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On view: Artist award finalists' work on memory, life, trauma and death

2017/09/12 16:16

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- This time of year, when the intense summer heat is slowly giving in to the encroaching cool air of autumn, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) presents artworks by the finalists for an annual award.

The Korea Artist Prize, established in 2012 by the museum and the SBS Culture Foundation, is given to the most promising, resourceful artist with a sharp insight into society and art.

At a briefing on Tuesday, the museum introduced the art world of the four finalists -- Sunny Kim, Bek Hyun-jin, Kelvin Kyungkun Park and Song Sang-hee -- who will exhibit their characterful artworks in different mediums, which are as much individual as they are socially conscious.

Artist Sunny Kim talks during a media preview for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art on Sept. 12, 2017. (MMCA). Artist Sunny Kim talks during a media preview for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art on Sept. 12, 2017. (MMCA).

Artist Sunny Kim's "Girls in Uniform." (Yonhap) Artist Sunny Kim's "Girls in Uniform." (Yonhap)

Having emigrated to the U.S. when she was a teenager, Sunny Kim reconstructs her lost and incomplete memories in the form of paintings, installation and video. The paintings of girls and landscape invite viewers to her inner world that is real but dreamy at the same time.

What she described as a "sudden immigration" in her early life left her longing for what she might have missed in her motherland, she said, adding that girls in uniform have become an artistic symbol and inspiration that fills her inner void.

"Since some time, when I imagined a perfect image, girls in uniform just popped up in my mind. They are who I could have become. They are perfect. Yet, they are not," she said during the media preview.

Artist Bek Hyun-jin talks during a media preview for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on Sept. 12, 2017. Artist Bek Hyun-jin talks during a media preview for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on Sept. 12, 2017.

The neon sign reads "UnemploymentBankruptcyDivorceDebtSuicide Rest Stop." (Yonhap) The neon sign reads "UnemploymentBankruptcyDivorceDebtSuicide Rest Stop." (Yonhap)

Bek Hyun-jin has created a massive, hollow room with the weird name of "UnemploymentBankruptcyDivorceDebtSuicide Rest Stop."

   His abstract paintings are hung on the high walls. The entire exhibition hall smells like a morgue with burning incense. On the desks lie stacks of papers on which is written a piece of a gloomy poem about a man who went through a lot and eventually took his own life.

The artist described it as what a resting area might be for the dead. He didn't provide any details about a story, if any, behind his work and what he was trying to say.

"I don't want to tell you about my philosophy or the concept of my art. It is only my art. You don't need to analyze my intention or try to put the puzzle together. You interpret it whatever you wish."

  

Kelvin Kyungkun Park's installation work for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on Sept. 12, 2017. Kelvin Kyungkun Park's installation work for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on Sept. 12, 2017.

Jumping into a personal trauma that is, however, relatable to most South Korean men, Kelvin Kyungkun Park reconstructs his painful memories in the military through his robot installation in the 14-meter-high exhibition hall.

Thirty-two robots with rifles uniformly move to the regular sound of a loud bang. The images projected onto the two gigantic screens change as well according to the sound.

By making an artwork relating to the military and by objectifying the experience, the artist said he overcame the trauma coming from the self-reproach that he let down his fellow servicemen when a training session was protracted because of his poor physical strength.

Artist Song Sang-hee talks during a media preview for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on Sept. 12, 2017. Artist Song Sang-hee talks during a media preview for the Korea Artist Prize 2017 at the Seoul venue of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on Sept. 12, 2017.

Through art, Song Sang-hee comforts victimized souls. She sees hope even in one of the most devastating conditions that human beings can ever face.

In her three-channel video "Come Back Alive Baby," she beautifully weaves together many tragic events that happened in history such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident and the South Korean government's killing in 1949 of tens of thousands of innocent civilians believed to be communists. The centerpiece of the video is the Korean folk story of "a baby commander" who was born with wings but met a premature death.

The museum will announce the final winner on Dec. 5. Setting aside the award, each artist deserves due attention. The exhibition runs through Feb. 18.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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