Keeping it Real

Elleree Fletcher

Keeping it Real: Korean Art in the Age of media Representation

The contemporary Korean exhibit currently being shown at the University of Colorado Art Museum confronts the duality of the real versus the surreal. Each work questions the reality of our life and how we interpret it. It challenges our perceptions, and makes them seem mysterious and ironic. When viewing the show I doubted the knowledge about Asian art that I thought was intuitive. This show is a comment on the contemporary state of Korean art. It challenges the stereotypes Americans feel about Asian art; Americans assume that Asian art is extremely different and unique, this show however, proves this predisposition to be untrue. When considering Asian art Americans always think of the differences, so much that we forget the similarities between the two. Especially in contemporary art there are similarities in ways of modern thinking. With access to a larger world, Asian art questions universal issues. Keeping it Real: Korean Art in the Age of Media Representation, was able to break the barriers of Asian art stereotypes and have an American audience connect with the global culture that is addressed.

When I first entered the exhibition space I was confronted with a series of sounds coming from different areas in the room. With a couple of television installations there were many things grabbing my attention. Directly ahead of me crouched a hybrid saber tooth tiger form barring its teeth. Made by Yong-ho Ji, recycled tires and stainless steel create movement and texture that grabs the viewer, and the animalistic form takes on life. There is a scale-like texture that is created from the tires that gives the form dragon or snake qualities. The creature shows us the dangers of our society’s obsessions with science, industrialization, and technology. It also questions genetically modified organisms because of its blend of a hybrid animal form. The eyes are very reflective, and the viewer can see him or herself and reflect on our current obsessions in society. The form is crouched down and snarling in a confronting, aggressive stance and as a viewer, I felt threatened. I really enjoy the way this piece was placed facing the door, directly staring at the viewer. It was very successful in its movement and texture, but also its underlying meaning.

Turning to my left was a series of television installations by Kiwoun Shin. In “Reality Test” he used a three-dimensional video to create collisions of different objects into people and what they were eating or drinking. Based of personal experiences of his friends getting into car accidents, Shin creates a pseudo reality. By manipulating the speed and the content, the artist is able to distort reality. In one take of the video, toy cars randomly fly into the plane, and crash into a man and his wine glass. Shards of glass and toys are flying towards the viewer due to the 3D glasses, and create a fantasy. There is an amplified sense of violence because of the slow motion quality of the video. The naked eye cannot see the small details that the slowed version does, and the viewer feels like they are apart of the scene due to the 3D quality. The viewer is inserted into this reality, and it appears to be almost more realistic than reality itself. The video mimics car crash tests, but those tests give limited results; Shin uses the unexpected, and this alters the viewers perception of what is real.

Another video in Shin’s series is called “Approach the Truth, Astro Boy.” Here a toy figuring of Astro Boy is being ground into dust by an industrial sanding machine. Although Astro Boy is only one example of the consumer products that Shin grinds down, (he uses items enjoyed by the younger generation) the idea remains the same. Shin is playing with the idea of being and non-being, and that we come from dust and will eventually go to dust. He wonders about birth, death, emptiness, and that even plastic toys go through this cycle. During this cycle “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong is playing in the back. It makes me think of the cycles of life and how that is being interrupted by industrialization.

A different video installation created by Jaye Rhree is set up on the opposite side of the room. Playing the same video on five screens, “Cherry Blossom” questions American stereotypes of Asian culture and art. From far away it is hard to tell what is occurring; since it is a Korean show, Rhree wants the viewer to associate the small pink dots falling as cherry blossoms, and from just reading the title that is what anyone would think. However, the sound that the installation is making is unlike blossoms, but more of a popping noise, this makes the viewer want to read the statement. To many it is a surprise to find out that the so-called “Cherry Blossoms” are actually wads of gum that many people are spitting onto a target. Due to the complete reverse of what the viewer thought was reality, there is a feeling of repulsion and awe. Aesthetically, the installation is very pleasing; there is a movement and texture that the gum creates while it falls, and each screen creates an even greater movement. It is interesting how Rhree completely alters what the viewer is expecting, which shows how contemporary Asian art is not as typically “different” from American art as we would think.

This show is very successful in sticking to its intentions, not only does it question reality, and how this is conveyed in art, but it also destroys the stereotypes revolved around Korean art. Each artist statement tells when the artist was born, and where they were currently working. This revealed how involved each artist was in modern society. Especially in a college art museum, I think that the students were able to connect with the messages that the artists were conveying. Revealing where the artist was currently working was also good for context; some are currently in London, New York, or still in Korea, but this gave the viewer insight to where contemporary Korean artists are living and working today.

I really enjoyed the set up of the show. Each installation did not compete against each other, but flowed together to create a hybrid of Korean art. Each artist has their own unique style, but all are influenced by modern issues, which created an effortless combination of work. Although I was most drawn to the saber toothed tire figure, all were equally intriguing. Especially to someone belonging to a younger generation, I was able to connect with every work that was displayed.

On the statement for Keeping it Real the curator said that most people think, “to see is to believe,” but that this show is questioning that. It is questioning reality in its entirety. What is real, and how are these perceptions shaped by stereotypes, or altered by images? Every artist in the show questions both Asian stereotypes and reality. Every piece has a fantastical perception, and makes the viewer step back and question the predispositions we have about modern society, but also Asian culture and art. Keeping it Real reveals that we see what we want to believe, and that in reality, “to believe is to see.”

2 Responses

  1. Your work is highly informative, however i feel that your work lacks a sense of professionalism as it uses i. In that respect your work is a tad weak, however in terms of grammar and content your essay is quite informative and useful.

  2. I thought your paper was very well done. Your descriptions of form and iconography in each piece was clear and informative. I particularly enjoyed your description of Yong-ho Ji’s unconventional representation of the saber tooth tiger. I thought it was interesting how he used found materials to comment on society’s obsession with advancing technology. This really emphasizes the idea that Asian artists are invested in hot button topics and issues in contemporary society. It is important for Americans to be exposed to Asian artists in order to overcome preconceived notions such as orientalism and other romantic idealizations.

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