Come and Join the audience to Open Theatre

I want you to join the audience to the , Young-In Hong's solo exhibition. It is often said that contemporary art is difficult, and the interpretations offered are of little help in reducing your perplexity. I must admit that it is often the same with me, though I am so called an art critic. Many of the art works of our time do not look particularly beautiful when compared to the images and objects you find around you every day; perhaps the day when art was the object of aesthetic experience is a gone by. Yet, intellectual understanding is not easy, either. As the artist does not create his/her works with objective concepts and logic that can be substantiated, it will not do to ask for logical explanation. Surely art is a ‘visual’; you just feel what you see with your eyes, and that is enough, is it not? However art is somehow no more seeing beauty; now we have to read what is behind its beauty, what it signifies. What is more, we are uncertain of what we read with our own eyes and mind, so we feel obliged to read critical interpretations. Unfortunately, they do not make much difference; they have little influence on what you feel and understand about a work of art. I am going to write on what Hong does in her project, and what I write will be "art criticism" on the artist's works. But it is possible that it is different from what you intuitively feel, from the significance you expand with your own imagination. After all, my aesthetic experience is different from yours, and my words are not visual art or direct, physical experience; they are no more than written language added to them.
And that is why I ask you to be among the audience to Hong's exhibition. In her project, beauty, which is the classical value and reason of art, and the artist’s subjective criticism of reality coexist in rather a ‘strange manner’. It enables you to be the audience that observe her works aesthetically as well as the audience that weave the threads of critical contexts provided by the artist, that participate; and at last, you become the audience that are critical examinators. In appreciating Hong's works, observation and participation are achieved simultaneously without any cognitive distance. I am writing this in the assumption that you are willing to join the audience, in order to guide your understanding or to share your criticism. Will you join the audience as observers and critical examintors of the ?

Beauty and Criticality

is the title of Young-In Hong’s temporary art project(exhibition) staged on Anguk Post Office and Samchung Police Box, both of which are actual places in Seoul. The title evokes an airy and ethereal image, which, in contrast to not very imaginative and artistic places like post offices and police boxes, seems to emphasise their earthly ordinariness. On the other hand, it tells that the post office in Insa-dong where dozens of art exhibitions are held every day, and the police box in Samchung-dong where the shadows of 70's remain(because of development restriction in the vicinity of Cheong Wa Dae) will be somehow transfigured to be "fantastic" and "artistic" by an artist. Just as it is a combination of airy + performing + stage, art + artistic activity + place transcends the lesser, confined society of the arts world to the public + public services + public place of the civil society. But as an ethereal image precedes such an understanding, Hong's installations in the post office and the post box are beautiful by themselves, regardless of the artist's intention or context.

Art - Theatre - Everyday Places

is a "site-specific art" that has its ground as specific places in our everyday lives. The artist gives the same title to the post office installation, while the police box installation is named "I Will Commit Crime Forever and a Day." , therefore, is at once the outermost bark of Hong's exhibition and one of the inner stalks/stories. And indeed, the post office work is installed outside the building, and it is folds and creases in the line of Hong's previous and series. The graceful folds of satin or velvet had the power of transforming the place into a very beautiful, theatrical space, and it is the same with the post office installation. And yet there is a difference; if the curtains and pillars remained in the secure neutrality as aesthetic objects installed in the museums and galleries, , attached to a building that has a public function, attempts recontextualisation of the space and the itself. It reverses 'functional post office' into 'beautiful post office', and 'work of art as aesthetic object' into 'work of art as function'; and blends these contexts together to create new contexts. What we finally have fantastically functional art and functional, yet beautiful public places.

Back to Beauty and Criticality

Those who happen to stand in front of Jongno Police Station from September 17th to October 20th 2004 will find the post office building across the street somehow different. The two-storeyed building, which usually looks rather modest between the tall neighbours, has added one storey with a semi-transparent red fabric, looking as if it has wrapped its head with a turban. Like a seductive see-through dress that half-reveals a woman's flesh, a fine red curtain wraps up the rooftop, through which a scaffold is seen. The curtain, folded in the baroque style, is beautiful to see. However, as the red curtain hides the building like a dust-proof cover, and a scaffold is set up as if they are about to begin the cement work may lead people think that a extension work is going on, if they are not aware that it is part of an art project. It is Hong’s words that nowadays, people are obsessed with 'updating'. In faking a 'extension work of a public office', she wanted them to realise their obsession; and to ask themselves what is behind it. She meant the red curtain to be not only a beautiful object, but also “a criticism, a metaphorical drama of a mock construction work”. While its beauty is obvious, its critical aspect will be more apparent when we consider the public nature of the post office and its long-standing role.
Being the nearest post office in Insa-dong, Anguk Post Office has long been a place where the art world dispatch their posts. The modest two-storeyed building does not look intimidating to young artists who have just their first step as an artist. The staff have known the art world of Insa-dong in close proximity and there is a sense of familiarity, physical as well as emotional between the two. The staff of Anguk Post Office know that in a sense, art begins from post that contains the news of the coming exhibition. The art world, for their part, knows that in many cases, people decide to visit Insa-dong when they get post with the Anguk postmark. Despite the apparent unrelatedness, the art world and Anguk Post Office are on quite close terms. It is this inner closeness, the invisible and close relationship between public space and its user that Hong takes up with . The red curtain is not only a beautiful ornament; but it also pretends to be an extension work, thereby presenting a problematic situation that what if this building grows gigantic.

The problematic situation continues in the other project, I Will Commit Crime Forever and a Day in Samchung Police Box. This consists of flower pots "that were stole from all over Seoul” and an embroidered work of the flowers in the police box. On the narrow pavement and the windowsills, stolen flower pots are in rows, as if they were there from the beginning, as if they belong to the police box. And behind the chief's desk, a gorgeous gilded frame in a Baroque style hangs among the usual, public objects such as Tageuk-gi(The national flag of Korea) and notices. It is flowers beautifully embroidered in golden and silver threads. Despite its apparent ornamentality, it in fact depicts the flowers of the stolen pots.
Beautiful roses have ‘thorns’. There is something going on that the police constables who work hard day and night to protect the residents and their property would never dream of. They probably thought that an art exhibition in the police box would make it more accessible to the residents, softening their rather rigid, official image. But in actuality, the police have become an accomplice to crime by allow (physically as well as institutionally) in their premises the stolen flower pots and their drawing. Hong says she made her intention clear in her proposal. Probably our honest constables thought that she just ‘pretends’ to have stolen the pots. The police, though unintentionally, supported Hong's ‘theft’.
Some may object that art does not justify theft; others may question the necessity of such an eccentric behaviour; still others may deny that it is art, insisting that art is pursuit of beauty. They are all valid doubts and objections, and it is probably that the artist anticipated them; or even wanted them.
I do not want to say that in the name of art, anything can be done; that being an artistic expression is a justifiable excuse for crimes such as theft. I do not want to say that people are ignorant of art that will judge art by the conventional standards of their everyday lives and that they misunderstand contemporary art like Hong's works. Words like "Freedom of artistic expression" or "contemporary art that belongs to a different dimension from that of everyday life" are too often used as a loose, convenient excuse for art and contemporary art. In the same context, I want to point out that the recent trend in which art goes beyond the confined space of art galleries into the everyday space is not necessarily an effort to "pull down the wall separating the reality and contemporary art"; and even if it is, the effort is not always successful. In short, I will not defend Hong's police box with the grammar of the art world.

Audience: Observer/Participant/Detached Inspector

It is in a different regard that I want to consider the fact that theft is involved in the project of flower pots and their drawing, and that they make their way into the police box. It seems that the core of Hong's work sets off by the scene and the audience’s perception of the scene, rather than by the performance of the artist. If the flower pots had been obtained in the ordinary way, there would be no apparent reason why they and their drawing should be put in the police box; and the problematic context of "theft and art" would not trouble your mind, as it does now. Is it not this activation of perception that the artist is after? Theft, a beautiful drawing, little objects that are taken from others without permission, an unusual exhibition site of a police box ? perhaps they have no individual significance; it is the dissonance in the orchestration begun by the artist and perceived by the audience that the artist draws attention to. Hong wants the audience to listen to the strange and uncomfortable sound. She wanted us to reconsider what we have accepted without question ?"beautiful art" or "law and justice" - and what jarring noise they make.
When we see a beautiful thing, we are drawn, fascinated by its beauty, and we do not consider the danger inherent in the fascination or pay attention to the problems and criticality behind the beauty. Even when danger or criticality is apparent, we try to ignore it, taking consolation from beauty. Or saying "a rose is beautiful all the more for the thorns," pretend them to be ornaments. Thus, Hong's project seduces us into a comfortable viewing with apparent beauty, in which it buried criticality intended by the artist, if we are ignorant of the reason why she chose Anguk Post Office and Samchung Police Box for Open Theatre and I Will Commit Crime Forever and a Day. Those of the audience that are aware of the reason and yet do not venture in the police box and feeling awkward, see the embroidered drawing over the chief's shoulder; those of non-participant audience will only have the conceptual knowledge of Hong's project. The danger and tension in the embroidery is only known to the audience who experience it at first hand. Those who looked at on the roof of the post office from far away, those who nervously saw the stolen flower pots and the drawing in the police box, would know what I mean. You(including the police constables) and I are caught in the beautiful net that Hong has thrown; relate their contexts and tie their knots; and the come out to be her audience. Those who do no experience it cannot know the strange power born out of the combination of beauty and criticality. That is why the audience, observer-participant-critical examinator, is the center of Hong’s .

Kang, Su-mi(Aesthetics, Art Critic)

Open Theatre, Exhibition Catalogue
2004, Gallery Factory, Seoul