I wrote the following text for the first publication of Pink Factory (분홍공장), a regional culture space in Hongcheon, Gangwon-do. Over the course of this summer, eleven artists from Korea and abroad spent some time at Pink Factory and created amazing art works for the final exhibition that took place in October. I was there, helping out a bit with translation etc. While setting up and ‘guarding’ the exhibition (which took place in the basement of the Hwachon Town Hall 화촌면 면사무소), I had some time to have a good look at the works on show. The following are some impressions and thoughts, in the order of the exhibition (see the sketch). The upcoming “yearbook” of Pink Factory presents, on 160 pages, in color, and bi-lingual (Korean-English), the artists’ works, documentations of the residency program and public projects, as well as theoretical reflections on regionality. We edited, layouted, and designed the publication during most of December and it is ready for print now. Enjoy this little preview! (also available in Korean)
by Jan Creutzenberg
1. Phan Quang
During his stay at Pink Factory, Phan Quang met with farmers in the neighbourhood and took their pictures. In the exhibition, these are juxtaposed with two older works of his that deal with concepts, imagery, and realities of agriculture in Vietnam. The photography ‘Tools’ shows an orchestrated group of Vietnamese farmers on the field, presenting their shovels, sickles, and hoes in an idealistically choreographed collective gesture. A selection of images from the ‘Umbrella’-series, a durational work, together with respective entries from the ‘Farmer’s Diary’, show a more documentary approach towards the hardships of farming life.
Phan Quang’s new ‘Korean Farmers’-series consists of beautiful portraits that show happy farmers at their workplace. They pose with smiling faces for the camera and are shot in brilliant colours. The piece of cloth that serves as a backdrop, kind of an ad-hoc ‘infinity cove’, suggests a studio setting. Indeed, a cut-out of the white parts of the images would make nice, well-done photographs for, say, the cover of an agriculture magazine, a car advertisement, or an artistic-ethnographic research project. But Phan Quang, trained and sometimes working as a professional (commercial) photographer, decided to show the whole picture, thus begging the question: Are these farmers happy at their workplace?
Phan Quang, Korean Farmers, digital print, 45×30 (3 parts), 2015. (판 끄엉, 한국 농부, 3점)
2. Yong Hae Sook
In the beginning, there is a sphere made of paper scraps. Set in motion, maybe by a breeze of wind, it starts rolling down the hill, breaking its way through the underwoods. The video that shows this paper ball’s epic journey is only one part of Yong Hae Sook’s multimedia installation. A tilted wooden board protrudes from the wall adjacent to the projection, just below a cellar window, suddenly clapping down, like a springboard for the ball. Something else has dropped down from the board before and sits on the floor now, a concrete cow pie that renders the failed attempt eternal. The ball on the wall, however, keeps on moving. Dropped on the road like a wet potato, it gains speed slowly, rolls towards town, along the highway, on the margins of civilization. Cement structures modeled on the ragged floor drop long shadows. The silhouettes of bygone days turn up on the wall, where the ball, at some point or another, has run out of kinetic energy. A stop foretold by the rising moon brings an end to the ball’s life cycle. For now.
Yong Hae Sook, Lying Grass, cement, wood, water, video loop 3:16, variable installation, 2015. (용해숙, 눕는 풀)
3. Kim Gisoo
Huge fingers pick up a wristwatch that was lying in the grass. For how long? Hard to tell, the impressionistic painting style does not reveal if the watch is rusty or colourful. In fact, it is made of spots of paint, a white face that could suggest both shadows or traces of decay. The grass that the watch was hidden in (for decades?) is slightly bleached out by the sun. To me, the first of Kim Gisoo’s three paintings (‘Remains’) is the key to this series of ‘visual archeology’-paintings. The two others, landscapes with moving water (‘Stream’ and ‘River’), could not be more plain and non-descript, which is particularly obvious as they are hanging next to each other. The randomness of Hongcheon’s landscape is, of course, an illusion – I could go out and follow the river to the locations depicted here, if I wanted to. But instead of confirming the uniqueness of these places or dwelling in supposedly universal atmospheric effects (something like crude romanticism), my mind wanders while my eyes lose focus. What is hidden between the fields, the water, the mountains, the clouds? Which remainders can be found between the spots of paint? The times that passed remain invisible between the hidden layers of these paintings and the sedimented sites they suggest.
4. Donghyun Gwon
Donghyun Gwon has put stone on stone with some concrete and asphalt fragments in-between. The result, a speckled stump, cries diversity, recycling, durability – the band of rolling stones from all over the region has come to a halt, ironically, underground. Its compact integrity makes the multi-lithic tower look impenetrable from afar, but when passing by closely (almost inevitable due to the exhibition setting), the heap made of pieces of varying size, simply stacked on one another, seem fragile like a tower of Jenga™ in mid-game. (Indeed, I saw children at the exhibition who tried to remove a loose stone, only to be warned by their parents that the whole thing might collapse.) How many pieces does the heap consist of? How many of them can I take away until the heap ceases to be a heap? And will it tumble down before that point is reached? Against the quantification of resources, manpower, material value!
Donghyun Gwon, Pagoda, stone, 90x85x150, 2015. (권동현, 돌탑)
Joseub’s images are staged photographs shot right in front of Pink Factory. I know the people who play these weird characters standing knee-deep in the rice paddy, which makes the scene look even more absurd to me. They are wearing the uniforms of the (North Korean) People’s Army and carry guns and bullet belts. Their greyish, long-haired wigs might fit a trashy horror-flick, something like ‘Zombies vs. Ghosts’. Who are they? Soldiers destined to die? Victims of the war carrying their cross? Or traitors killed and put up as a warning to those who dare to follow them? Revenants that haunt the living or undead who would eat us alive if only they could reach us? The myth of the living scarecrow is not new (in Western literature, it dates back to at least the 17th century, see Nathaniel Hawthorne). But by putting these displaced figures into a rice field in Hongcheon, Joseub provides them with a historical and geographical context: Many battles of the Korean War were fought in Gangwon Province, not too far from here. The more I look at these scarecrows, the more they look like ‘scar-crows’: mourning blackbirds feeding from the dead, still licking their wounds before the winds of time dry them out.
Joseub, Scarecrow, pigment print, 90×60 (6 parts), 2015. (조습, 허수아비, 6점)
6. Jeon Su-hyun
There is a lot to see in Jeon Su-hyun’s ‘Hongcheon Scenery’: a motorbiker on a weekend trip, golfers playing the green, a lone helicopter circling above the scene. But apart from these little episodes, the electricity towers looming among the mountains in the background hint towards a larger frame of reference. Electric power produced in the province is transferred towards Seoul, in order to nurture the metropolis. In return, Seoulites come to Gangwon Province for some leisure time in the countryside, to relax from their busy city life. In-between the green hills and the blue mountains, Jeon Su-hyun’s ‘fake calendar image’, as he calls it, tells a larger story. This story is about mutual influence, economic exploitation, and romanticist escapism, subverting the dichotomy between the (our) rural imaginary and the realities of life on the country. If Pieter Bruegel the Elder would live in Gangwon Province today, this is what one of his works might look like.
Jeon Suhyun, Hongcheon Scenery – Baekyangchi Hill, digital print, 230×96, 2015. (전수현, 홍천경 – 백양치)
7. Juergen Staack
The only thing on show is a postcard, or more precisely an invitation card for a special opening supposed to take place in ‘20 Years’. As the programmatic title suggests, Juergen Staack’s work is a durational piece, but it is also a very concrete and contemporary monument: a silvery glittering cube with a small hole in the front wall. In other words, a very large camera obscura (maybe the largest in the world?), overlooking the scenery. Within the next twenty years, a photographic image will slowly burn into the wooden ‘film’ that is installed within the box. Both a blackbox and a minimalist mass now, this stark sculpture will eventually turn into a picture twenty years in the making. What will we be able to make during this time? This work is also an unspoken promise that we – the members of Pink Factory – intend to keep, until 2035. Everyone is invited to join!
Juergen Staack, Déjà-vu – 20 Years, invitation card, zinc cube 330x300x350 and wooden board 244×244, installation at pink factory, 2015-2035. (유르겐 슈탁, 기시 – 이십연간 旣視 – 二十年間)
8. Hwang Sejun
A memorial of an unexpected hero, a small river crossing with a child playing on the dam, an enormous statue of Buddha surrounded by mostly nothingness. While all three paintings refer to real places in Hongcheon County (I saw the creek in the middle for myself when visiting Sutasa Temple), two of them – the memorial and the Buddha – show, in fact, other art works with highly symbolic connotations: world-views ruled by militaristic patriotism and submission to religious gigantomania. The centrepiece of the triptych, although comparatively ‘realistic’, likewise suggests an abstract reading to me. The strong diagonal of the dam crossing the waters looks like a slash (/) and acts like a kind of ‘visual typography’ that puts the other paintings into an ambiguous relation of alterity: two opposing banks of a river or two sides of one and the same coin? The small child on the watershed offers a glimpse of hope – maybe there is another more playful way of reconciling the past, beyond the dichotomy of patriotic certainty and spiritual denial?
Hwang Sejun, Art of Love (3 parts), oil on canvas cloth, 145×130, 2015. (황세준, 사랑의 기교, 3점)
9. C. Ree + Reanne Estrada
The remainders shown in the exhibition, even though supplemented by documentation and description, can only hint to Reanne Estrada’s and C. Ree’s various activities that left their mark in Hongcheon. Reflecting their role as artists who came to Korea from a far-away place (and not any place – sunny California!), the project they realised at Pink Factory revolves around the individual and collective importance of dreams. Using a variety of farming equipment, objects found in and around the Pink Factory studio, as well as a large bucket of custom-mixed pink paint, they created various pieces of ‘pink money’ to buy and sell dreams. Sharing dreams with each other is certainly not unique to Korea, but Hongcheon, the self-proclaimed ‘Wide River of Dreams City’, as announced on a large banner spanning the highway, seems the ideal starting point for this ongoing exploration of the value of involuntary imaginations and the prospects they promise. Coming from the pitch darkness of the anti-archive that extends from the remodelled residency accommodation to the exhaust shaft in the exhibition space, a touch of pink – the dream of sharing that lies at the heart of Pink Factory’s activities – will sprinkle the grey sky, even on a winter day.
C. Ree + Reanne Estrada, Important Intangible Cultural Asset #873,
performance, pink money, dreams, market exchange, anti-archive, agricultural textile, audioscape, lumps, land of Hongcheon, variable installation, 2015-. (이 C. + 레안 에스트라다, 중요무형문화재 제873호)
10. Soonho Jeong
Once upon a time, the white parabolic shape of the satellite antenna had immense symbolic potential. While, technically speaking, only one of many ‘checkpoints’ in the unilateral long-distance transmission of moving images, its white round shape promised something for everyone: signals from outer space for the radio ham, the whole world in the living room for the armchair-traveller, unlimited reruns on more channels I can ever switch to, and today’s favorite programs straight from home for anyone away from home. Now that wireless (and antenna-less) internet brings everything straight into my pocket, de-installed dishes litter backyards and that is (presumably) where Soonho Jeong has found the centerpiece of his ready-made sculpture. Although his ‘Threshole’ draws visually from the nostalgic utopia I just recollected, both the uplink and the outlet are dead ends. The parabolic dish turns its back on us and conceals the image on the wall it faces. The coaxial cable rolls up like a boa constrictor in hibernation. A relic from the balcony of others on display. The first and only satellite dish I owned presented itself as a cable that entered my home through a hole in the window frame. There is neither hole nor window here, still a glimpse into a galaxy far, far away.
Soonho Jeong, Threshole, wood, objects, variable installation, 2015. (정순호, 역(閾)구멍)
— 31 Dec. 2015 (木)