Group performances, Orange Flags and the Restoration of Time

Choi Tae Man
Art Critic and Professor at Kookmin University, College of Art

Following the successful exhibition of ‘Korean Eye (2010)’ at Saatchi Gallery in London last year, another group exhibition entitled ‘Fantastic Ordinary’ was organized and well received in Singapore. The show is said to be on view in Seoul during the G20 summit conference being held in the city this coming November.

For the show ‘Fantastic Ordinary’, Young In Hong presented ‘A Lady I Met in Ubon Ratchathani, Summer in 2006’. She embroiders the fabric and also uses acrylic paint in this work, using the image of Buddha as a motif. Although the image that protrudes out of the optical background is a representation of Buddha, the image has pitch dark wig-like hair on instead of yookgye of nabal , features that are typical of Buddha and is dressed in clothes of Luscious colours – one may even perhaps call it fashionable in the tropical zone. She also made ‘Beautiful Men I Met in Incheon, London, Barcelona and Liverpool’ in the similar vein. The image of the man was created after the image of the sculpture of General MacArther that was put up in Freedom Park in Incheon.

The way in which the artist creates art is based on the photographs of interesting subjects taken during her travelling. Cities all over the world have monumental statues that were erected to commemorate specific moments and events of their history and to establish and promote their own identity. To her, these statues were viewed as the emblems to symbolize and even strengthen male-centric authority, and in reaction she started making works that employed the labour-intensive embroidering technique, labeled as female labour, in an attempt to subvert the received meaning (that the statues signify). So the complicating iconic images are overlapped whilst a host of images taken out of history along with the characters appearing in a naturally dramatic situation play their individual roles in the pantomime not minding the roles of others. It also looks like a piece of collage where fragmented facets of stories are intermingled.

In fact, the ‘directing’ plays and important part in Hong’s works. For instance, in ‘Open Theatre’, she re-constructed and raised the storey of the buildings of post office in Samchung dong of Seoul. Here, she wrapped cloth up over the poles set up at the four corners of the top of the buildings. So to speak, she made fake walls. ‘I will Commit Crime Forever and a Day’ is the work in which she embroidered the record of images of plants that she randomly collected (stole) from streets and brought to her studio. She made ‘Inflatable Water Tank’ for the first launching year of Anyang Public Art Project, which also involves the element of directing. All these works, although they are based in reality, go through the director’s fictitious touch and are changed into the works where the reality is ingrained once again, or on which the fictional is overlaid after erasing the real. She alters a place in reality to the theatrical stage, through which the place obtains a new context. Such contextual change can be observed in the group performance of 2009. In the performance, about 500 residents marched along from Sabuk to Gohan, while some of them wore the miner’s work suit borrowed from the Charcoal Museum and some put on orange-coloured hats or waist belts, and others just help up placards and balloons in the colour of orange. According to the artist, the colour orange symbolizes something that is identified with the tentative and indefinite. Headed by samulnori (traditional percussion quartet) who are again tagged along by the miners holding up orange flags, a wave of residents all in orange walked by various places imprinted with historical traces. This work, by any rate, is a group demonstration as well as a celebration. Moreover, it is a directed piece of work. The director aimed to recall the history of a mining town in which mining had been a booming industry several years ago but now is declining, through the performance-in order to enact the restoration of memories.

For this performance, the artist capitalized on the development of Kangwon Land Casino, where cities are transformed due to the governmental policy of eliminating the history of cities under the excuse of regional economic vitalisation. Then the performance raises the question: can a well-organized, deliberately plotted demonstration be art? Historically, Nathan Altman re-enacted the attacking of the Winter Palace by mobilizing the army and the people on the 3rd anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 1920. In this collective performance, even the stage sets and cubicles in line with Russian Constructivism were deployed. Hong’s performance echoes the Russian antecedent and it shows that a pre-organised protest can be the subject of the critique. However, there was no sign of slogans on the flags or placards in Hong’s performance. It does not insist certain issues to be accomplished. Rather, it intends to gather up the thoughts of residents in order to reflect on the meanings of the place through the reconstituting of memories; only to give fresh definition to their own habitat. The colour orange, signifying ambiguousness might be a means for having the residents bonded, or a page of history waiting to be rewritten. Although it ended as one-time action, it makes us think of the land of miners. The orange flags can be viewed as the manjang that comforts the souls of the deceased who existed on this land, and at the same time as blank space where a history of the people who will live on this land should be written.

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1. Yookgye is a feature that is shaped as topknot on the Buddha’s head, and Nabal is the Buddha’s head.
2. Manjang is a length of fabric made into a flag, on which a passage of mourning is written for the dead. During the funeral, people following behind the pall bearers usually carry it.

Korean text can be found here:
http://www.daljin.com/column/1847