Eternal Blinking: Contemporary Art of Korea / First, the enigmatic exhibition title–what, indeed, is meant by “eternal blinking”?–raises questions. As curator Whui-yeon Jin suggests, the autonomic response of our eyes, in which a blink refreshes our sense of sight physically, could be understood as a way of taking a fresh look at contemporary art. More specifically, it’s a fresh look at the ways in which the formal and philosophical achievements of others have influenced the development of Korean artists.
It’s a difficult balance–responding to the potent influence of Western modernism while renewing and retaining the power of one’s own (non-Western) cultural traditions. It is like speaking two languages at once–and knowing that sometimes things get lost in translation.
Eternal Blinking: Contemporary Art of Korea, organized by the Korea College Association of Art, includes the work of 18 artists affiliated with several universities in South Korea. The exhibition as a whole is characterized by a quiet tension, a sense of restraint that privileges formal and technical mastery and only hints at more personal expression or political undercurrents. That restraint is, however, more an invitation than a deterrent to engagement with the work if we take the time to explore beneath these cool surfaces.
One theme that several artists explore is the relationship between person and society, where individualism on the one hand and communal obligations on the other present very different models of how to negotiate between them. In Bien-U Bae’s “Sonamu Series” (pine tree series)–large-format C-print photographs–pine trees become the vertical links between layers of earth and sky, but they might also be seen as surrogates of human presence.
Dongchun Yoon’s “Tangled”–a tight grid of 40 individually framed laser prints superimposed with hand-drawn lines–finds another kind of visual analog in its layers of photographs of groups of people and the personal marks of the artist.
An evocative probing of the theme of self and society comes in “Converse 1,” a video work by Changkyum Kim, in which scenes of urban life, close-ups of a man’s features and briefly visible English pronouns are layered against whispered phrases.
Nam-shin Kwak’s “Skateboard”–a seemingly straightforward silhouette in white against a black ground–takes on a subtly dimensional quality through manipulation of the canvas, while Yong-sik Kim’s painted relief “Eternity and Limitation,” and Ki Bong Rhee’s “Wet Psyche 3,” an ethereal vision of tree forms in dense mist, also move us beyond the surface, as layers of material and layers of meaning become the dominant metaphor for a country in the process of re-envisioning itself.