As part of the Korea/UK Season 2017-2018 – promoted by the Korean Cultural Centre in London – The Showroom space presents the first UK iteration of “Dawn Breaks”.
The exhibition is an ongoing project by the Korean artists Jewyo Rhii and Jihyun Jung, running until 27 January 2018. Alongside this project, Amanda Wilkinson Gallery presented its inaugural exhibition “The Day 3, Walls and Barbed”, a solo show by Jewyo Rhii that ran until 21 January.
“Dawn Breaks” brings together two Korean artists of different generations – Jewyo Rhii and Jihyun Jung – and is co-curated with Je Yun Moon at The Showroom in London. The exhibition opened with a preview on 7 December 2017, with a series of performances introducing the project.
Jewyo Rhii: the nomadic artist
Since the early 1990s, Rhii has worked in sculpture, installation, video, drawing, performance and publications. Jewyo Rhii was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1971. She completed her BFA at Ewha University, Seoul, and holds an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA Fine Art, from Chelsea College of Art, London.
Constantly displacing herself from her native Seoul to study and work in Western Europe and the United States, Rhii has come to embrace this peripatetic lifestyle as an integral part of her artistic process. Whilst the nomadic artist is a commonplace trope in the global art world, Rhii’s work maintains a sensitivity to this precarity and its physical, psychological and emotional challenges.
Collapsing the distinction between personal space and public surroundings, her studios have functioned as exhibition spaces, and exhibition spaces as studios. Her sprawling, makeshift sculptures and installations have a homemade feel, their vulnerability reiterated in the reuse of domestic or familiar elements. From 2013, Rhii occupied a studio space at the Queens Museum, New York, which resulted in the solo exhibition “Commonly Newcomer” in 2014. She was also in residence at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, in 2004.
Rhii has shown her work at two Gwangju Biennale – the 11th in 2016, and the 7th in 2008. She was selected for the New Contemporaries award in 2000 and included in the Korean Pavilion’s group show at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. Rhii was awarded the Yanghyun Prize by the Yanghyun Foundation, Seoul, in 2010.
Much of Rhii’s practice is concerned with the generation of narrative, the force of movement to make a story begin – and the resulting translation from physical to verbal. She has spoken of the idea of ‘sculpting words’ and her installations are directly related to her physical presence in the world (wherever ‘home’ might be at the time). The artist views the body as a site of untapped potential that intensifies visual and verbal language. More recently, Rhii has developed makeshift machines for collaborative performances with other artists.
Jihyun Jung: transforming everyday life
Jihyun Jung was born in 1986, and received his BFA and MFA from Korea National University of Arts. Jung was in residency at Doosan Art Centre in New York in 2015, and held his solo exhibition “Gomjumsum” at the Doosan Gallery in New York in 2015, and at its Seoul outpost in 2016. He has also participated in various exhibitions and events in Korea and abroad including the group exhibition “Unknown Packages” at the Queens Museum, New York, in 2015, and the 2016 Gwangju Biennale (both with Jewyo Rhii).
Jung works in an interdisciplinary approach that ranges across drawing, painting, kinetic installation, sound and video. Many of the materials in his works are found or gleaned from everyday life, and whilst these objects maintain a level of familiarity, their combinations result in new and unsettling states that challenge modes of making and viewing.
Breaking Dawn: setting the stage
“Dawn Breaks”, the collaboration between Rhii and Jung, began at the Queens Museum in 2015, and has since evolved through presentations at the Gwangju Biennale (2016) and at the Art Sonje Center in Seoul (2017). The piece is an ongoing series of sculptural works that function as storytelling devices. Combining sculpture, performance and narrative, the installation at The Showroom includes existing pieces from previous iterations of the project combined with newly produced works that have been created onsite. These use materials such as wood, metal, mirrors, and an array of leftover objects found in the local area and repurposed for the project.
Further extending the collaborative nature of the work, Rhii and Jung invited a group of local participants to a series of workshops that took place in the gallery in the lead up to the exhibition. The participants each brought an object to the workshop, which they used as catalysts for telling stories from personal memories.
In response to these stories, the artists adapted the installation and sculptural machinery for the participants to use, creating a moveable theatre set in which performances repeat and evolve throughout the duration of the exhibition. These mobile theatres are variously titled ‘Film makers’, ‘Story Bus’, ‘Fog Machine’, ‘Blinkers’, ‘Metalphoric Theatre’, ‘Orchestra’, ‘Lecture Machine’, and function paradoxically as unfixed narrative anchors within the exhibition space. Both the use of local materials and community-based participants emphasise the sense of belonging and site specificity created through Rhii and Jung’s sculptural apparatuses.
Performance and participation
At The Showroom, the exhibition space appears as an active site of production, more like a film set than an art gallery. The so-called ‘Tech Station’ places various tools – a craft knife, duct tape, a spanner, wire, pliers – resolutely on view, both a form of functioning still life and objects available to those working on their performances within the space. With electrical wires coalescing around the interior walls, assorted mechanical objects clicking and whirring, a small video screen playing an internal closed circuit loop back to itself, artists’ notes taped to sculptures, “Dawn Breaks” is permanently unfinished. Like an artist’s studio, it evokes a sense of potentiality, a state of becoming to be constantly reformed and re-imagined by the participants.
The artist and the writer: a collaboration
Jewyo Rhii’s exhibition at Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, “The Day 3, Walls and Barbed” has evolved from a collaboration between artist and writer, studio and institution. In 2010, Rhii initiated a project entitled “Night Studio”, in which she opened her house/studio space in Seoul to visitors, and adapted its interior to facilitate a performative and reciprocal relationship between public and private. The resulting sculpture and objects became compositional elements in her solo exhibition “Walls to Talk to” at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in 2013. Rhii then invited the writer Irene Veenstra to respond to the exhibition, who in turn produced a book about the show, written in the form of the journal.
Of her personal and bodily experience of the exhibition, and how this evolved into the diaristic project, Veenstra said:
I wanted to describe the direct effect of her work and its presentation on my vision, my thoughts and my body and put into words my thoughts while watching, my vision while thinking and my experience while walking.
“The Day 3, Walls and Barbed” responds to Day 3 of Veenstra’s journal, in which she describes one work in the Van Abbe show – a provisional wooden sculpture incorporating scraps of barbed wire, plants and other elements from the artist’s studio, and forming a screen or fence. In the text, Veenstra sees the work as bringing to mind borders, boundaries, and walls – physical and political divisions. Where the sculpture at the Van Abbe was installed vertically, so as to invoke the physical boundary of Veenstra’s experience, at Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, a similarly conditional sculpture is presented horizontally, more an uncertain table than delineating wall or revolutionary barricade.
The work, entitled DRAWING TABLE -outside the comfort zone, day 3- (2016), is used, as its title would suggest, to present a series of drawings made by Rhii of borders and fence-like imagery in a return to Veenstra’s commentary on the earlier work. A response to a response, the objects and images that this structure brings together constitute a means of communicating – a physical rendering of the conversation between artist and writer.
Reflecting the artist’s ongoing concerns with the body and language, Stone Typing Machine (2017) is a sculpture that generates text through an interaction with bodily movement. Made using a makeshift pendular device constructed with materials such as wood, rocks and string, the sculpture is manipulated by the artist to rubber-stamp words onto the gallery walls. Whilst viewed in stasis, the sculpture is bound by its potential energy and implied kineticism – with the results of the artist’s own movement born out with inconsistent, smudgy success.
The contingent quality across all the works in the show might find a correlative in the ad hoc and DIY aesthetics of protests, or provisional urban scaffolding. Making her home wherever she exhibits, Rhii’s works are framed by her itinerant, similarly temporary existence.
An Unfixed Impermanence
In this sense, the relationship to the particularities of site in both exhibitions could be expressed as in Miwon Kwon’s seminal essay, “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity” (1997) (PDF download). As Kwon writes, the relationship between an artwork and its site
is not based on a physical permanence of that relationship …, but rather on the recognition of its unfixed impermanence, to be experienced as an unrepeatable and fleeting situation. (Kwon, 1997, 91)
Through their practice, Rhii and Jung exacerbate the “unfixed impermanence” of their own participation as artists in a globalised contemporary culture. At the same time, they allow others to use their works to engage with personal histories on a much more intimate and productive level.
“Dawn Breaks” by Jewyo Rhii and Jihunn Jung is on view from 8 December 2017 to 27 January 2018 at The Showroom, 63 Penfold Street, London NW8 8PQ. There will be a closing performance event at the gallery on the evening of Friday 26 January.
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