One Inspiration - The Very First Ideas from Korean Tradition and Culture

Savina Museum of Contemporary Art
Dec 28, 2021 7:24AM


One Inspiration - The Very First ldeas from korean Traditon and culture

Traditonal culture, which seves as a bridge connecting a people's past present and future, ins a unlimited source of inspiration for artists. Displaying works by korea's eleven conteomporary artists, <One Inspiration - The Very First ldeas from korean Traditon and culture> is an attempt or result that sheds light on the artists' creative process of making their own original works inspired by the very first ideas from traditional Korean culture. With their own language, all the artists have striven to express Korean beauty throough their work.

The exhibition will give you a better understanding of Korea’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage that has been preserved throughout the country’s 5,000-year history: traditional ceramics, Hangeul, hanji, ten longebity symbols and goblins. At the same time, it will be an occasion to meet in one place the works that were re-created by the artists through new views and interpretations of traditional culture, modern techniques and media.

-Online resource book:

-Korean-English Translation of this book(or text etc) is supported by Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Korea Arts Management Service.

Kang Un, Air and Dream, Korean Paper, Dyed Paper on Canvas, 112x162cm, 2016

Kang Un

Kang Un was perhaps born to be an artist who focuses on clouds as his given name “Un” means cloud in Korean. He depicts the thoughts, philosophical ideas, and lives of people in an invisible world within cloud like shapes, through which he compares his human subject matter to a constant cycle of nature. His cloud work is largely divided into oil paintings and hanji (traditional Korean paper) works. The cloud works he created during his oil painting period (prior the hanji period) allow the viewer to feel the width and depth of the artist’s sensibility toward nature. Kang uses the keenly observed visual metaphor of clouds to sharply depict the confrontational phenomena that occurs in human life, including creation and extinction, peace and anger, and happiness and sadness. After creating such work in oil on canvas for 10 years, Kang became inspired to investigate a new method based on hanji paper, by a visit to a frame shop. during this visit he particularly noticed the unique white color that was created through the layering of hanji sheets. And, by using countless overlapping hanji sheets as the basis for his practice, the artist uncovered a new material aesthetic based on elements of air and time.

The artist conducted various media experiments using hanji, a paper unique to Korean culture. He refigured his practice based on the characteristics of hanji, such as mediums solidity, and its flexibility after becoming wet, and the variety of material changes that happen when it is colored. Moreover, he focused directly on the process of bonding together and separating hanji paper in collage creates a unique aesthetic in which intangible properties such as air and time become bound into the character of the work.

In his signature hanji series, titled Air and Dream, Kang repeatedly affixes dyed hanji to the canvas, cuts the thinnest hanji, and glues it with a tiny brush. The thick layer part becomes a cloud, while the thinner layer part becomes readable as an element of wind, air, or space within the total composition. As part of this process, thin hanji paper cut into diamond shapes is piled on top of the naturally dyed another hanji paper, to form a variety of layers. The layers formed by the small pieces of hanji are glued together to determine the shape and mass of clouds. The small pieces of colored hanji portray sunrise, sunset, and light over time. Furthermore, the process in which small pieces of hanji are scattered, overlapped, and covered is repeated ad infinitum as required to depict the endless depth of the sky.

While Kang’s initial oil painting cloud works offer evidence of the artist’s passion for depicting the minute changes in cloud shape and form alongside their sheer visual intensity, his hanji cloud series attempts to express the sky as an infinite space; a limitless visual and conceptual realm within which he explores the origin of existence. In essence, it could therefore be said that in his work Kang explores the inner essence of nature and human beings through the medium of clouds.

For the artist, the initial inspiration for this focus came from Earth’s water cycle itself. His notion was that this natural system, in which the rain soaks the land and this water then flows into rivers and seas, from where small drops of water evaporate to form clouds and then descend to the ground again, could metaphorically represent the cyclical nature of human life. As Kang states: “If the imagery of clouds in my younger years reflected the dreams and wandering of my heart, the clouds of my later years offered up a notion of my confessions and humility as a feeble human being.” The artist’s clouds therefore function as an expression of his state of mind, and his desire to realize the true meaning of life through clouds. In this endeavor, the artist is relieving his daily anguish and acceptance of life through the performative meditative process of his hanji collage.

Kim Bum suHidden Emotion, Movie Film, Acrylic Box, LED, 40x90x10cm, 2EA, 201

Kim Bum Su

Kim Bum Su utilities cinematographic film as a material for his sculptural works. He was fascinated by the unique color od cinematographic film and the narrative possibility of the medium. While studying in New York, Kim established his unique visual language when he passed light through old film he bought at a flea market and created a new range of images by accident. In his work Kim uses found documentary, performance, and movie film reels, which have already been screened or discarded, these he reassembles into organic sculptural and forms. In this approach Kim attempts to create a new visual combination of history and culture using the physical medium of film.

Kim specializes in producing organic artwork that crosses the boundary between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art, painting and sculpture, structure and pattern, and object and spatial installation. In his projects he often uses light to illuminate his assemblages to create meditative and fantastic sensory effects. Kim’s primary methodology is to first create a three-dimensional panel or box structure with a flat front by using transparent acrylic plates. He then attaches each segmented film to the surface. Through this process he creates the desired pattern or shape, which he finally finishes by applying transparent resin on the exterior surface. This resin not only adheres the film to the structure, but also enhances the transparency of the film itself. The artist attaches film pieces to construct specific patterns and designs based on single colors, an approach which results in a series overlapping or juxtaposing color bands. The film itself then becomes a new component of artwork and, as its physical characteristics are incorporated as a formal element of the artwork’s structure.

Kim’s patterns and designs are inspired by traditional Korean materials, such as jogakbo (traditional patchwork cloth) or dancheong (Korean traditional decorative coloring on wooden architecture). Jogakbo and dancheong are commonly associated with obangsaek, the combination of five traditional Korean colors of blue, red, yellow, white, and black. Each has its own characteristics, for example, blue has the characteristics of creation or life while red has the characteristics of sun, fire, and passion. Together these colors represent the connection of the divisions of east, west, north, south with the center. Dancheong decorative colors are used in various traditional patterns and designs on wooden structures based on obangsaek. The reason for putting dancheong on buildings is to create a sacred space through the beautiful symbolic decoration. Dancheong was found first in ancient tombs from the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea. It was also popular in China, and Japan with the emergence of Buddhism. However, Korea is the only country that continues to cultivate the tradition of dancheong painting into the present day. Modern Korean dancheong is made up of strong primary colors, which makes it clear and bright. The red pillars and green eaves, bringing up the image of old pine and pine leaves, create dramatic harmony with surrounding nature. This dancheong coloration is considered as the idealized product of the clear and bright nature and naturalism of the Korean people who assumed harmony with nature as the foundation of their lives.

His signature series Hidden Emotion is an example of the possibility of the interaction between physical matter and light in Kim’s work. Art critic Chung Hwan Koh has offered that the artist’s experimental concern is located at the boundary between cinematic narrative and the formality of a film as pure visual information. He states that “[Kim has] expended the unique expression of visual art with flexibility.” In exhibition, audiences are immediately confronted by the colorfulness of Kim’s work, and the infinite expansion of stories, sacred energy, and completion of narratives within his dancheong inspired illuminated work. The artist physically reconstructs 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm movie films and attempts to transforms them in a new aesthetic language based on his dialogue with memories such works tap into. Kim once mentioned, “I edit stories so that the new patterns or the entire piece [I create] can become the main character’s new story, a film, or a theme of life.”

Kim Chang Kyum, Water Shadow & Flowers 3, Video Installation, 4min 30sec, 135x240x23cm, 2018

Kim Chang Kyum

Kim Chang Kyum is an artist who constantly raises questions about the illusion and representational gap between image and reality. His works, which consist of mainly video installations and composite photographs, deal with ideas of artificial reality. In video installation works, he reproduces familiar objects around us, such as mirrors, bottles, plates, and teacups, with plaster or polyurethane. He then creates a video containing the objects and projects the video onto the new objects. Virtual images projected on virtual objects challenge the prejudices of images by blurring the boundary between reality and fiction.

In Water Shadow & Flower 3, the artist presents a work in which he projected a seasonal video of Korea’s natural scenery onto his plaster work as a representation of mulhwak, a unique traditional stone mortar in Korea. Mulhwak is also called seokhwak, and the word “hwak”, specifically refers to a hollow hole in stone mortar. Mulhwak is usually located around the sarangchae (scholar’s room) or nujeong (pavilion) in traditional Korean houses. Koreans had time to meditate while looking at the water in a mulhawk. In Kim’s work, natural scenery is reflected on the water in a mulhawk, which is decorated with the traditional patterns used in Korean ceramics, such as pomegranate or stamped patterns. In the video, the artist adopts an image of Yeonhwado ( a traditional form of ‘lotus flower painting’ in which a swallow flies over a lotus flower or a woman appears in the painting to look back at visitors). Butterflies in traditional Hwajeopdo (flower and butterfly painting) also fly freely and return to a white plate. In the video, the artist's signature appears last on the white plate, reminding us that everything was a virtual situation, or in other words, an image.

The artist appropriates a variety of historical Korean visual forms, including traditional patterns and folk paintings in addition to mulhwak. These traditional patterns function as symbols celebrating the notion of an ideal life. For instance, since ancient times, pomegranate and grape patterns have implied a desire to have many sons, while peony patterns symbolized a desire for wealth. In addition, during the Joseon Dynasty, the Taegeuk (yin-yang) pattern was considered to represent the origin of the universe, and the Ten Longevities pattern, for eternal life, were both popular. Folk paintings were widespread during the Joseon Dynasty and were often created by ordinary people to decorate their daily living spaces in hope of encouraging health and happiness. These patterns and paintings reflected the tastes and sentiments of ordinary people and demonstrate a unique context of formal configuration and narrative and allegorical interpretation.

Rather than directly reflecting the original meaning of these traditional subjects, Kim addresses the fundamental conceptual issue of the nature of reality through his appropriation of this decoration. In exhibition, visitors are immersed in the video of Water Shadow & Flower 3, but after the video projected on to the mulhwak is over, they are confronted by only a blank white plaster object. In this respect, Kim has said: “When one looks into the water, one may see strangers passing by or a character in the water, looking at visitors. Sometimes the shadows [of other visitors] interfere to change the situation. Shadow cannot exist alone in everyday life. However, in my work, the shadow seems real, but the owner of the shadow is unknown. Sometimes something that seems real reveals itself as a fake.” In respect of Kim’s description of his work, the audience therefore often feel a temporary confusion with the realization that the object they considered to be real did not exist. But this moment of confusion is deliberate, as it provides the audience with an opportunity to expand their sensorial experience.

Kim Seung Young, Sadness, Bronze, 88x50x42cm, 2016

Kim Seung Young

Kim Seung Young presents artworks based on ideas of self-reflection and comfort by using natural objects, such as water, stone, moss, as well as creating multi-media installations that include elements such as sound, light, and machinery. The artist explores the inner reflections of human beings based on themes such as memory, trace, communication, reconciliation, and healing. Focusing on emotions such as pain, fear, and sadness that individuals or society as whole is experiencing, Kim bases his art on the practice of dismantling and assembling various forms of media.

Sadness (2016) reinterprets Korea’s ancient Buddhist sculpture, Pensive Bodhisattva , National Treasure No. 83. This work transforms the image of nirvana and transcendence featured in the original statue into one full of sorrow and anguish. The smile of Buddha, consider a symbol of nirvana, is here modified into a face full of pain while his right hand, which represents Buddha’s deep meditation, becomes a hand that wipes away tears. Kim’s work depicts the weight of life that cannot be easily transcended, refiguring Buddha to representing a notion of universal grief and the agitation that permeates ordinary life. Through this endeavor, the formerly transcendent image of Buddha is transformed into a from expressive of realistic worldly emotion. On one fundamental level, here the artist speaks of the unbearable weight of life by expressing the feelings of sadness that are universally inherent to all humans. Paraphrasing Henri Nouwen, art critic SangYongShim argues that Seung Young Kim’s Sadness moves forward and attempts to create “a Buddha that closely approaches humanity by adding the arduous existence of humankind to Buddha’s [normal state] of self-effacement.”

Mind (2018) is another of Kim’s works that shows how the constant state of human emotions remain well hidden but are equally shaken countless times. The water in the large cylinder remains calm while the water in the small cylinder inside the large cylinder is swirling endlessly. The water with black pigment reflects the inner mind of a person looking into the water as if it were a mirror. Water has been a common motif in Kim’s works since 1995. In his work water implies the principle of creation and extinction as well as life. It also represents ideas of self-reflection and self-examination, offering a mirror of the self. Here, Mind allows the audience an opportunity to reflect on their inner feelings, a concern that derives from the artists attempts to understand life and human beings, based on the universal characteristics of emotions.

For Kim, every human being must face the many emotions that arise from their relationships with others. In this respect he once quoted Louise Bourgeois’ words, “I am a prisoner of my emotions. You have to tell your story, and you have to forget your story. You forget and forgive. It liberates you,” to explain his work as a means of communicating with others as well as relieving his own spiritual pain.

And throught his communication, the artist establishes relationships with the world. As Kim mentioned in an interview with artcritic Kyung Han Hong, “I hope people ask questions about their own world through my work, just as I ask questions about the nature of existence. Namely who I am, and other questions about my relationship with unknown things, the relationships between people, the relationships between people and things, and the relationships between things.”

Through his existential concerns the artist has expanded his personal experiences into a universal scale based on various aspects of emotion, which are ultimately designed to allow audiences to directly interact with each other. The overall aim being to build a practice that encourages collective and individual healing and comfort.

Kim Sung Bok, Dream Spoon, Stainless Steel, 70x40x187xcm

Kim Sung Bok

Kim Sung Bok creates humorous sculptures inspired by the dokkaebi (Korean goblins), haetae (mythical unicorn-lions), and dragons in Korean legends and myths. He utilizes various materials, such as wood, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), stainless steel, granite, and bronze. His main theme, ‘dokkaebi’, is related to the human activity of wishing. In folklore, the dokkaebi is a creature that can satisfy the wishes and dreams of common people, and the dokkaebi stick carried by the creatures particularly symbolizes a populist notion of fortune and wealth.

The stories related to dokkaebi have been handed down in Korean oral storytelling traditions, so they are interpreted under various meanings rather than in a singular narrative. Regarding the use of dokkaebi for his works, the artist explained its meaning as follows: For him, the “Korean dokkaebi is a humorous and funny creature. It is a friendly creature who prefers playing with humans rather than simply harassing them. The dokkaebi stick also symbolizes wealth. Just as a pig traditionally represents a notion of wealth in the Chinese zodiac, and an image of piled-up pigs can represent an accumulation of wealth in East Asian culture, I reflect people’s everyday wishes for wealth in my sculptures.”

Based on this interest, Dream Spoon (2018), a work which combines a dokkaebi stick and a spoon, was derived from terms like “golden spoon” and “the dirt spoon” that are representative of issues of class and social positioning in South Korea. The handle, which is modeled after the shape of a dokkaebi stick continually bounces back up even if it is pressed hard or shaken by hand. It is intended to give hope and courage to the younger generation, who despite their substantive levels of education often find themselves unable to find adequate professional employment due the proliferation of post-war baby boomers in the Korean workforce. In a similar vein Dream of Dokkaebi (2017), deals with the dreams of a diverse selection of everyday people, ranging from a 5-year-old to an 80-year-old.

In general, Kim’s work is based on collecting the dreams of ordinary people, these are then refigured through the imagination of the artist and given added poignancy and efficacy through his labor-intensive work process. Through this sincere collection of the dreams and hopes of ordinary people, Kim hopes to endow each piece with a quality of cosmic providence. The artist said that he hopes those who live in a “hopeless era” will rediscover hope again through his art. As a result, each woodcarving becomes an object of desire. A piece that expresses what one wants to have becomes a talisman for each individual or a “commodity sculpture.”

Kim’s work The Myth (2018) combines a dokkaebi stick-shaped tail and a face of haetae, a mystic guardian animal. He also uses colorful traditional Korean five color dancheong patterns. These give the work a lively impression, however, the primary reason for their addition is to utilize the traditional role of dancheong painting as a spiritual and pragmatic means to protect valuable wooden structures. The artist infuses cheerful humor and vitality within his work by combining the traditional protective motifs of haetae and dancheong with the dokkaebi stick-shaped tail. In doing so, he sends a message that one should not lose hope even amid a hard life.

One can see that the content and iconography of Kim’s sculpture represent the act of creating a dokkaebi image, reflecting the magical ability of these legendary figures and refiguring this as a means to visualize themes relevant to all human beings. Through this concern, Kim reinterprets traditional motifs through his own language of sculpture to provide modern valence of vitality and form new mythological structures for contemporary people.

Lee Gil Rae, Millennium-Old Pine Tree 2019-3, Copper, Welding, 290x220x16cm, 2018

Lee Gil Rae

Lee Gil Rae is an artist who creates representational sculptures of pine trees. Lee began his practice by creating sculptures of everyday natural objects, such as fruit and vegetables, before narrowing his focus to examine trees as a prototypical natural object, an interest that particularly reflected the popular notion of pine trees as representative of the spirit of the Korean people. The artist has said that his pine tree series reflects his yearning to encourage a greater interest in nature’s purity within a Korean society where such elements have been marginalized through industrialization and urbanization. Also, in this work Lee expresses the spirit of Korea relative to the vitality of nature through his symbolic pine trees. Korean pine trees are generally known as Jeoksong (red pine tree) because their tree trunks are reddish, or Geumgangsong because they are originally native to the Geumgangsan Mountain area. Both types of Korean pine trees are apparently characteristically taller and harder than other pine trees, and so do not decay, or are felled easily. As a result, the evergreen pine trees are considered to symbolize the Korean national ideals of integrity, indomitable will, and a strong vitality. In his work, the artist uses copper wire, deliberately utilizing the material’s biological cellular structure to depict the inner vitality of nature and the innate Korean spirit.

In Lee’s process, he cuts copper wire into regular sized small thin strips, which he then fashions into ovaloid shapes, before finally welding them together into the form of a pine tree. The shape of a tree, composed of thousands of these small elliptical units of the wire, serves to represent the unique texture of the tree surface shape, and illustrates not only the traces of the years of growth and change, but also the naturally distorted forms produced by such. The oval copper wire rings are organically connected like real cells, and are repetitively welded together, giving the impression of the tortoise shell bark patination of the Korean Geumgangsong pine. The use of copper wire, a symbol of advanced technology, paradoxically here is used to produce the sculptural pine tree objects, and an idea of natural cellular life. Thus, Lee’s pine tree is not just a reproduction of the original biological form, but rather a metaphor of nature and humanity.

The artist’s unique method of production is original not only in meaning but also technique. He maintains the traditional idea of sculpture as a labor-intensive, technical practice, while highlighting a sense of volume based on a perforated structure connecting both inside and outside. His sculptural and pictorially influenced mode of representation, lacks of a sense of mass, and the structure connecting the inside and outside exceeds the historical notion of plastic sculptural form. Moreover, the repeated attachment of copper wire pieces evokes a notion of pictorial imagery reminiscent of the linear nature of drawing.

The artist’s works are often mounted on walls or around boundary edges. Thus, his works also function as spatial framing devices and enable the viewer to engage with his installations as a form of pictorial experience. Regarding this innovative approach, art critic Chung-Hwan Ko has offered that Lee rewards the viewer with “a spatial installation or spatial creation that exceeds the recognized boundaries between sculpture and painting.

Lee Lee Nam, New-Geumgangjeondo, LED TV, 7min 10sec, 2019

Lee Lee Nam

Lee Lee Nam reinterprets classical masterpieces from the East and the West through his unique practice in media art. He presents a new way to introduce the beauty of Korean traditional culture in combination with digital technology. The development of his work is particularly related to the rise of computers and the spread of the Internet, which has resulted in the evolution of new meta-media art and diversified range of innovative digital art fields.

In essence, Lee uses digital technologies to promote Korean classical artworks to the world. In the exhibition ONE INSPIRATION: The Very First Ideas from Korean Tradition and Culture, he presents new media works reinterpreting An Gyeon’s Mongyoudowondo (Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land), Kim Hong Do’s Mukjjukdo (Bamboo Paintings), and Jeong Sun’s Geumgang Jeondo (General View of Mt. Geumgang). Lee reconstructs the pictorial beauty of Korean landscapes in these works by using video images and light. The original three works provoked a great sensation in the elite art community of the Joseon period and inspired many artists later. These classical masterpieces, national treasures of Korea, are here recreated by Lee into a new genre of video painting.

In his video painting, Lee includes and expands the genre of traditional landscape paintings, which represented ideal or real scenery, and were created using traditional ink-and-wash painting techniques. He also encourages the audience to immerse themselves into time and space of virtual reality and real life. New-Mukjjukdo depicts a narrative of changes in four seasons as a short film. In the summer section, ladybugs and grasshoppers fly and jump around bamboo trees on green background. Winter is pictured through leaves swaying in the cold wind while snow falls on the ground. Through such imagery the audience feels the vivid changes of the four seasons on the digital screen. New-Mongyoudowondo depicts the changing views of a paradise, switching back and forth with the image of the modern city. This arrangement creates a dreamy atmosphere of the flower-filled fantasy world. In New-Geumgang Jeondo, one can see the shape of rising clouds around a mountain, then between the clouds a city emerges, and fighter planes fly by. This image indicates that the spatial context of Mt. Geumgang (in present day North Korea) has radically changed over time, from a cultural and natural paradise of the past to an entirely inaccessible, militarized zone following the division of Korea. Therefore, the audience experiences the playful tension generated by Lee as his imagery switches between these real and virtual worlds.

Throughout his works, Lee seamlessly integrates digital and analog imagery within his new genre of landscape painting, a skill which offers him a flexible and variable approach to his subject matter in comparison to the static genres of traditional landscape painting. His works evoke an illusion of time and space due to the gap that comes from his disparate combinations of subject matter within. However, he does not simply appropriate classical masterpieces in different media but recreates them as new works containing new and independent symbolic values, which emerge out of the convergence of analog and digital methods. His digitally produced new media art enables complex sensory reception in the relationship between the artist (the producer) and audiences (receiver). The audience experiences Lee’s digital illusions (or simulacra) following the transformation of their senses through technological art using the form of virtual reality. This modified sense is based on what Marshall McLuhan called “media aesthetics,” arguing that the experience of media deeply affects the realm of human senses. Through such a combination of technology and artistic practice, Lee Nam Lee mediates the relationship between the past and the present, and illusion and reality. He also practically and perceivably transforms the relationship between the illusion and reality while creating his own unique media art forms using digital technology.

Nam Kyung Min, Shin, Yun Bok's Atelier - Thinking of the Artist, Shin Yunbok, Oil on Linen, 162x260.6cm, 2012

Nam Kyung Min

Nam Kyung Min creates her work relative to the theme of art masters’ studios in the East Asian and the Western European traditions of painting. Nam’s art studio painting provides a new impression of the viewer as if it were a mirror that reveals their secret inner side. For instance, in the exhibition ONE INSPIRATION: The Very First Ideas from Korean Tradition and Culture, the artist creates a surreal space by combining the representative works and tools of Jeong Seon (1676-1759) and Shin Yun Bok (1758-?), artistic masters of the Joseon Dynasty, alongside symbolic objects that metaphorically represent herself.

In her work Nam juxtaposes the oeuvres of Eastern and Western masters with her own practice based on her research into a range of historical documents and materials. The artist has started that her “work is in the genre of landscape, but this landscape has many metaphorical and symbolic elements. The various surrealistic parts, transcending time and space of the Joseon Dynasty and the 21st century… intersect and encounter each other in my work. A series of items that shows my identity as an artist becomes a medium to create a sense of solidarity and communion with the masters of the Joseon Dynasty.”

In her signature work Gumjae Jeong Sun’s Atelier (2012), JeongSeon’sIngokyougu , a painting of his house and the surrounding scenery in the Inwangsan Valley, is featured alongside a brush on a table. Outside the studio window, a mysterious atmosphere pervades the view of the exterior world. Jeong Sun was one of the most prominent painters of the Joseon Dynasty and challenged the conventions of traditional ink painting that emphasized metaphysical concerns and imagined landscapes over a basis in reality. This concern compelled Jeong to personally visit mountains and streams in order to create the Korean genre of realistic true-view landscape painting (jingyeong sansuhwa).

In Shin Yun Bok’s Atelier: Thinking of the Artist, Shin Yun Bok (2012), one can see Shin’s signature workA Portrait of a Beauty along with his tools. Shin Yun Bok often depicted the hidden side of Joseon society by audaciously drawing women in his works, something of a taboo subject in patriarchal Joseon Dynasty. In this respect, Shin’s works are known for featuring gisaeng (elite courtesans) who came from low social classes. Nam builds upon Shin Yoon Bok’s attempt to show the hidden side of Joseon societyand to transcend the framework of existing perceptions by metaphorically reflecting on A Portrait of a Beauty in her own work. The images of wings that can be found in both her works described here symbolize the ideal goal of all artists as they seek to locate the essence of beauty. At the same time, Nam places various idiosyncratic images in her imagery, to remind the viewer of the constant dialogue that is taking place between the artist herself and the historic masters within her practice.

Nam’s works allow the audience to experience her welcoming and warm vision as visitors to the imaginary studios she creates. In her work Name uncovers a place where she can communicate with her art historical antecedents, based on the commonality that they are all artists. The brush and transparent bottles on the desk in the studio represent the artist’s identity while lilies and white wings indicate her integrity and sincerity in continuing this dialogue. In addition, the incense burner in the studio suggestive of the sophisticated culture enjoyed by Joseon aristocrats. The horizontal layout of the studio generates a graceful and gentle atmosphere. As a result, Nam provides the audience an opportunity to explore the historical global world of art through her exploration of various celebrated artists, enlivened by the diverse range of metaphors and symbols that abound within each of her paintings. Her imagined studios functions as an open space for anyone else who wants to enjoy the landscape works and imaginatively commune with the legacy of her historical subjects.

Sung Dong Hun, The New Case for Time 1, Bronze, 120x45x70cm, 2018

Sung Dong Hun

Sung Dong Hun is an artist who creates surreal and experimental characters based on his nomadic life experience in exploring deserts and remote areas in Mongolia, India, and China. Heavily influenced by the various cultural traditions he has encountered, Sung has become most famous for his series representing his ideas in the shape of an animal symbolizing human nature, and specifically Don Quixote, the idealistically driven character of Miguel deCervantescelebratednovelofthesametitle.

Sung specializes in using disparate materials to produce unexpected combinations of elements in his sculpture. In his early career, he used iron, cement, leather, transparent glass beads, and even parts of abandoned airplanes. In recent years, he has transitioned to using primarily ceramics, such as blue-and-white porcelain, or celadon in his assemblages, alongside the addition of various religious icons. In his constructions Sung does not transform the nature of the material, but highlights the basic qualities of such, allowing the material itself to become suggestive of a meaningful narrative through its metaphorical properties. For example, he considers that leather implies eroticism while transparent glass beads create an idea of fantasy through their refractive nature. Used and abandoned airplane parts, he uses to symbolize the contrasting the bright side of civilization (technology) and its dark side (waste). Also, Sung’s recent adoption of ceramics reflects his desire to investigate history as a theme. Such an incongruity in his material concerns may seem inconsistent, but it actually reflects the artists critical desire to reveal the hidden arenas of lived reality through his work.

The religious figure in the Return of Time series, which will be displayed in this upcoming exhibition, is Sung’s intuitive and reflective response, reinterpreting the trajectory of Buddhism, which originated in India and later expanded to Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. Just as he used traditional Korean materials, such as Shangpyeongtongbo (Sangpyeong coin) and Baekjacheonghwayongmunho (white porcelain with cobalt-blue glazed dragon design) as motifs in his previous works, his works in this exhibition also represent the spirit of Korean art and the passion of artisans who lived in Korea, this time through the use of ceramic celadon beads.

Return of Time I (2018) at first glance may appear similar to Sung’s portrayal of Don Quixote in previous work, but upon a closer look, one can see that the figure on the bull actually resembles Buddha. This image is reminiscent of a shipwoodo (traditional East Asian painting of ten bulls), which symbolizes the process of searching for the nature of the human mind by comparing the original human nature to that of an impatient bull. This subject matter also demonstrates Sung’s longstanding interests in the themes of maladjustment in society, a compassion for madness, and the latent desire within human beings. These ideas the artist expressed through the figure of Don Quixote in his previous work.

The quasi-religious figure central to Return of the Time I also appears in Return of Time II (2019). In this work, the celadon pieces used in construction symbolize the shape of a Buddha joined on top of “Sacred Bell of Great King Seongdeok .” Celadon was first produced during the Goryeo Dynasty (around the 9th to 10th centuries) under the influence of a pottery manufacturing techniques adopted from Zhejiang Province, China. But it was soon reinterpreted based on the Goryeo people’s native aesthetic sense and developed independently as its patterns and decorating techniques variously emerged. For instance, the unique color of Goryeo celadon is a subtle blend of green, blue, and transparency. Sacred Bell of Great King Seongdeok is the largest remaining bell in Korea from the Unified Silla Period. It is a splendid bell representing the best art of the Unified Silla Period. As a good example of traditional Korean bell-manufacturing technique, despite its age, the bell still features delicate patterns and clean surfaces and emits beautiful sounds.

In all his work, Song naturally arranges orientates numerous conflicting concepts in his work, such as past and future, reality and unreality, civilization and nature, and high-technology and ruin. Through his compositional method, the artist criticizes the problems faced by modern society by utilizing various historical and religious elements that transcend contemporary time and space. In other words, he produces criticism and satire on the times by creating unrealistic and surreal characters that project his ideas through material experiments that are inspired by his nomadic perception.

Yang Dae Won, Flower, Korean Paper, Arcylic, Soil, Glue, Coffee and Linseed Oil on Cotton, 126x148cm, 2016

Yang Dae Won

Yang Dae Won creates thorough and detailed formative compositions, following his substantive practice within the medium of painting. In his work, Yang crosses the boundary between representation and symbolism through his focus on Korean Hangul written language characters as a formal concern. He also raises the question of the power of anonymous modern portraiture through his character Dongulin (meaning “a round person”). He uses hanji (traditional Korean paper), acrylic paint, soil, glue, coffee, and linseed oil as his materials, on top of a cotton cloth base. By using these diverse materials, he creates original imagery based on a restrained forms and use of color, his near-perfect technical finish, and diverse range simple and symbolic expressions.

After deconstructing the rational principles and formality of Hangeul Yang has gone on to explore the formal abstract beauty of the systems individual consonants and vowels. In this he focuses on depicting Hangeul characters relative to the genre of abstract painting using a refined range of form and colors. Yang presented his Munjado (pictoral ideograph) series by combining and representing the forms of Hangeul characters in various ways. The series stems from the artist’s idea that all human misfortunes originate within the realm of language. Through his use of Hangeul forms, Yang addresses his work to socially shared memories and past events, deploying a compassionate and understanding attitude, and using a range of symbolic and metaphorical visual devices such as tear shapes, or weapons. For example, in the painting Words (2016), three swords are placed in the shape of the Korean consonants “mieum” (ㅁ) and “sieok” (ㅅ). This symbolically implies that what we say can be dangerous and sharp to someone.

Regarding the Munjado series, the artist said, “I aimed to represent all of these [collective] memories and traumas of the past in the form of tears and Hangeul characters. These include the painful memories of love, such as separation and hardship, social problems, such as the gap between the rich and the poor, and the pain of war across the country. Through my work, I hope the pain symbolized as tears will never be repeated in reality, and the work will serve as an opportunity for audiences to reflect on the memories and past that we don’t want to go back to.” In other words, Yang’s Munjado series gives viewers the opportunity to reflect on whether we can fulfill the true meaning of the words and meanings he present’s in his work, and discover the innate formative beauty of the Hangeul characters.

In his parallel work using the Dongulin figure, Yang also reveals the anonymous duplicity and ambivalence common to contemporary society, while deconstructing the concept of a fixed subject and turning it into a variable and accidental subject. In this context, Dongulin’s mask-like visage functions not as a substitute for a specific human subject, but as a representation of ‘the’ human face itself. Art critic Chung Hwan Koh describes Yang’s use of Dongulin in the context of Gilles Deleuze’s concept of a face. In distinction to the ‘head’ alone, Deleuze argues that a human face works as a social subject and a sociological symbol. Through the masked faces in his paintings, Yang therefore attempts to represent all the contemporary people who only exist expressionlessly and anonymously without any difference from each other rather than fulfilling their individual specificity. The body of the accidental subject Dongulin in turn loses its foundational substance but instead becomes inflated like a cloud, or an out of control infection. Yang’s work, in this context, attempts to shed light on the anonymous power of people, as they remain hidden under their own expressionless masks within society. He also expands his subject scope from individual identity to historical issues, such as a society, nationalism, war, and poverty, all through this concise, symbolic portrayal of Dongulin. It could be concluded that throughout his work, Yang therefore continues to provocatively question contemporary social issues.

Yoo Hyun Mi, Good Luck - The Ten Traditional Symbols of Longevity NO.1, C-print, 2016

Yoo Hyun Mi

The art of Yoo Hyun Mi mixes various genres, including sculpture using real objects, paintings based on surrealistic ideas and imagery, and photographs and videos showcasing her work in painting and sculpture. In her signature approach, Yoo creates a staged background space in which she carefully installs a specific range of objects. She then brings out pictorial qualities of the scene through coloring the objects and space, and then takes pictures or videos of the ‘live’ composition. In her imagery, the combination of numerous disparate objects can create a surreal space. Yoo’s work blurs the boundaries between photography and painting, and two-dimensional and three-dimensional art, a boundary-breaking approach we can sometimes confuse the viewer. As the artist explains, “Without changing images through computer graphics, my work accumulates various layers of mediatic performances and processes, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, and video. It is completed by using the most analog and traditional methods of art. The work is located at a vague boundary between dream and reality and goes through the process of sculpture, painting, and photography, to create a vision that crosses genres.”

In the exhibition, ONE INSPIRATION: The Very First Ideas from Korean Tradition and Culture, Yoo’s introduces her Sipjangsaeng (Ten Symbols of Longevity) series. The title Sipjangsaeng refers to the ten symbols of eternal life based on Korean folk religion and Taoist philosophy. Sipjangsaeng has a long history, dating back to the ancient tombs of the Goguryeo Dynasty. In East Asia, ten is a number that represents completeness and eternity, and the ‘ten longevity symbols’ usually include the sun, the moon, clouds, mountains, water, rocks, cranes, deer, turtles, pine trees, the herb of eternal youth, and sometimes also bamboo or peaches. Each symbol has a meaning relating to ideas of constancy, utopia, the origin of things, and eternal life. In other words, the ten longevity symbols function as an auspicious sign to symbolically representing ones dreams and hopes for eternal life. In addition, Sipjangsaengdo (painting of the ten symbols of longevity) also frequently represents vividly colored scenes of the imagined world of legendary Taoist hermits, and within historical contexts of Korean visual and material culture, the genre has been widely used in ceramics, woodwork, embroidery, and architectural decorations as well as paintings.

In Sipjangsaeng No.1 (2011), Yoo metaphorically represents the deer, a mystical animal considered to live for thousands of years, by putting deer antlers on a green ladder, and depicts the sun and moon by scattering balls on the floor. In addition, clouds and water feature in the background, all elements designed as contemporary reinterpretations of the ten longevity images. In Sipjangsaeng Chaekgado No.1 (2011), the artist placed clouds as illustrations in a calendar and water in a small water bottle. The floating peach creates a surreal atmosphere and the crane appears as a paper crane. In Sipjangsaeng No. 5 (2011), she represents the sun and the moon as a form of a globe placed on wooden chair and large rocks, which creates a strange atmosphere. This composition obscures the boundaries between reality and fiction and directs the viewer to experience everyday objects differently. Through such imaginative reworkings, Yoo’s practice expands the original symbolic meaning of the Sipjangsaeng. By recreating the iconography of the ten longevity symbols to producing these unique compositions, her works stimulate the curiosity and imagination of viewers, and challenge the traditional meanings of Sipjangsaeng embedded within Korean people’s thoughts and unconscious desires.

Korean-English Translation of this book(or text etc) is supported by Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Korea Arts Management Service.

Savina Museum of Contemporary Art