Keeping it Real: Korean Artists in the Age of Multi-Media Representation – Anna Cook


On February 23rd, the exhibition Keeping it Real: Korean Artists in the Age of Multi-Media representation was opened. The entire exhibition displayed artists ethnically and culturally Korean, but it displayed highly technological works as well. It was nothing like traditional Asian art in the sense of medium, though there were several symbols and meanings that were more traditional such as the use of cherry blossoms. However, the most relevant dynamic of all the pieces was the concept of reality, what is real, what is an illusion, and what we perceive. We are forced to look closer at the art we see and construct it, and reconstruct it. These pieces challenge our modern world and what is means to exist, what existence holds and what enigmas keep us wondering.

The exhibition was sprawled out. The exhibits had a decent amount of space from each other. Our attention was first drawn to the center wherein stood a giant Jaguar (2008) made of used tired and stainless steel. The piece looked like a mass of black rippling muscle, with giant fangs and glowing green eyes. It was as though we were stepping into an old werewolf movie, but rather than a werewolf, the beast was a Jaguar. This animalistic and realistic representation easily catches our eyes as soon as we walk into the room. For a moment, we can be easily startled by it, as though the creature were standing right in front of us.  However, upon looking closer at the creature we are struck by how unreal it is. It is much like the creatures of myths. It’s fierce some form is absurdly large, muscled, with fangs that are at least two feet long. It looks vaguely like a jaguar, but there is something unreal about it. On the other hand, the piece is described as a “poetic and lucid statement about the dangers of our obsessions with science.” The futuristic nature of the piece gives it more of a mutated monster feel, a futuristic fiend.

The other pieces of Yong-ho Ji play a similar role. Each piece is animalistic, listed on his site from “mutant,” to “arthropods” to “human,” (Yong Ho Ji, Works). All of the works are made from the same process, using recycled tire. All of them have a distinct muscle-like structure, creating a powerful and bold creature. At times the beasts appear as though they are aliens, as if a new breed. Not much is said about the pieces on Yong-ho Ji’s site other than their names, and from this information we can only look at his creation. It as though Yong Ho Ji means to play God, or better yet, making a statement about playing God. These edgy animals are a physical representations of what is real, or what can be real in a soon-to-be future.

As we looking at Jaguar, I became quickly involved with another piece, Approach the Truth-Astro Boy (2006) that I was hearing from behind. “What a Wonderful World,” played on the system in a constant loop. I turned around and saw an industrial sanding machine grinding down an Astro Boy toy I stood and watched the video as this creation was burned down to dust. Still, I could not help but feel a calm as the music played. When the piece was finally completely obliterated, the video played backwards as if the object were being completely rebuilt from dust. It was as if I were stepping into an HD version of The Destructors1, as if the toy was simply being destroyed and remade for no specific reason, remove just to build and destroy and rebuild.  The piece was hypnotic, addictive to the eyes and ears. Rather surreal, the toy stood with confidence even as it was ground to plastic dust. According to the information at the side of the piece, this presentation shows both “respect and contempt towards material.” In this respect, we can see a contradiction, as if the concept is confused. We are unsure whether or not we want it to be destroyed or created, but either way we are intrigued. Even without a distinct purpose, we watch the image intently, satisfied with the complete destruction of this commercial object. Moreover, it plays on what it means to be real, or so to exist. It is essentially relating to the pointlessness, the consistent repetition that is life, that is humanity. This type of repetitive existence happens everyday, even in our “sensorial world.” Perhaps it relates to what a modern worker is, or perhaps it relates to how we treat our day-to-day lives, as if time is slowly degrading us. The meaning of this piece can easily be debated, with a heavy influence on personal meaning.

As I strolled over the room, I became enticed by Yeondoo Jung’s Adolescence (2010), a work that documents the camping trip of a large group of grad students from CU Boulder. At first glance, I felt the pieces were mediocre, merely a document of a happy time. As the group sat around the campfire many of them looked happy. However, while looking at the pictures, there was something distinctly somber about their expression. Many of the artists posing for the camera seem posed to look a certain way. There seems to be something unsettling about the image, a certain intensity, which brings us to gather more information from them. In all of the pictures used in this series, there is an elusive use of space which can come off as not only unsettling, but also mysterious and curious; as though it were a Pandora’s box2. We are inticed by the mystery of this piece, curious as to the real meaning to the expressions and wait awaits us in the darkness. We wish to explore this surreal camping trip further and unfold the mystery within. The darkness forces us to focus on person posing for the picture, each of them wearing an expression more and more somber. We are challenged in how we perceive the world, and also, how we perceive the world compared to a photographic image. We cannot tell if the models are genuinely posed to look tense, or perhaps if they actually had something hiding in the darkness. It is the enigma of what is really happening, what modern day photos mean when looking closer and what is real and what is not.

The next piece I came upon was titled Cherry Blossom (2012), created by local artist Jaye Rhee. When looking at the piece from across the room, all I could see was bits of pink falling onto the ground. Naturally, when I read the title, I figured that the pink speckles were in fact petals of cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms were and still are culturally significant in Korea and Japan, but in the West we stereotype this symbol along with the samurai, sushi, and the like. In the simplistic sense, the cherry blossoms are a symbol of celebration for spring; however, they also represent change and the fleeting nature of life. It is generally understood as a positive thing, many people celebrate spring by holding festivals in light of the cherry blossom. Regardless, after taking the time to watch the video more closely I came to notice something far less romanticized than cherry blossoms. Rather than being cherry blossoms, the pink objects falling were chewed up pieces of gum. The piece was surprising, startling. If I had not looked closer at it, I may not even have noticed this unusual representation of the cherry blossom.  It seemed the piece was more so a symbol of a modern day society, not caring or understanding the nature of traditionalism and it’s value. As the “petals” fell, I could hear the unnerving chiming a pipa, a Chinese type of string instrument, with highly contrasting tones. Like the other pieces from this exhibition, this work relates to the modern day world. In a sense it is a statement about what we perceive as valuable. Often we are bombarded with city spaces and scraps of gum, with a reality that is mundane. Perhaps though, this is a statement about the beauty of the metropolis, relating to how our existence today is still a beautiful thing. In a world driven by productivity, creating opportunities for people of lower class, perhaps letting go the traditional imagery is good for society.

Though I have only touched on these pieces, I have begun to understand how they create technological drama, and the doubting of reality. Upon glancing at each of these pieces, I was challenged to ask myself what was real and what was not. Moreover, I was brought to ask about the value of what exists and what could exist. In our future, we can see the possibility of mutant creatures, of a colossal emphasis on objects and materials, we can see the possibilities of enigma, and the change of cultural values. We the come to ask ourselves what existence truly is, or what we exist for. It seems in a society driven by production and service, we are driven to mass production and throw away traditionalism. The exploitation of science within this future will lead to a malformation of societies, such explorations such as the atomic bomb which have already been shown. In some sense, these modern realities are beautiful, magnificent. There is a distinct significance to them, but still the debate: are we real? And so, how do we exist?





“Yong Ho Ji.” Yong Ho Ji. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <;.

Greene, Graham. The Destructors. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1990. Print.

“Pandora’s Box.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <’s%20box&gt;.

1 A short story from 1954 about teenagers who destroy the house of an older man, burning it down for no material gain, rather for the purpose of creating and destroying.

2 a box, sent by the gods to Pandora, which she was forbidden to open and which loosed a swarm of evils upon humankind when she opened it out of curiosity


3 Responses

  1. This is a very lovely paper, and you captured what the pieces in the exhibition really meant. I really enjoyed how you described the jaguar because i had such a hard time putting words on how it made me feel, but you hit it spot on.

  2. Anna,
    You did an awesome job conveying the sense of the gallery space as a whole, not just the individual pieces. Since many did have sound and the Jaguar was in the middle of the space, I think you did an appropriate job showing the movement of the viewer through the space. Of course a description is never as good as the experience, but yours is very close to feeling like the real thing.

  3. I enjoyed your take on the piece “Cherry Blossoms” I did not know how much value the actual petals of cherry blossoms have to many cultures around the world. Knowing this now, I can better understand the piece as representation of outr society today.

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