The relationship between fleeting impressions and eternal records is at the heart of “The Moon’s Trick”, Young-In Hong’s exhibition at Korean Cultural Centre UK.

The exhibition is haunted by photographic images, but, in most instances, only a trace is disclosed, a black outline of basic compositional elements, embroidered on snow-white cloth.

Installation View, "Young In Hong", Korean Cultural Centre UK, 21 November – 30 December 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK, Photo: Kii Studios, Photography & Film.

Installation View, “Young In Hong”, Korean Cultural Centre UK, 21 November – 30 December 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK, Photo: Kii Studios, Photography & Film.

Beside textile elements the exhibition “The Moon’s Trick” highlights the diversity of Young-In Hong’s practice that also embraces performance, sound installation and participatory collaboration. It is the translation between these modes that is important in this configuration of her work. Hong currently lives and works in Bristol, United Kingdom. Her work has been shown in many international venues including Grand Palais, Paris (2016), ICA London (2015), Gwangju Biennale (2014) and Plateau Museum, Seoul (2014).

Shadow of Us 2016, Viscose rayon threads, acrylic, flat gems (aluminium),mesh fabric, cotton, 73x100x4.5 cm. Photo by Andrew Stooke

Young-In Hong, ‘Shadow of Us’, 2016, viscose rayon threads, acrylic, flat gems (aluminium), mesh fabric, cotton, 73 x 100 x 4.5 cm. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Tapestry

Young-In’s use of embroidery highlights momentary experience by juxtaposing it with the drawn-out means of reproduction. The method draws attention to source images as complex productions of editing and selection. In the image-saturated contemporary world, she highlights the importance of context.

The implicitly slow work of tapestry also demands abbreviation, obliterating details and reducing everything to the homogeneous stitch. This effect can be appreciated in Burning Love (2014), the earliest and largest work included in the exhibition.

Burning Love 2014, Viscose rayon threads, cotton, 290 x 360 cm. Courtesy of artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK, Photo by Luke Andrew Walker​

Young-In Hong, ‘Burning Love’, 2014, viscose rayon threads, cotton, 290 x 360 cm. Photo: Luke Andrew Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK.

The subject is a view from a high vantage point of protests that took place in Seoul in 2008, following the government’s decision to end the ban on US beef imports ensuing from the 2003 ‘Mad Cow’ epidemic (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE). The view is transformed from a specific to a generalised image. The separate protesters become a mass of points, unspecific but each represented by individual gestures in needlework. The tapestry is not neatly finished, stray yarn punctuates the surface, and a broad border of raw canvas contains the image suggesting an incomplete project. In an interview with Jinnie Seo, Yong describes it as,

the immortalization of the feeling behind the subject and even of the collective feeling behind that event itself. (…) Through the candle demonstration of 2008 young girls revealed themselves to be active political subjects, not passive ones.

 Young-In Hong, 'Looking Down From the Sky', 2017, embroidered lines on hanbok fabric (water silk) stretched on wooden frames, 42 x 160 cm each. Photo: Luke Andrew Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK.

Young-In Hong, ‘Looking Down From the Sky’, 2017, embroidered lines on hanbok fabric (water silk) stretched on wooden frames, 42 x 160 cm each. Photo: Luke Andrew Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK.

Fireworks

Images from the media memorialise significant moments in recent Korean history in other works too. Partition (2016) is a tapestry made from a photograph of fireworks, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. The image is cut in two. The crowd of spectators in the lower half is gone, leaving only the picture of the firework display burning out in the sky. Split from its context, the picture is as suggestive of a raging fire as of festivity.

Prayers No. 1-40 2017, Embroidered lines on cotton, (detail). Photo by Andrew Stooke

Young-In Hong, ‘Prayers No. 1-40’ (detail), 2017, embroidered lines on cotton. Photo: Andrew Stooke

A major series, produced for this exhibition, is derived from newspaper images of South Korea’s post-war modernisation. These are reduced to spare linear elements in the framed embroideries, collectively entitled Prayers No. 1-40 (2017). From these near abstract distillations, Hong has produced a musical composition, playing in the exhibition space. The schism between this sound environment and the photographic sources highlights how an image’s objectivity is transformed when the original motivation that directed the camera is disconnected. The unprepossessing source images are available in a humble dossier at the exhibition entrance. This reveals the process by which Hong has expunged details to liberate a succinct abstract schema from every picture.

Young-In Hong, 'Looking Down from the Sky' 2017, opening performance, 20th November 2017 at Korean Cultural Centre UK, London. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Young-In Hong, ‘Looking Down from the Sky’ 2017, opening performance, 20th November 2017 at Korean Cultural Centre UK, London. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Playing Music

The 40 works in the “Prayers” series lead the visitor through the gallery that has been partitioned around an asymmetric centre. The show opened with an event involving four diverse musicians, two singers and a sewing machine operator, stationed throughout these eclectic spaces. A diagram functioned to direct the performers to different positions in the space and as a graphic score. It was derived from a further series of panoramic machine embroidered works on taught silk, Looking Down From the Sky (2017): their minimal jittering delineations are based on archive photos of public demonstrations that took place in South Korea between the 1960s and 1990s. The works’ contours are interpreted by the performers as duration, pitch and timbre. Hong’s influence on the outcome of the performance is tangential, mirroring the manner whereby the reception of a photographic source becomes detached from the impetus of its creation over time.

Young-In Hong, '5100: Pentagon', UK premiere, Block Universe 2017, Courtyard, Royal Academy of Arts, London. Courtesy Block Universe. Photo by © Arron Leppard.

Young-In Hong, ‘5100: Pentagon’, UK premiere, Block Universe 2017, Courtyard, Royal Academy of Arts, London. Courtesy Block Universe. Photo by © Arron Leppard.

The performance strategy followed the pattern of Hong’s 5100:Pentagon (2014), a work staged outside London’s Royal Academy of Arts earlier in 2017 and documented in the exhibition with a video. First realised at the Gwanju Biennale, the dance-like action is performed by volunteers, interpreting a web-based tutorial. The work derives from images of the Gwanju Democratic Uprising of May 1980, a public response to the bloody suppression of a Chonnam University student demonstration against the nascent Chun Doo-hwan government. The participants’ movements do not directly correlate with the evidence of the photographs, creating an associative memorial that releases the specific relevance of the event into general cultural circulation.

Prayers No. 1-40 2017, Embroidered lines on cotton, sound recording, ten amplifying speakers, 42 x 47 x 4 cm each (with frame). Courtesy of artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK, Photo by Luke Andrew Walker​

Young In Hong, ‘Prayers No. 1-40’, 2017, embroidered lines on cotton, sound recording, ten amplifying speakers, 42 x 47 x 4 cm each (with frame). Photo: Luke Andrew Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK.

Intuition

Of intuition Hong has said it

is ‘not’ a conventional, western concept of “ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning” but intuition is an actual ‘technique of visualization’, which is also closely related to vision, to condition for action and bodily or fleshly engagement.

Graphic Score for Young-In Hong, 'Looking Down from the Sky', performance. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Graphic Score for Young-In Hong, ‘Looking Down from the Sky’, performance. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

The title “The Moon’s Trick” is taken from a poem by Soo-Young Kim (1921-1968). It is the name he gives to the effect observed where the dynamism of a spinning top creates a vortex of stability and imagination; its movement temporarily suspends the prosaic effect of gravity. The transitional acts of drawing to embroidery, facilitated by mechanical means, to sonic interpretation, defer the photographic record, challenging its claim of veracity. Hong’s practices treat the optical image as if it were a whirling gyroscope, restive while giving the appearance of being frozen. She says:

The process of making, of sewing, allows me to materialize and visualize my own intuitive process with my bodily movement engaged with the movement of physical machinery, and to stimulate both vision and tangibility for the viewer.

By displacing her source material with a series of interpretive endeavors, she reveals South Korean post-war history to be experiential, a history in layers with unpredictable trajectories.

Andrew Stooke

1991

“Yong-In Hong: The Moons Trick” is on view from 21 November to 29 December 2017 at Korean Cultural Centre UK, Grand Buildings, 1–3 Strand, London WC2N 5BW and from 2 March to 22 April 2018 at Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS.

Related Topics: Korean artists, museum shows, installation, events in London

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Brittney

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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