I have always regarded the Korean contemporary art scene as very rich in historical meanings and the notion of excavation underlying its artistic production, aimed at digging up and identifying its buried identity, has been fascinating me since my very first studio visit along with other artists from this country. My European way of looking at history, from the ground downward, has probably urged me to do the same as I got closer to their works. However, I also had to consider it the striking feature of a country that has been able to produce one of the most interesting "miracles" of growth ever, following the echo of the "Han River" one as a slogan that has reverberated so far.
The way Koreans pursued a high-speed economic, social, anthropological development, maintaining at the same time the right balance with its ancient traditions and culture is particularly meaningful to me. This is maybe due to our idea, as Europeans, about South Korea, and in particular Seoul, as a city whose ongoing progress does not escape from a constant awareness and understanding, and the Korean artists have probably understood that there is no disadvantage in having parallel systems. This becomes clear if we consider their desire to introspectively analyze themselves, as a metaphor of their need to recognize that history, as well as the interest in their practice, is a powerful means to be involved and participate, but also to have a critical, complete, lucid and intelligent position in such growth, in order to demonstrate their ability to produce the same miracles in their own field.
Noh’ Yun-hee (Soul, 1981) and Jeong’ Hyeon-seok (Seoul, 1981), are a duo of visual artists from Seoul, South Korea, who sign their work under the name of RohwaJeong. They are the product of this scenario, if we think how their artistic practice concurrently aims to explore the potential relationship, as a form of in-depth analysis of the reality, delving into its private as well collective dimension.
Their work consists primarily of installations and performances captured through video and photography, as well as sculptures, drawings and paintings.
Quite independent from specific commissions in galleries, museums or exhibitions in general, most of their work is based on an intense studio-based activity which leads them towards a do-it-yourself production. In this way their space becomes a laboratory where they apply visual methods to examine several ways to investigate their private and interior world and to interact with the collective outside world, as in Das Leben Der Anderen (2009). A single-channel video where only the artists’ hands are shown, as they lay on a table dishes and glasses, until the whole space is completely filled in.
What we see is a very flexible and creative use of the video, where the objects behave like human-beings thronging an empty space.
The disarming simplicity of the images displayed in the video, and also in the rest of their production, seems to be an attempt to exhort the viewers to look at them without any additional, and useless, idealistic superstructures, but in a very pure way, like when we look at people and things for the first time. Thus, RohwaJeong reduce the distance between life and art, and most of their current and past works are an effort to close the gap between the private condition and the shared one, an attempt to explain how human is our existence, even if we consider it so over-evolved and civilized.
In this scenario an ambiguous aspect reveals the RohwaJeong intention to push their work through the analysis of the multi-layers, illusions of the society which daily surround us.
We can trace a visual source in the work Single room for two people (2008). The work consists of a cube room, where just two people at once can be accepted. It has two doors on opposite sides, two single beds, two lamps and two mirrors. Going in and looking at the space, the visitor has the feeling of being in a double bedroom, but it's not. There is, in fact, just one bed, and the other is the reflection of it, due to the illusion of the mirror in the back of the room.
The work was realized in 2008 and therefore it may be regarded as a first step in their research. But, at the same time, I want to consider it a relevant proof - and so a step further - through which appreciate a diagonal and disillusioned view which is at the basis of the duo’s artistic practice, as they seem to look beyond surface to underlying reality, urging us to come to terms with the human fragility to believe that they can be always together.
On this thin line between trust and mistrust of reality, RohwaJeong seem be driven by the will to breach the fortified structure of reality in order to build a new one on a more human level, where private routine turns into a new environment and vice versa, raising questions as how the collective condition and the private can interact for a mutual-understanding, and also, how both identities alter themselves, leading to the mutual-misunderstanding.
The answers to such questions are given in the work The discovery of living which was displayed during the "Close encounter" group show held at the Jeju Museum of Art at Jeju-do in 2010.
The installation is composed of daily necessities that have been carefully arranged on the floor and divided into various sections, according to their specific functions. The work has a sculptural configuration given by the black thin masking tape used to separate each group on the floor. The installation extends spatially and reaches the ceiling, giving to the work - in an overall view - the shape of a tent, where each portion stays within the installation framework. Even if the work has an aesthetical dimension, it is definitely not a mere decoration, although it is aesthetic enough to give it a graspable shape, something as simple as a cone, a tent, which can be quickly recognized. The aim is to involve the beholder as part of this process of sublimation, where the shoes, futons, blankets, toothbrushes, bags, clothes, underwear, dishes, appliances become more than daily objects that are part of a private dimension, but something that gets into a new collective panorama, where each of us can mirror on it but on a different level of knowledge, where the human side is evoked through its absence. The artists in fact lived without these objects for the entire period of the show and, because of that, they were helped by the community of people close to them for three months like some nomadic life in a urban setting.
In this way, that is getting other people involved, they have even more emphasized their interest in minimizing the work process, as a totally controlled method, leaving more action to chance oftentimes adopted as agent of this process, thus enhancing the interaction between everyday life and the working process, and reducing the gap between art and life. But furthermore, pushing themselves to the extreme resulting from the lack of the displayed objects in which something vital is required, represents the extreme solution adopted to address their inquiry into the relationship between them as a duo, also extending the research to the relationships with others, and society in general and so on, providing visual answers to those afore-mentioned questions about the collective and individual sphere.
RohwaJeong rethink the possibilities of art as a powerful agent designed to unveil the interior need to find in the outside world - the objects and meaning thereof represent a metaphor - something that is desperately human, allowing the viewer to capture and to track down, through the artists’ vision, all these traces of human intimacy and fantasies, to discover them in the private sphere and finally to analyze it. Hence, the latter becomes a source of contents, which is intended to be an investigation into the necessity of a broad debate about the complexity of collectivism, carrying out a more in-depth investigation into social relationships, starting from the analysis of their being individual, but represented as a duo.
Das Leben Der Anderen - http://rohwajeong.com/post/28119809146
Single room for two people - http://rohwajeong.com/post/27983178786
The discovery of living - http://rohwajeong.com/post/28137263657
-This article is commissioned by the Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon as part of international Critique Program 2013