East Contemporary

Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art: „Memory, Stare, Wish“ Memorial exhibition for the 10th anniversary of the Sewol Ferry Disaster

Ansan, April 12 – July 14, 2024, https://gmoma.ggcf.kr

GMoMA is located in the middle of a nice park with a lake at the outskirts of Ansan City. It also happens to be in the neighborhood to the Danwon High School, whose students were the unfortunate passengers of the Sewol Ferry, which sunk near the south-west coast of Korea 10 years ago, taking more than 300 student and teacher passengers to death. The whole tragedy reminded me of the link between plane crashes and Korean culture that Malcolm Gladwell weaved in his book Outliers (Korean Air). He pointed at legacy culture in conflict with organizations, processes and technologies as a reason for miscommunication leading to undesirable results. A second pilot which does not dare to revert the decision of the first pilot, because he is below him in the hierarchy and younger. A plane designed to be steered in a cooperative way by two pilots. A recipe for disaster. No-one will ever know what happened on the ferry, but I can well imagine something similar might have played a role there. When I read the stories that passengers were told to not move while the water was pouring into their cabins and them being sheepish enough to listen to this command … such “good students”… rest in peace. The hierarchical nature of Korean society can be deadly.

At first I was very skeptical about the idea of an art show commemorating such a disaster. It felt almost a bit like capitalizing on someone else’s misfortune. At the same time I can understand that humans feel the need to do “something” to feel a sense of agency and take hold of whatever did happen or is happening. People want to do “something” to soothe, to make good, even if they cannot revert the course of time. And they do whatever they are able to do. A museum can make a show. And an artist can make an artwork.

The show was not all gloom and doom, it was a show that tried to balance out and curate the feelings, stressing the grander scale of things and the need to stick together and carry on no matter what happened. Because there is no other choice than to carry on. Carrying on is also the best way to commemorate that which has happened, which cannot be reversed, which can be only built upon. The disaster becomes a part of the DNA of those who survived.

Overall, most of my initial concerns were gone by the end of the show. I think each individual artist did his/her best and put his/her skills to use while also staying very disciplined. I guess the curators also did their best, navigating the difficult topic without overdoing it one way or the other.

A few artworks that caught my attention:

Keem Jiyoung’s (김지영) painting was located prominently next to the entrance door. It welcomed the visitors with an andywarholesque gesture of a collection of news images of disasters from recent Korean history. I guess the message was the Sewol disaster was just one of many disasters? It was a rather flat and superficial work, a bit like searching for “disaster” on naver images. Is there anything behind the surface? If there was nothing behind the surface, then this exhibition would not be taking place.

Keem Jiyoung 김지영
Keem Jiyoung 김지영

Lee Woosung’s (이우성) work was – as always – very subtle and at first sight unspectacular with its simple motives. It is exactly this ease and calmness which makes his paintings so special. Painting on loosely hanging sheets of cloth further stresses the everyday moments depicted on them. Depicted are moments in time, a bit like polaroid snapshots. However our memory is not photographic, it is unstable, and this instability is signified by the constant gentle movement of the canvases in the airflows of the space. We try to hold on to an image, but we can’t.

Kwon Yong Rae’s (권용래) craft seems to consist of sticking little bent stainless steel discs into the canvas in perpendicular position. Under certain light conditions, this creates beautiful “light painting” effects. The light effects on the artwork selected for the exhibition looked like candle flames.

Kwon Yong Rae 권용래
Kwon Yong Rae 권용래

Moojin Brothers’ (무진형제) video work – a stop-motion animation – was dark and abstract. I cannot exactly describe in words what is was about, but it was good. It was a combination of the special visual appearance and mysterious content that made it very attractive. Revealing something bit by bit but never completely. A bit like the depths of the human mind. One can never understand everything.

I am not sure if the ceiling window blackout was part of the show or not, but it fitted perfectly to the textured darkness of the animation.

Kim Joon’s (김준) sound installation featured a Brian-Eno-Music-For-Airport-like soundscape, gentle piano sounds mixed with some gentle swooshing ambient noises. In addition to sound, it also had a nice spatial presence. Pity one could not walk between the speakers, as if walking through a forest of sound. That would be even better.

Kim Joon 김준
Kim Joon 김준

Jeon Wongil’s (전원길) work consisted of collecting earth from some locations related to the ferry disaster, covering the earth with plaster in a round shape and punching in a couple or holes resembling stars scattered across the sky in the top layer. As there is always some seeds in any earth, ultimately some plants (weed) start to grow out of the holes, illuminated by bright light emanating from floor lamps standing around the table holding the round soil-plaster composite.

Kyuchul Ahn’s (안규철) work concluded the show. A participative piece that allowed each visitor to paint a small part of the overall image (a simple image of the sea/horizon/sky). It rounded up the message of the show with an action equivalent to lighting a candle, communication the togetherness and shared fate of all humans as equals.

Kyuchul Ahn 안규철
Kyuchul Ahn 안규철

Last but not least, I noticed that GMoMA joined the recent IKEA fashion among Korean museums and galleries:

IKEA LERSTA floor/reading lamp, aluminium chrome effect, ₩19,900
(Jeon Wongil 전원길)
IKEA LERSTA floor/reading lamp, aluminium chrome effect, ₩19,900 (Jeon Wongil 전원길)
IKEA ADDE chair, white, ₩15,000
IKEA MELLTORP table, white, 75x75 cm, ₩69,900
(Keem Jiyoung 김지영)
IKEA ADDE chair, white, ₩15,000 IKEA MELLTORP table, white, 75×75 cm, ₩69,900 (Keem Jiyoung 김지영)
IKEA ADDE chair, grey/white, ₩15,000
IKEA ADDE chair, grey/white, ₩15,000

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