Tina Kim Gallery is pleased to present the first solo show of Park Chan-kyong (b. Seoul, 1965) in the U.S., on view at the gallery’s Chelsea space from May 5, 2016 – June 11, 2016. Showcasing selected works from the past decade, Tina Kim’s exhibition promises a breathtaking glimpse into Park’s multi-media installations exploring Korea’s North-South relations, in addition to photography, photomontages, and films on shamanic ritual and tradition. In Park’s practice, the question of history is addressed not only as a political subject matter but also as a deep-seated aesthetic dilemma, situating the artist firmly on par with his contemporaries, in Korea and elsewhere. Several of the works on view are invested in visual arts’ relationship with politics of fiction, disjunctive temporalities, and postcolonial imaginations.
Opening the exhibition is Power Passage (2004-7), an award winning installation that includes a two-channel video, three images on panel, and a wall text. The video transports us to the year 1975, when two historic “passages” took place: the docking of two spaceships belonging to the United States and the Soviet Union, which signaled the end of the space race, and South Korea’s discovery of a secret underground tunnel near the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) dug by North Koreans to send spies to the South. Comprised of images, film footage, and facts from historical archives and Hollywood science fiction movies, Power Passage questions these two starkly different dramas of the Cold War.
Park’s investigation into the remnants of the Cold War–particularly as an unresolved tragedy–continues in his short film Flying (2005), which reworks the 2000 documentary footage of the Seoul-Pyongyang flight carrying then South Korean president Kim Dae Jung to a joint summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Park casts the retrospective eye of a former romanticist onto what is now considered the zenith of inter-Korean reconciliation, by adding slow-motion effects and the angst-ridden, ominous soundtrack Double Concerto (1977) by the Korean-born composer Yun Isang.
An abundance of emotion similarly informs the work Black Out (2009), a video series of colossal ink paintings depicting dramatic spectacles of violent ocean waves—considered the epitome of North Korean revolutionary art. These romanticized images are projected intermittently along with texts that detail the jarring disparity between North Korea’s tight grip on the aesthetics of power and the reality of its dire energy needs.
More recent works illuminate Park’s exploration of the theme of “tradition” as a neglected element repressed during the hyper-modernization of South Korea—especially the traditional indigenous beliefs of shamanism. The photo and sound installation Three Cemeteries (2009) features three collective burial sites near the DMZ reserved for people long neglected by history: North Korean-born unrepatriated citizens, anonymous sex workers who worked near a U.S. military base, and the nameless North Korean and Chinese soldiers who died during the Korean War. Night Fishing (2011), Park’s short fictional film about an unjustly killed man summoned by a shaman, bends our perspective and the film’s temporality in an unexpected, ghostly way. In addition to staging a spectacular shamanic ritual, Park borrows cinematic tropes of horror films and creates what he calls an “Asian gothic,” where the realm of ghosts and that of humans are intertwined.
The artist’s recent photomontages—Mountain God (2008), Dance (2008), Diamond Mountain (2016), Flood (2016)—demonstrate another way of addressing “traditions” as more than simply a theme. These works evoke in us a faint impression of a long-lost tradition erupting into the present in a state of decontextualized, fragmented mutations, not unlike ghosts whose presence is obliquely felt in the body of the beholder or through the shaman. If histories are written by excising the most bizarre, untimely, and uncanny subjects, summoning these displaced ghostly spirits is a task reserved for an artist as a modern-day shaman.
Sohl Lee, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor in Modern/Contemporary East Asian Art History
Department of Art
Stony Brook University