On ViewDoosan Gallery
April 22 – May 22, 2021
The night, the past recalls the past (Edit 1–2) (2019), is a video by South Korean artist Kim Juwon (b. 1981) about the artist’s personal life from the years 2007 to 2019. One walks into the darkened space at DOOSAN Gallery, and in the back, there is a large video screen and two white benches to sit on. On the opposite wall there are scores, if not hundreds, of pictures that relate to the images that flicker on the left side of the video; on the right, a description in Korean is followed by an English translation beneath it—both languages are presented in white against a black background. This video is delivered in short-lived, individually presented slide images that are so quickly changed it is not always possible to read the explanations before the stationary picture changes. It is an autobiographical novel that jumps back and forth in time (dates for the images are given). The large, darkened room in which the installation takes place is slightly ominous; viewers do not feel fully comfortable sitting on the plain white benches in the middle of a darkened room. Thus, the physical arrangement of the exhibition emphasizes a low level of alienation, which in a major way is the theme of the video.
The night, the past recalls the past is about the artist’s life, and there are several major themes that come through: the blood and parts of fingers lost in carpentry accidents with saws; punk music—the Stone Roses is a favorite band; political demonstrations and activity—Kim makes clear his leftist sympathies; casual descriptions of relationships with friends; remembering the dead and visiting their burial sites; food. Often an image, lasting only three or four seconds, will be followed by another one completely different in theme. The pictures are not noticeable for their beauty, instead, they convey the disjunctive energy of someone young trying to participate in and make sense of his life. Interestingly, the random pictures very accurately convey the discontinuities of modern life across cultures, to the point where it would become hard to specify where the pictures were taken. Clearly, popular culture, of a mostly American invention, is a leading theme and influence.
Sometimes a random image can say more about a person’s character or temperament than the narrative of a full movie. We must remember, too, that short bursts of imagery, one quickly followed by the other, accurately convey the kind of experience, mediated by the internet and television, people all over the world have become used to. The vivid blood stains on white gauze, coupled with stark shots of the sharp edges of table saws, may be autobiographical, but they carry with them a sense of vulnerability and danger anyone from anywhere can recognize. And the images of the demonstrations, along with the pictures of the police and water cannons, show that the possibility of repression, even in democracies, is worldwide. The informal quality of the slide show is a way of undermining authority in a time when authority may be seemingly innocuous but nonetheless autocratic, even in an asserted democracy. More than anything else, this is a happenstance story of a younger artist’s place in the world. Not surprisingly, given the universal existence of pop culture and commercial products, the story might take place anywhere.
That a show like this would end the decade-long stay of DOOSAN Gallery in New York establishes the international nature of the gallery’s effort. Anyone can view The night, the past recalls the past and understand most of it intuitively, at once. For years, the gallery took part in a multicultural dialogue in Chelsea. It will be a shame for them to close their doors after this show because Korean art is not fully represented in New York. This last exhibition established just how well contemporary Korean art has internalized the values of informality and spontaneity generally alive in youth culture today and we cannot deny the chance-oriented achievement of this fine show. Kim is an artist of unusual subtle effects, a novelist working with images, even if his pictures often seem isolated and raw. How could they not be in a time when pop commercialism is part of everyone’s aesthetic? Kim’s understanding of the spirit of the time may agree with the slick surfaces of most developed cultures, but that does not mean he has stopped struggling to understand himself or others. Consequently, the exhibition effectively takes part in a bigger dialogue about youth and vulnerability, strikingly and meaningfully.