Remembering Tomorrow,Shaping Today

Gallery Chosun
Mar 18, 2020 9:35AM

by jiho Won

Monument Recalling the Future

Jin-sung Jeon (Professor at Busan National University of Education, Historian)

Monuments that usually stand in every corner of our cities extol the historical legitimacy and permanence of our nation and heroes who defended it. The dead warriors resurrect splendidly, gods, angels, and saints who are to help friendly forces are summoned, women cheer, the allegory of mythical animals appears, and weapons are raised high to the sky. However, such monuments shrink us rather than exalt us with a righteous and bold mental attitude. Our ordinary everyday world, covered by these magnificent stone statues, becomes more shady and shabby.

The war monument, designed by Ji-ho Won, lies on the ground, unlike ordinary monuments. The monument has the same form as a cemetery or a mortuary. However, this monument is made of transparent glass. When looking inside, it is empty but full of thick growing grass. Surprisingly, this monument does not honor the past but reminisces about the future that has not yet occurred. It is a place prepared in advance for future corpses. Here, the known order of time is upside down. Is this an expression of an artist’s eccentricity who feels ecstasy from overturning common notion?

This monument makes us review the principle of historical time. History is originally not a simple flow from the past to the future through the present. Unlike the tradition of “history (史)”, which has long been established on earth, the history introduced from the West in modern times is the time designed to fill the gaps between the past, present, and future that were induced by the intense and peculiar flow and changes in modern times. When we enter turbulent times, such as the political and industrial revolutions, there are serious discrepancies between the expectation for the future and the legacy of the past. In other words, there are severe disagreements between the subjective will to create a better future and the objectively given reality. When facing this crisis, Western intellectuals carried out an ambitious project to reorganize their time, as if the government restructures the industry. In other words, the ideology they pursued, such as building a rich and powerful nation-state, infinite expansion of human freedom, or social equality, was set as the final goal of history, and all past history was reorganized into a consistent story that pursues this goal. This time, the image of the past is made by the goal of the future backwardly. The subjective hope for the future by the media of history, the intuitive category, traces back to the far horizon of time to find potential in the distant past that has already passed. Romanticist Friedrich Schlegel said that “historians are prophets about the past” and it is in the line with it.

The monument, laid down by Ji-ho Won, is a monument that rather recollects the future instead of predicting the past. While ordinary monuments project future ideological goals of the past, the war monument of Ji-ho Won, on the other hand, projects the numerous wrongful sacrifices in the past on the future. Instead of sacrificing the past for the future, the artist tried to reclaim the truth of the past by mourning the sacrifice of the future in advance. The “Endless Conflicts” by Ji-ho Won, which seems to be a parody of “Endless Column”, the masterpieces of Constantin Brancusi, raises objections to the immorality of ordinary war monuments. Since the repetition of the same module implies immortality, this artwork reveals the conflicts between various experiences that have been forcibly stitched up under the imagination of immortality. Therefore, this artwork can be called a “counter monument” that recollects monuments reflectively.

The concept of history originated from the West and the forms of monuments derived from it are too high-handed and biased. Why must the experience of the past be for the present and the future? Is it a right thing to tell our desires using the past as the mirror. Is it not just an expedient to use the past as we please? Is it not an insult against the dead, especially for the numerous people who died under a false accusation? Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th-century German philosopher, is one of the pioneers who openly expressed this doubt. He wrote “Unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen” that was against the dominant cultural norms of his times and it contains a very controversial article, “On the Usefulness and Harm of History for Life (1874)”. In this article, Nietzsche condemned the "wasteful fever of history" prevalent in the Western world of his times, and categorized the methods of historical thinking, relevant to our lives, into three types (monumentalistisch, antiquarisch, and kritisch). The first one has the largest influence and most problematic in practice. The “monumental history” intends to only remember “the classic and rare” after forgetting trivial events under the belief that that "the great forms a chain." This concept of history has spread all over the world, starting with the modern Western civilization. The war monuments of many countries clearly show it. There is nothing more monumental than them. The magnificent monuments in the center of the capital command the people not to forget the great achievements of your ancestors in the past and to sacrifice their lives for the country while looking down on them.

The flag, the motif introduced by Ji-ho Won, raises an issue about the dignity of a country that promises an immortal future. The artist challenges the unique monumentality by bending the flag. The artist defines the shape of the flag that faces down like a faucet as a “moment of peace”. It, just like the monument laid on the grass, reminds us that there were numerous sacrifices in the past by blocking the violent enforcement of state power in advance. Consequently, we face extremely difficult choices. Shall we lift the patriotic flag high, or shall you boldly break it and return to universal humanity?

The artist’s choice shows the introspective stage, beyond mere iconoclasm. The motif of scaffolding, symbolizes the process of designedly transforming an old building, informs us that the mission of art is not to present a clear alternative but to be a medium of change. Art has the charm to help people imagine the ultimate goal by shaping the transitional state aesthetically, rather than showing the ultimate goal directly. The artwork of Ji-ho Won was made on the themes of the harmful consequences of nationalism and the possibility of peace. It aims to be a stepping stone to open a better future and an open monument that prepares the future in a calm and orderly way and recalls the future in advance.

Gallery Chosun