Co-sponsored by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary, Korea and SBS Foundation, Korea Artist Prize adopted an award and sponsorship system. Now in its third year, the 2014 Korea Artist Prize seeks to identify and support talented artists who represent the vast potential and future vision of Korean contemporary art through the works that have significantly contributed to the development and advancement of Korea art. Offered in conjunction with an exhibition of works by selected artists, the 2014 Korea Artist prize adheres to its mission of promoting a vibrant art scene in Korea and presenting new trends and discourses within Korean contemporary art.
For the 2014 Korea Artist Prize, under the guidance of a new steering committee (2014-2015), it was decided that the recommenders and judges would be chosen separately. In awarding the prize, the steering committee first commissioned ten esteemed figures from the art world to recommend one artist each. Then, a panel of five judges, consisting of Korean and international members (also selected by the steering committee) reviewed the portfolios and conducted interviews of the ten recommended artists in order to narrow the field to the four finalists to be featured in the exhibition for 2014 Korea Artist Prize. This year’s finalists are Koo Donghee, Kim Shinil, Noh Suntag, and Chang Jia. For this exhibition, the four artists were given the opportunity to realize a large-scale project within a wide, prominent space. Perhaps most importantly, the exhibition allows viewers to experience the brilliant minds and stunning achievements of Korea’s finest contemporary artists. In consideration of each artist’s qualifications and contribution to the exhibition, the aforementioned panel of judges will select one artist to receive the 2014 Korea Artist Prize. The recipient will be chosen and announced during the exhibition period.
■ Koo Donghee: Way of Replay
Koo Donghee (b. 1974) creates video works and installations wherein the banality of daily life is interrupted when accidental situations are allowed to unfold and intervene, as if she were assembling a puzzle. Primarily interested in events happening in her own surroundings, Koo collects relevant materials from various media, including television and internet. Rather than taking a critical stance towards a certain issue, she accepts the limitations of the situation and applies her artistic imagination to shaping her works in accordance with those limitations. She particularly enjoys seeing how her original intent gradually changes based on the logistics of presenting the work. In her videos, she uses editing to change the organization of the material and produce a new narrative. The events leading up to and proceeding from an incident are made ambiguous, eliciting a sense of tension that is heightened by the unfamiliar characters and her repetitive composition. The narrative itself is never discussed by Koo and any elements that may be explanatory are removed. She rather creates space for the audience to interpret the episodes for themselves.
Koo’s installation for this exhibition, Way of Replay (2014), is based on her own memories of the nearby Seoul Grand Park, as well as her impressions of some recent accidents and incidents. When asked to plan an installation for the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Koo immediately thought of the roller coasters from Seoul Land amusement park. Thus, she created and installed a large twisting track—reminiscent of a Möbius strip—as a way of encouraging audience participation within the rectangular symmetrical space. The structure is 75 meters in length, with a rotation of 270 degrees, and also features 36 modules. A Möbius strip is a looped surface with only one side and one edge. With a single twist, the upper and lower surfaces are seamlessly transposed, allowing the surface to realize infinity. In the extremely twisted point of the installation, a video shows an infinitely repeating shot from the point of view of a passenger on the rollercoaster. The work seems to suggest an organic relationship between people and the world, in which both sides develop through an incessant exchange of actions and reactions. Both sides begin from an internal perspective that is perpetually and ineluctably becoming the external. Entering the track and following the changes in the track’s structure, the audience realizes the separation between their perception as the experiencing subject and the illusion of the viewing subject. They find it almost impossible to simultaneously maintain a comprehensive view of the structure and an awareness of their own location within the structure. Adding to the audience’s disorientation, the objects surrounding the structure, attempt to talk to them. Koo Donghee exemplifies our perception of an artist as a person who is only able to endure her own experiences and emotions through expression Koo’s work implicitly realizes visual elements in a quite playful manner, but at the same time, holds the possibility of multiple interpretations and irrationality of Life.
■ Kim Shinil: Ready-known
Kim Shinil (b. 1971) produces visual creations that seek to deconstruct our inherent—i.e. “ready-known”—ideas and beliefs through the act of “seeing.” Through such works, he seeks to expose and subvert the complacency of contemporary society, which he feels is a response to the overwhelming inundation of information and non-stop “categorization” of the world.
For this exhibition, Kim combines his letter sculptures with video works to render the gallery space as a single structure. A sensor is installed to automatically adjust the sound and lighting according to people’s movements in the space. When the gallery darkens, auditory elements are emphasized to stimulate people’s perception through hearing; when the lights brighten up, visual elements are highlighted to engage their mental reasoning. Kim’s letter sculptures consist of abstract blocks formed by a massed conglomeration of letters. These large blocks extend up from the floor to a height of up to 2.4 meters. Through these sculptures, Kim impedes the semantic function of words and letters and reconstitutes them as purely visual elements. Once the letters cease to exist as mere vessels for human thoughts, their overlooked sensuous aspects come to the forefront. As such, the viewers find themselves in a place outside of meaning. For example, three words—“mind,” “belief,” and “concept”—are installed in front of a mirror, but the mirror is programmed to vibrate with the rhythm of a heartbeat, so that the words become illegible. Or the words are placed within an acrylic box to manifest his abstract concept. A video is projected behind a letter sculpture, so that the light and shadow cast on the planes of the letters make them appear alternately concave and convex. Kim visualizes the acquisition of men’s true autonomy through light, emphasizing intuitive nature over the rational mind. Only by subverting concepts inherent to reason in favor of instinct can we begin to grasp our true nature. This notion is evinced in his video A Conversation in 42000 sec. (2014), wherein images of urban or everyday landscapes are enlarged until they become pixilated and unrecognizable. Two videos then intersect with one another, enacting a discourse that allows us to approach truths that lie beyond the reach of human vision and reason. Through his myriad experiments with visual perception—integrating drawings, sculptures, and videos—Kim Shinil conducts experiments on visual perception by crossing over drawing, sculpture and video to broaden our scope of comprehension with realization of the simplified visual language.
■ Noh Suntag: Sneaky Snakes in Scenes of Incompetence
Noh Suntag (b. 1971) produces photographs that detail real-life situations directly related to the division of Korea. He shows how deeply the division has permeated the daily lives of the Korean people and has thus distorted the entire society. After beginning his career as a documentary photojournalist, Noh has published many books of photography: Fragrance of the Division (2005); Strange Ball (2006), focusing on the “Radome” (radar + dome) of the U.S. military in Daechu-ri, Pyeongtaek; Red Frame (2007), documenting the differing aspects of North and South Korean society; State of Emergency (2008), winner of the 2008 "German Photo Book Award"; Good, Murder (2010), examining the exposure of war weapons; Hear the Song of Gureombi (2011), featuring interviews with residents who opposed the construction of the U.S. naval base in Jeju Province; The Forgetting Machine (2012), looking back at the Gwangju Democratization Movementand Looking for the Lost Thermos (2013), dealing with the North Korean shelling of Yeongpyeong. The overall theme penetrating all of these works is how the division “functions through malfunctioning.” Noh uses his photography to explore how images related to the division ideology are distributed and consumed in Korean society.
This exhibition questions the daily operation of Korean society, and particularly the increasing role of cameras within that operation. Today, the act of taking pictures has become an integral part of people’s daily lives, with photography being used primarily to document or commemorate a specific time and space. Noh demonstrates how photography can serve as a weapon to disclose the landscape, events, and political situations surrounding the camera. In the exhibition’s title, “sneaky snakes” refers to the somewhat insidious yet explosive attributes of photography, which has quietly revolutionized media within its relatively short history. The “scenes of incompetence” are unfortunate incidents and events that initially seem to be evidence of cruelty, but are more likely the result of mere incompetence, making them immune to moral action or outrage. While photography purports to convey the objective truth, it can subtly and shrewdly distort facts by presenting only a framed and superficial landscape devoid of context. For instance, recent coverage of social disasters in Korea has resulted in accusations of voyeurism. This exhibition reflects Noh’s critical perspective of the language with which we discuss how we should view photography. By approaching Korea’s social problems as universal human issues, rather than as ideological conflicts, and by visualizing scenes with his own unique aesthetic sense, Noh successfully elicits the empathy of the viewers. Finally, the works in this exhibition demonstrate that Noh is deeply concerned with a photographer’s duty and attitude towards photography, particularly at a time in which the medium is changing so rapidly.
■ Chang Jia: Taboos Stimulate Hidden Desire.
Utilizing the human body to address social taboos, Chang Jia (b. 1973) realizes her art through performance, video, installation, and photography. She deals with the body as both a sensory system and a person’s innermost essence, rather than as a cultural product that reflects the social view. Her work can be associated with feminist art, in that she reveals women as desiring subjects, rather than voyeuristic objects. However, by using her artistic imagination to expose taboos relevant to all human bodies, she transcends the limits of classification and explores the broader boundaries of art.
Her works exist at the point of intersection between various extremes—pain and pleasure, violence and beauty. In Beautiful Tools I (2009), she reinterprets surgical instruments as implements of torture, demonstrating how we overlook their surprisingly aesthetic features due to their practical function. Sitting Young Girl (2009) and I Confess My Sins (2011) unveil the violence hidden within erotic or decorative beauty. For this exhibition, Chang is introducing the new installation Beautiful Tools III (2014), which she has been planning for the last six years. A large white curtain is installed to demarcate a “sacred space,” which is occupied by twelve female performers sitting atop large wooden wheels, like those used for old wooden carts from China. The wheels were purposely chosen in accordance with their possible function as instruments for torture. Each performer sits on an unusual saddle studded with protruding crystals and a hole in the middle, where the attached feathers rubs against the performer’s genital region. Thus, while pedaling the wheels, women are simultaneously subjected to both pain (from the crystals) and pleasure (from the feathers). During their arduous labor, women sing a work song in Phrygian scale, which was banned in the Western medieval times for its imperfectness and decadence. The lyrics come from a traditional Korean ballad called ‘the treadmill song’, which was orally passed down from ancient Chung-buk, Eumsong. Chang effectively combines these two seemingly oppositional elements. Due to the shadows outside the sacred site, the entire work has a very covert and clandestine atmosphere. Furthermore, through this odd combination of sacred ambience and a secular act, the museum becomes a site of transgression. Both pain and pleasure serve to confirm our existence. Chang is able to effectively manifest our taboo desires through her unique visual language, allowing us to look upon our own latent instincts. She believes that, before we can begin to consider our views of the world, we must first confront the intrinsic feelings that exist within each one of us. By consistently pursuing topics that are difficult to represent as artworks, Chang Jia presents new possibilities that expand the perimeter of contemporary art.