay in understanding leads us to an understanding of the true nature of the object, something we had not realized before. This understanding of the truth of the things in the image is made possible by the transposition with a wonderland that is made up of everything things yet is different from the reality, and by Won Seoung Won ’s strategy of composition, which guides our seeing. Moreover, this strategy of transposition and of “showing seeing” leads to the new awareness that these are universal stories – that the figures in the image are not specific people, but could be anyone. In the process, it leads us to find ourselves and hover around in the wonderlands Won has created.

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> The Quarries of Financiers 2017 c-print 178 Ă— 297cm

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> My Age of Seven The Sea in My Mom’s Hometown

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> Last Summer 45.5 × 37cm Embroidery on Digital Pigment Print, 2014

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> The Water-grass Network of IT Specialists 2017 c-print 178 Ă— 297cm

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> The Sea of Journalists 2017 c-print 178 × 297cm

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> Tomorrow-War of sisters 2008 c-print 120 Ă— 200cm

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> Dreamroom-Seoungwon

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> The Ark of Obsession 125 × 195cm c-print 2013

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> Tomorrow-Village of dogs 2008 c-print 120 Ă— 200cm

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> Installation View at ARARIO GALLERY Seoul_2016

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WON SEOUNG WON Won Seoung Won graduated from the Chung-Ang University College of Art with a degree in sculpture and from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and the Academy of Media Arts Cologne in Germany. Her work has involved a unique and meticulous form of photographic collage mixing reality and fantasy. While her photographic work is digital, it evokes analog emotions as spaces and objects are individually photographed and then carefully juxtaposed. Through synthesis of the sources of photographs taken all over the world, images taken from different places and times come together to form a single story. Created through countless layers, Won’s photographs are obviously visual images, yet they are also different stories that offer fascinating juxtapositions of spaces and people through the artist’s unique imagination. In the process, they forge new narratives within fictional worlds. Won has held several solo exhibitions in South Korea and overseas, including Character Episode I (Artside Gallery, Seoul, 2013), 1978, My Age of Seven (Gana Contemporary, Seoul, 2010), and Tomorrow (Alternative Space Loop, Seoul, 2008). Her work is currently included in the collections of Mori Art Museum in Tokyo; the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Photography, Seoul; the Seoul Museum of Art; the Osthaus Museum in Germany; and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in the U.S.

Ki Hey-kyung Ki Hey-kyung earned master’s and doctoral degrees in modern and contemporary Korea art from the Hongik University Department of Art History. As a curator at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, she planned numerous exhibitions including Masters of the 20th century: Latin American Art (2008), Beginning of a New Era (2009), Made in Popland: Pop Art of Korea, China, and Japan(2010), and 2012 Korea Artist Prize (2012). She currently works at the Buk Seoul Museum of Art. Her research examines the response of art in the mass media era since the late 1980s and establishes Korean contemporary art within the context of art history, as with her doctoral dissertation “The Spread of Mass Media and Korean Contemporary Art: 1980--1997.”

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