The South Korean artist’s New York debut plots compelling local and global alternative histories. 

Artist and filmmaker Park Chan-kyong unveils a decade’s worth of multimedia work at Tina Kim Gallery in New York.

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Park Chan-kyong (b. 1965, Seoul) is one of Korea’s foremost interdisciplinary artists. After graduating from Seoul National University with a BFA in painting, Park went on to study photography, film and critical theory at the California Institute of the Arts. Upon graduation, Park founded Forum A, a monthly magazine for South Korean art practitioners, and co-founded Pool, one of Seoul’s most important artist-run spaces.

Park’s multimedia work has been the subject of many solo exhibitions around the world including Atelier Hermes (2012/2008), the Gwangju Biennale (2006) and the Ssamzie Art Space (2005). His works have been shown at major international venues such as Artsonje Center, Seoul (2013), National Art School, Sydney (2011), Kunstverein in Frankfurt (2005) and De Appel in Amsterdam (2003). The artist’s recent US debut runs at New York’s Tina Kim Gallery until 1 July 2016.

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Passages through time

The present exhibition showcases select works from the past decade, offering a thoughtfully curated overview of Park’s provocative oeuvre. The body of work on show deal with potent issues hinged on history and aesthetic theory, presenting a unique artistic vision “invested in visual arts’ relationship with politics of fiction, disjunctive temporalities, and postcolonial imaginations”, as the press release reads.

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Opening the show is Power Passage (2004-2007). The two-channel video is set in 1975 – a year when two historic “passages” took place: the docking of two spaceships belonging to the US and the Soviet Union, and South Korea’s discovery of a secret underground tunnel dug by North Koreans to send spies to the South. Park mines historical archives, film footage and Hollywood science fiction movies to source facts, images and scenes, blending fact and fiction to question these two dramas of the Cold War. Art Asia Pacific writes:

In Park’s sci-fi video time becomes blurred, and events from the past are laden with imaginary utopian, futuristic possibilities. […] Park’s Power Passage is an amalgamation of utopian and dystopian images that appear and disappear like a dream.

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Romance of failed hopes

In the single-channel short film Flying (2005), documentary footage of the flight taken by then South Korean president Kim Dae Jung to meet with then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is appropriated and reworked. Park used a soundtrack by Korean-born composer Yun Isang, who as Art Asia Pacific notes, was tortured by South Korean secret service in the 1960s for his support of Korean unification. The atmosphere is ominous, angst-ridden, nostalgic and rueful; as the exhibition press release writes,

Park casts the retrospective eye of a former romanticist onto what is now considered the zenith of inter-Korean reconciliation […].

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Black Out (2009) pursues similar themes of romanticisation, failed hopes and dystopia. The work is a video series of huge ink paintings depicting violent ocean waves – “the epitome of North Korean revolutionary art”, according to the press release. These images are juxtaposed against texts that detail the “jarring disparity” between North Korea’s “dire energy needs” and the tight grip it wields on power and control.

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Modern tradition and ritual

Continuing with such ruminations on Korea’s North-South relations, Park explores the place of shamanic rituals and traditions in contemporary South Korea. The photo and sound installation Three Cemeteries (2009) features three collective burial sites near the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) reserved for Norh Korean-born unrepatriated citizens, anonymous sex workers who once plied their trade near a US military base, and nameless North Korean and Chinese soldiers who died in the Korean War.

Installation view of "Park Chan-kyong" (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Installation view of “Park Chan-kyong” (2016) at Tina Kim Gallery. Photo by Jeremy Haik. Image courtesy the artist and Tina Kim Gallery.

Another work, Night Fishing (2011), draws from global tropes of horror films to tell the tale of a shaman who summons forth a man who was unjustly killed. Bending temporality, context and perspective, Park’s bizarre yet compelling film evokes what the artist calls an “Asian Gothic” where the realm of ghosts and humans are intertwined. Night Fishing won Park the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2011. As Art Asia Pacific observes:

In showcasing a lost tradition, Park’s melodramatic shaman not only recalls the past, but her shrill performance also conveys the dissonance of reenacting relatively unknown traditions in the modern world of South Korea.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Korean artists, photography, film, video, time, warevents in New York

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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