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(Yonhap Interview) Won Seoung-won, artist who 'paints' fantasy with photos

2017/06/30 17:07

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- A girl wakes up in the morning to realize her mother is nowhere to be seen. The kitchen is turned into a little valley with water overflowed from the sink. Anxious, she breaks her piggy bank and gets on a fishing boat, embarking on a little journey to look for her mother.

The autobiographical photo series, "My Age of Seven," by artist Won Seoung-won was an attempt to overcome her childhood trauma from constant, sometimes violent, wrangling among family members, the absence of her working mother and a sense of being neglected by adults, by wrapping her painful memories with fantastical, bright and fairy-tale-like visual images.

"The adults were only interested in waging war against each other and I was abandoned. I felt deeply wounded but no one cared. An anxiety disorder followed me all along," the artist told Yonhap News Agency during an interview on Thursday.

The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Chaos Kitchen" from the series "My Age of Seven" in 2010. (Yonhap) The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Chaos Kitchen" from the series "My Age of Seven" in 2010. (Yonhap)

The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "A Strange Playground" from the series "My Age of Seven" in 2010. (Yonhap) The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "A Strange Playground" from the series "My Age of Seven" in 2010. (Yonhap)

From her years at the art academies in Dusseldorf and Cologne in Germany, she was involved in deeply personal stories.

"Dreameroom" was her way of expressing affection for 12 people she befriended in the foreign country. She carefully listened to how they wanted their fantasized rooms to look like and set out to collect the images that would fit into the fantasy she had mapped out in her head.

The project, which ran for four years in 2000-2004, was not so much a direct visual presentation of what she heard from them as the edited visualization of her own understanding and interpretation of her friends.

"People don't know themselves very much. They think they do but actually they don't. I discovered many characteristics and behavioral patterns that they didn't realize they had. So based on my observation and their own stories, I built this imaginary world."

   She created a submerged room for Beikyoung who couldn't swim but had a thing about the underwater world; an outdoor room surrounded by rocks and a fall for Eliane and Fabian who longed for a wild life. Hating the cold weather in Germany, she presented herself a warm room in the middle of a tropical rain forest where she, relaxed in a sleeveless shirt and shorts, sits on the ground, drinking a bottle of juice.

The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "Seoungwon" from the series "Daydream" in 2003. (Yonhap) The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "Seoungwon" from the series "Daydream" in 2003. (Yonhap)

In her latest series "The Sight of the Others," on exhibition at Seoul's Arario Gallery at the moment, the 45-year-old turned attention from herself and close friends to a wider society.

Becoming more abstract and symbolic, the series delivers the characteristics of seven different jobs in image, peppered with mysterious visual references that are so meticulously hidden inside the dynamic scenery created with what she describes as "photo installation."

   "A job is not only a means to survive. It also represents one's social status and identity. I wondered how I could capture each of these different jobs in visual language."

   The time-consuming, tedious creation process begins by going out to "hunt" for images.

"Going around to find out the exact image that I'd had in my head is very difficult. But I like the challenge of it. When I find it, it boosts my courage to overcome whatever difficulties I face in my life."

  

The photo provided by artist Won Seoung-won shows her posing  in front of  "The Sea of Journalists" on display at Arario Gallery in Seoul. (Yonhap) The photo provided by artist Won Seoung-won shows her posing in front of "The Sea of Journalists" on display at Arario Gallery in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Cactus of Researchers" from the series "The Signt of the Others" in 2017. (Yonhap) The image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Cactus of Researchers" from the series "The Signt of the Others" in 2017. (Yonhap)

For "The Sea of Journalists," she chased around four typhoons for two years to take some six thousands of photos of raging waves. Stacking photos, however, is only tantamount to storing up on paints for a painter. The equally time-consuming next step is to choose and edit photos using Photoshop to begin constructing the whole picture.

"There is no reason that I have to finish my work quickly. I like the process and being slow for that matter. There is a beauty in it (being slow). Of course the final outcome is important, but equally important is the process, however painful it is to create an unrealistic reality," she said.

With the final image and all the perspectives including the size already in her head, putting together the pieces of images is like doing a puzzle, she added.

Going back to the series of her seven-year old self, she decided to accept the wounded, traumatic self as who she was, rather than desperately trying to fix it and move on.

"I realized fixing something that we think is wrong is in fact wrong. There is no wrong or right in the first place. Who determines who's normal and who isn't? We are all unique individuals."

  

This image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Star Apartment of the Eldest Son" from the series "Charater Episode I" in 2013. (Yonhap) This image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Star Apartment of the Eldest Son" from the series "Charater Episode I" in 2013. (Yonhap)

This image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Ark of Obsession" from the series "Charater Episode I" in 2013. (Yonhap) This image provided by South Korean artist Won Seoung-won shows "The Ark of Obsession" from the series "Charater Episode I" in 2013. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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