Interview with Kyungwoo Chun
By Kirstine Bruun, Gallery Assistant at Galleri Image
The border area between North and South Korea, experiments with photographic media, and the poetry of everyday objects.
Galleri Image is currently showing the exhibition New Generation – the Latest in Contemporary Photography from Korea with solo presentations and the shared project, Homagination, made by eight of the most talented, young photographers who have graduated from Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea in 2013 and 2014.
In the exhibition – which is concurrently on display at The Museum of Photography, Seoul, and Galleri Image – the solo presentations are composed of large prints, video works and eight unique photobooks made especially for the two venues, while the Homagination consists of reinterpretations of older photographs and vintage prints made by Korean photographic pioneers in the early 20th century.
But why are young, emerging artist digging up old works from the past? And does Korean photography have any relevance for an audience in Denmark – more than 8000 km away?
Here, Kyungwoo Chun, artist and professor at Chung-Ang Unversity, South Korea, and the curator of New Generation, tells about the exhibition.
Sajin – representation of truth
New Generation has travelled all the way from Korea to Denmark. What, in general, characterizes Korean Photography? Can it be distinguished from European or even Danish Photography?
Chun: I believe that it doesn’t make much sense that we try to find something “Korean” or “Danish”. We are living in a global world and the language of every artist is a complex of their daily life and global mass-media experience.
Instead, it is interesting to look back at how people in different cultures have understood and interpreted the new medium, when photography was first introduced to them.
A way of understanding early Korean photography is to look at the word Sajin, which means “photography” in Korean. The meaning of the word is “representation of truth” and it is also used for portrait painting – and drawing.
Sajin was already being used from the 14th century and it is related to the idea that the artwork and the artist should describe the “inner side” of the person or of Nature itself.
This is different from the word for photography in Greek language, which is used in many Latin launguages. (The word for “photography” in Greek is a combination of the words φῶς (phos) – light – and γραφή (graphê) – drawing, ed.)
An expanded sense of photography
There is a great diversity in the works in the exhibition: The artists present both formal investigations centred around photographic media, works created with advanced techniques as part of the meaning of the work, and photographs with a more thematic, explicit content that, for example, points to political realities in Korea.
Do you see any common denominator across the new generation?
Chun: The basic idea of the exhibition was not to choose a specific theme, but instead to let each artist present what they consider their best work.
The common denominator is that we tried to find an expanded sense of photography based on the fundamental meaning of photography.
One important process while creating the works was not only working with the production of images but also to consider the dialogue with the exhibition space.
I believe that the photography is also about “space experience”.
Homage and imagination
In the part of the exhibition called Homagination – a contraction of the word homage and imagination – we see reinterpretations of older photographs and vintage prints made by Korean pioneers on the photographic field.
Drawing on techniques and motifs from the beginning of the 20th Century, the artists have made artificial landscapes, focussed on everyday objects and produced photographic portraits – one of them without the portrayed person even being present in the picture.
Why is it important for young Korean photographers to work and become acquainted with the creations of their predecessors? What can they gain from working with them?
Chun: Young photographic artists in Korea are often easily influenced by the Western style and the trends of contemporary photography. The medium was introduced in Korea by Europeans at the end of the 19th Century and still today people are used to adopting the Western style.
I think that the character and development of photography in many countries have been quite similar – except for the beginning of the history of the contemporary part.
Young artists could find many interesting and inspiring ideas from the works of the pioneers of photography in their own culture instead of looking only at exciting new works from abroad.
The eight artists were asked to select their favorite photographer among many pioneers of art photography in Korea and try to create a dialogue with the past through the interpretation of the old work. I believe that this attitude could help them to find their unique creative voice because the pioneers are like their own grandparents and lived in the same place as they live now.
New ideas in focus
New Generation is being shown both in Korea and Denmark. What can Korean artists contribute to the Danish art scene?
Chun: I hope that Danish people will find out more about life in Korea through the sensitive works of the eight young artists – and also get the inspiration to find a new relation to or dialogue with Danish pioneer photographers instead of famous artists fro.
Not with the images, but the idea behind them!
The eight participating artist are: BAREUN (b.1986), Bora SUNG (b.1985), Changyu KIM (b.1988), Hyungsik KIM, (b.1979), Jihyun JUNG (b.1983), Taejong KIM (b.1986), Youngdon JUNG (b.1988) and Youngjin YOO (b.1988).
New Generation is on display until June 29th 2014.