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Artist Lee Wan to display intriguing life of 'Mr. K' at Venice Biennale

2017/02/16 17:59

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- Hwanghak-dong, central Seoul, used to be known for antique shops and flea markets. Discarded stuff got a second chance at life on the street, as was "Mr. K," whose entire life was chronicled in some 1,500 abandoned photos.

"An antique street dealer I had known for some time showed them to me, saying that they were thrown out in front of a house. That was when I met Mr. K," said artist Lee Wan, who will represent Korea in this year's Venice Biennale along with Codi Choi.

The archival photo series titled "Mr. K" will be displayed at the Korean Pavilion at the top art festival which will open on May 13 in Venice, Italy.

The image provided by Lee Wan on Feb. 16, 2017 shows part of his "Mr. K" project. (Yonhap) The image provided by Lee Wan on Feb. 16, 2017 shows part of his "Mr. K" project. (Yonhap)

It was in the fall of 2012 when Lee encountered Mr. K in Hwanghak-dong where he once lived for nearly two years. The bunch of grainy photos, put inside a jagae (mother-of-pearl) box, dated as far back as 1930s. They documented his whole life from when he was around five years old until he became a grandfather.

It felt bittersweet to buy the history of someone he had never met for a mere 50,000 won (US$44), said the 38-year-old artist during a press briefing Wednesday for the opening of his new solo exhibition in Seoul.

He learned from the photos that Mr. K was born in the 1930s to a family rich enough to own a camera when it was a rarity. He became a reporter and appeared to have run his own business later in life. His father also seemed to have worked as a reporter and obviously loved documenting his son growing up.

"There were photos of every important juncture of one's life -- school entrance, marriage and birth," he said. "The last photo showed an aged Mr. K, holding his grandchild."

   "After I finished flipping through the photos, I couldn't move. I just sit there for a while, struck by odd feelings."

  

The image provided by Lee Wan on Feb. 16, 2017 shows part of his "Mr. K" project, which will be presented at the 2017 Venice Biennale. (Yonhap) The image provided by Lee Wan on Feb. 16, 2017 shows part of his "Mr. K" project, which will be presented at the 2017 Venice Biennale. (Yonhap)

For some time, the artist tried to track him down. With so many records of his life, it wasn't that difficult after all. He knows the real identity of Mr. K, but stopped short of contacting him or his family.

"I decided it would be better not to know him personally. If I get to meet him, his voice will inevitably come into the project. I just leave his story to be the story of his generation."

   The "Mr. K" series will be a great narrative that visually tells the head-spinning phases of development and modernization that Korea went through for decades, the artist said.

"I would like to tell a story about how each generation feels about their Korea. There will be things in common, but there will be many differences. I think it will be a great exhibition that can show an interesting aspect of Korea."

  

Artist Lee Wan talks during a press briefing on his new solo exhibition "A Diligent Attitude Towards a Meaningless Thing" at 313 Art Project in Seoul on Feb. 15, 2017. (Yonhap) Artist Lee Wan talks during a press briefing on his new solo exhibition "A Diligent Attitude Towards a Meaningless Thing" at 313 Art Project in Seoul on Feb. 15, 2017. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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