Exhibition Keeping It Real CU Art museum

Kevin O’Hara


Exhibition Review

Keeping It Real is a group exhibition of contemporary Korean Artist at the CU art museum.  The show collects videos, sculpture, photographs and installations by Korean Artists and offers a unique view into contemporary Korean society.  Works by eight Korean artists, Kyung Woo Han, Yong-­ho Ji, Yeondoo Jung, Shin-­il Kim, Sun K. Kwak, Hyungkoo Lee , Jaye Rhee, Kiwoun Shin, are featured in the exhibition.  The pieces in the show explore a hybrid reality between real life and fantasy through a variety of mediums.  I found the show to be fascinating and inspiring as a studio art student, especially the video works, and found myself returning to experience the exhibition a number of times.

The first piece that greats viewers is Yong-­ho Ji’s Jaguar sculpture created from used tires.  I had seen the sculpture before in photos online and was delighted and proud to find it in CU’s art museum.  Seeing the work in person allowed me to see how the artist had created the organic twisting from out of cut up pieces of tires.  The overlapping forms of the tires creates naturalistic musculature while the intact treads of the tires and the matte black of the rubber reveal the material’s industrial roots.  Not only was the sculpture beautiful to look at but I was struck by the irony of creating a striking sculpture of an animal out of discarded industrial waste.

Wrapping around the entrance of the exhibition was the work of Sun K. Kwak.  An abtract drawing of black forms on the white gallery walls, created using carefully ripped and torn segments of tape.  I found the piece to be aesthetically pleasing and found myself wondering how the work was installed and whether each installation is site-specific and unique.  That being said I felt like conceptual the piece was not very strong.  Additionally I found the other work in the room to be much more engaging and interesting.

Another one of the pieces, that of Jaye Rhee was problematic for me.  The piece combined imagery of polar bears in their natural habitat on a tile wall with a video of the artist swimming in a pool under the same tile mosaic.  My professor, Korean herself, had to explain to me that this was a kind of public bath or swimming area and that the artist had dressed herself as a bear.  The intention was to bring the décor to life in a humorous way.  I understood this to be a blurring between the reality of the public space and the fantasy created by the artwork on the tiles.  However, without the input of the professor I would have had no access point to the work and its significance would likely escape me.

In contrast I found the video work of Kiwoun Shin beautifully simple, formal, and accessible.  There were a number of videos, shot in extreme slow motion of people sitting nicely dressed holding drinks, so uneventful and slow that if took a moment to realize it was actually a film and not a still image.  This sense of banality was disrupted by toy cars cascading down from out of frame or flying in from the side, destroying or spilling the contents of the glasses.  I read the work as a pondering of life, as everything seeming fine until something drastically changes our world.  As an artist I am myself interested in video and specifically hyper-slow-motion and found Shin’s use of the medium to be fantastic.  My favorite video of these however was a time-lapse recording, played in reverse, of an Astro-boy toy being sanded into dust by a power sanding machine.  While Astro-boy was accreting from the particles of plastic a recording of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World played.  I found the film to be humorous and poignant and prompting me to reflect on the work as another metaphor for life.  The pairing of the audio with the video was brilliantly sarcastic and funny but in a more intellectual way as opposed to a laugh-out-loud gag.

Moving into the second room of the exhibition Hyungkoo Lee’s skeletons of the cartoon icons Tom and Jerry, from his Animatus series took center stage.  Again I had seen photos of the work online but seeing the piece in person gave me a chance to admire Lee’s accuracy and attention to detail.  I love the playfulness of the piece and my professor, who had studied with Lee in Korea, told us stories about how he spent years studying any animal bones he could get his hands on.  Lee went so far as to set up mouse traps in his studio and would use the dead mice in his studies of biology.  Childhood fantasy is a part of my life and my artwork and I love Lee’s clever and subtle approach to the subject matter.  I found the way Lee takes a scientific and serious approach to absurd and childish things in his work to be very inspirational and relevant to my own art practice.

Next to Lee’s installation was another video work, this one by Shin-il Kim.  The piece used a simple grid of boxes with a projector behind it projecting television programs onto the grid.  The effect created was a beautiful grid of flickering, changing, lights.  I responded strongly to Kim’s ability to take something familiar and with a simple structure create something abstract and beautiful.  Before walking around the piece I had no idea what was generating the abstract light show and discovering the source was a great reveal on the part of the artist.  The piece made me reflect on television and how I view it but did it in a way that didn’t beat you over the head but allowed you the discover something for yourself.

In a separate room I discovered what was probably my favorite piece from the exhibition; Yeondoo Jung’s 84 minute film Documentary Notalgia.  The film was created from a single unmoving, unedited, and continuous shot of a sound stage.  On the stage, technicians in orange jumpsuit would periodically add or remove props, backdrops, and actors, as well as change the lighting or add atmospheric touches like smoke.  The effect was to create a series of scenes each held for a few minutes before being metamorphosing from one to the next.  A sunny pasture filled with cattle gradually changed into a misty dark forest over the course of several minutes and scene changes.  Through the course of the film Jung creates convincing scenarios as desperate as interiors of buildings, city streets, and natural landscapes.  I found the piece to be absolutely mesmerizing and stayed to watch almost a half an hour of the film.  I found myself marveling at the intelligence and precision that created each seemingly believable scene while also being entertained by the technicians constantly changing minor details to create the illusion.  To me this piece spoke brilliantly to our manufactured and manipulated perception of reality.  Seeing the scenes set up by uniform authority figures and then marveling at the reality of the scene produced became a metaphor for contemporary existence.  Jung lays bare the obvious manipulation of our reality by forces larger than ourselves  in a humorous and fascinating way.

Overall I found the exhibition to be very inspiration as someone who deals with similar topic in my own artwork.  I admire these artists’ abilities to demonstrate the interaction between fantasy and reality in such intelligent ways.  The exhibition functioned as a whole to make the viewer reexamine their lives and the role of imagination in them.  These artists’ ability to discuss the role of media and fantasy in our lives in such an effective but also light-hearted way is truly impressive.  I came away from the show enjoying the work I had seen so much that I was motivated to apply some of the same ideas and techniques to my own body of work.

3 Responses

  1. I’ve heard a lot about this exhibition but have never been able to go, your paper, being very descriptive, gives good insight to what the show was about. I was intrigued to see that your favorite piece was an 84 minute single take – film. Initially it sounds like it would lack excitement, but after discovering that the single shot of a performance stage is to set up new scenarios and scenes makes it so much more intriguing

  2. I went to this exhibit as well. I find the different interpretations of the work to be really engaging. I went with some people from my other art class and when we all began talking about the different works they began to mean different things. When we went and saw the Tom and Jerry piece it made me laugh out loud where it made others think of the 1st world dominance over second world nations controlling them and taking advance of them. The repeated film of the gum falling which initially looks like flower peddles was interpreted as the filth of the the US constantly having dirty streets in their cities. The way that everyone sees a work differently is really interesting. Hearing your insight to the piece again made it entirely different for me, knowing he liked to play with animal bones almost makes it even more humerus.

  3. Although I have not had a chance to attend this exhibit, your review of the art within it makes me want to drop by. I was especially intrigued by your analysis of the Jaguar piece as being an ironic hybrid of naturalistic form and industrial waste. The first connection I made was that both Jaguars and rubber originate in the jungle, perhaps a commentary on man’s relationship with nature. I also found your interpretation of Yeondoo Jung’s film as a critique of the false realities created through film and television to be spot on, what an interesting concept too, it sounds very powerful. The only point in your essay at which I found myself wanting further explanation was when you described Kwak’s piece as lacking in the conceptual category. Why? Overall, a great paper!

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