Kukje Gallery is currently exhibiting four artists whose work explores the complex relationship between modernisation and nature.
The Seoul-based gallery has invited independent curator and art critic Hyunjin Kim to curate this group exhibition, which runs until 20 August 2017.
The sea is no longer a neutral landscape as seen in this exhibition— rather, it approaches the ocean as a site of colonial history, a charged marker of national borders, and a target of capitalistic exploitation with its natural resources.
The four artists – Nina Canell, Ayoung Kim, Runo Lagomarsino and Charles Lim Yi Yong – use installation, performance video, film and works on paper to address and challenge parts of modernity and other meta-narratives that impact, both literally and symbolically, the ocean’s depths.
As explained in Kukje Gallery’s press release,
These historical arcs include forgotten or overlooked histories of imperialism and catastrophes as seen through gold and bitumen, struggles of the displaced, issues of nationalism and territorial dispute, and the network of hidden communication cables that crisscross the bottom of the ocean.
Since “The Song of Slant Rhymes” (2013), Kukje Gallery has favoured curator-led shows, often using external critics and curators to broaden the scope of the gallery’s exhibitions and artists. Engaging in the contemporary art world in a global sense is also critical to the gallery’s ethos, which is evident in their selection of artists for their current exhibition.
The exhibition draws upon traditional nature painting from the 19th and early 20th century, commenting on the sea’s symbolic character, which was typical of the period:
The sea, in particular, served as a popular subject evoking lyricism, as well as being a symbol of kitsch, owing to the fluidity and dynamic movements of its currents. The perennial desire of man to control nature was projected onto these images of dashing waves; the more powerfully an artist depicted a wave, the more profoundly he captured the spiritual sublime of mankind.
Yet the sea no longer evokes this romantic, innocuous image, rather becoming a “politically charged location dominated by the logics of global capitalist distribution and commerce”. As a result, imagery surrounding the sea has shifted, now serving as a marker of national boundaries and industrial infrastructure. The artists in “Gridded Currents” reinterpret the sea as a territory on a map, a place to be dominated and ruled over, in line with capitalist globalisation, as the gallery writes:
As vitally engaged fragments introducing this phenomenon, the works in the exhibition enable us to engage with this fraught history of modernity, confronting its lingering impacts. The artists’ varied works focus on these foundations and structures that remain invisible, hidden beneath the currents, providing an aesthetic and oblique passage into their critical investigations.
The work of Nina Canell (b. 1979) can be described as a kind of “sculptural condition”, mirroring natural phenomena in the way that it contains a state of both stillness and flux. Characterised by the intense materiality of her sculptures, in the last few years she has explored the use of fibre-optic cables in technology and the internet, using the bright exteriors of recycled cables that she has collected in the outskirts of both Lyon and Seoul. Toying with the popularity in today’s digital world of wirelessness, cables such as the ones she displays are still common and are often found buried at the bottom of the ocean. In this sense, her work ruminates on the idea of hidden technologies, challenging traditional categories of sculpture as she employs media – such as the wires beneath – that are invisible.
In her installation for Kukje Gallery, Canell melts the exterior sheath of the cable, reminding the viewer
of the body that remains embedded in the future, not only rendering the intangible passage of transmitted information tangible, but also revealing the latent cycle wherein plastic exterior sheaths continuously transition from one state to another.
A former Olympic sailor, Singaporean Charles Lim Yi Yong‘s practice spans film, installation, sound, text, drawing and photography. Since 2005, he has focused on a series entitled SEA STATE, which looks at the “political, biophysical and psychic contours of Singapore through the visible and invisible lenses of the sea”. His work is made up of intensive research on Singapore’s geographical borders and the effect that mankind has had on its physical environment.
As Kukje Gallery explains,
The artist explores the way Singaporeans perceive the sea not as an “expanse” or “open space,” but as a “wall,” where the waters are displaced by land reclamation. In this telling, the sea, an area where global maritime trade occurs, is being transformed into a barrier, marking a mood of isolation, division, and physical conquest based on inviolable national boundaries.
In contrast, Ayoung Kim focuses on the natural resources of the deserts and seas, his work serving as a stark reminder of the wasteful, detrimental effects of modernisation on the Earth. His work considers how in contemporary culture, oil is now treated as gold, a phenomenon that is linked with the history of the Middle East. Working in collaboration with the composer Heera Kim, his work creates scattered narratives, experimental chorus performances that are inspired by the artist’s explorations on the relationship – and shared macro and micro histories – between the Middle East and modern Korea. The results are compositions with unnatural, otherworldly sounds.
For his show at Kukje Gallery, Ayoung Kim presents Conducting Bitumen in an Infinite Loop (2014/2016), a video work that recounts the history of bitumen and its role in modern civilisation:
Kim is particularly interested in the myths and history of bitumen, commonly known as the base material of asphalt and a black, dark brown solid or viscous residue of refined petroleum. The history and use of naturally occurring bitumen dates long before the discovery of petroleum, and as described in the Bible, the substance was extracted from trees and used to coat the interior and exterior of Noah’s ark.
Finally, the work of Runo Lagomarsino “utilizes poetic imagery and irony in his practice to reflect on the deeply rooted Eurocentrism that still exists today”, focusing on the history of imperialism and taking Columbus as his starting point. At odds with traditional, romantic notions that view the ocean as a mythic, fantasy realm of adventure and discovery, Lagomarsino’s work stresses its colonial role, and its place within the history of global exploitation.
Key works exhibited here include Mare Nostrum Mare Mostrum (2015) – ‘Our Sea Our Monster’ in Latin – a large curtain with the image of a 16th-century ship battling the “Kraken”, a mythic, terrifying sea monster. Also on view is Sea Grammar (2015), a projected loop of slides that gradually show the Mediterranean sea being punctured with holes, so that by the final slide the sea becomes eclipsed, with only light from the projector remaining. Whilst the work is in one sense serene and tranquil, it also illustrates a certain power, and “the raw violence that remains beneath the surface of the ocean”, as the gallery explains:
The artist takes pains to show how the ocean has historically functioned as a threshold promising new possibilities for immigrants, but that today, it is often an impenetrable barrier confronting exhausted refugees. Most recently, the Mediterranean in particular has become a body of water that large populations of refugees from regions such as Africa, Afghanistan, and Syria desperately struggle to cross. The banal sound of the slides slowly rotating on the carousel hint at the quiet reticence of Europeans faced with this tragedy.
- Potted plants, boxed trees: Singaporean photographer Ang Song Nian explores our relationship with nature – video – March 2017 – the artist turns his lens on plants and trees to understand the paradoxical human need to be close to as well as control nature.
- “Playtime”: exploring the sociopolitical present with British artist Isaac Julien at Platform-L, South Korea – March 2017 – British artist Isaac Julien holds first exhibition in South Korea.
- Korean artist Lee Jungdong’s “Translucent Narrative” at KWANHOON Gallery, Seoul – May 2016 – Korean artist Lee Jungdong explores interconnectedness of reality and virtuality at Seoul-based Kwanhoon Gallery
- “Dialogues of Space”: Heeseung Chung and Onejoon Che at Korean Cultural Centre UK – January 2016 – the two-person photography exhibition interrogates the personal and political of Korea’s contemporary landscape
- Dystopian Utopia: Korean artist Lee Bul at the Vancouver Art Gallery – December 2015 – the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Institute of Asian Art 2015 feature exhibition presents recent works by acclaimed Korean artist Lee Bul
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