Im Heung-soon

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Works at: Seoul Art Space_GeumCheon
Stays in: 2010, 2011, 2012
Genre: Media/Video (Photography)

2001 MFA Graduate School of Kyung-Won University, Seongnam , Korea
1998 BFA in Painting Kyung-won University, Seongnam, Korea

Selected Solo Exhibition 
2009 Invitation to Happiness. Space Croft, Seoul, Korea
2003 Memento, Ilju Art House, Seoul, Korea
2001 Dapsimni Useong Tenement-basement No.101, Art Space Pool, Seoul, Korea

Selected Group Exhibition
2011 The Sociological Imagination of the City, Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON, Seoul, Korea
2011 The eye of a needle, Space 99, Seoul, Korea
2010 The 8th Gwangju Biennale-10,000 Lives, Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea
2009 Let's Meet Project(Apartment Community Art Project)-collective team with Youn Ju-hee, and Kim Ji-young, Deungchon-Dong Apartment, Seoul, Korea
2008 Homecoming Box-collective team with Park Kyung-tae, and Yoon Chung-ro, Peace Museum, Art Space Pool, Seoul, Korea
2006 Public Moment : AFI, Art Space in the Loop, Seoul, Korea
2005 Against Translation(Mixrice), Total Museum, Seoul, Korea
2004 The 2nd Busan Biennale, Busan Metropolitan Museum, Busan, Korea
2003 Dutch-Korea Contemporary Art:FACING KOREA, Media Art Center Montevideo, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2002 The 4th Gwangju BiennaleP-1, Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea

2010-2011 Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON 2nd-term residency artist, Seoul, Korea


Very Private Museum, 2011

Talkative Art Workshop, Exhibition, Publishing, 2010-2011

Regarding Im Heung-soon’s <Sung Si> and <Jeju Prayer>
Young Min Moon(Artist and Critic)

When I visit my hometown I customarily visit my ancestors’ graves through the help of my deceased father’s close friend. I remember that, at one time when I visited the graves with my mother, we got lost and took a long while to locate them. Actually, every time I visit I always meander around for a short or long while. It’s only a matter of difference. I suspect that many people have similar experience. However, one would hope that there should not be too many of those who prefer not to visit their beloveds’ graves due to the trauma of their loss from state’s violent murder. Unfortunately, in modern Korean history, such losses would amount to significant numbers.
Im Heung-soon’s recent solo exhibition <Prayer> and the feature-length documentary video <Jeju Prayer> probe the intersections of a personal family history, collective trauma systematically obliterated in modern Korean history, and the current tragic unfolding at Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island. <Jeju Prayer> evolves around Kang Sang-hee, grandmother of Kim Min-kyung who is the producer of <Jeju Prayer>. Kang must have spent the past sixty-five years in profound agony due to the trauma of having lost her youthful husband, Kim Bong-su, who was executed at the age of twenty-two. Viewers can only imagine how Kang would feel as they watch her, while holding the hands of her daughter and granddaughter, in search of her husband’s grave for the first time in ten years. <Sung Si>, a former version of <Jeju Prayer>, is a Jeju dialect that signifies a presage of imminent tragedy, manifesting through natural phenomena. The videos grapple with the painful memories of Jeju April 3 Incident, which refers to the massacre of 1948 when the South Korean government, in light of the growing tension with North Korea, falsely accused Jeju Islanders as communists and committed indiscriminate killings. Some one-ninth of the island population, or about thirty thousand, had been killed, and many had fled to mountains and across the sea to Japan. However, Im’s work does not deal with ideology or history per se, but are more about forgotten, anonymous knowledge, as exemplified by Kang’s search for husband’s grave. They are about search for inaudible voices that can be accessed only in terms of visceral shudders after the loss of words due to the ineffable disturbance. While Im searches for the traces of subalterns, such as Kang, who have disappeared during the era of the Cold War and militarized modernity, and while he allows his viewers to hear their voices, he also reveals that they are simultaneously without words, that they can only be silent. For no alternative history can be written from their perspective. Otherwise, they would no longer be subalterns. Cautious not to objectify those without voice, Im Heung-soon attempts a narrative of counter memories. While disparity between sound and image is a commonly used strategy in film, its particular significance lays in Im’s deliberation in regard to the wounded Other. As implied by the mourning figures that appear with their faces under masks in the opening scene, Im barely reveals the portrait of the deceased and the faces of the bereaved.
Im Heung-soon has long sustained his line of inquiry. Ranging from <Memento> (2003) to <This War> (2009) to <Jeju Prayer> (2012), the artist continues his investigation of representation of his family, memories of his father’s generation of experience in the Vietnam War, and the absence of Koreans’ collective memory of Jeju April 3 Incident. In the latter two in particular, there run common threads of memory of the Cold War, the terror of communism, and violently oppressive governmental policies. For instance, I am referring to the painful history whereby many were not considered as full-fledged citizens under the oppressive state and by conglomerates during the Cold War. This history lives on, as it is directly linked to the recent labor struggles at Hanjin Heavy Industry and the present upheaval surrounding the construction of naval base in Gangjeong Village. In the end, the history that Im has written is not just about the old ladies like Kang but of the artist, of our own.

Perhaps for the first time, nature takes on significance in Im Heung-soon’s work. While the sublime of nature as depicted in the video is certainly overwhelmingly moving, nature occupies prominence because it is, above all, free of ideology, institutions, and apparatuses. As such, Im devotes to its representation, through which he seeks healing. The papers burnt during a funeral ceremony in order to ward off bad luck turn into snowflakes fluttering in the air. A waterfall, once a site of massacre, is now a tourist attraction; Im sets up a great contrast between the close-up views of clear bubbles underwater and the tourists busy taking souvenir photos. They come and go mindlessly, oblivious of the past, while the history of rupture repeats itself. No one knows if souls of the deceased rise and scatter, where they go, if at all. As the artist himself stated, he attempts at talking to and listening to the trees, the forest, the earth and stones, and to the dead, as an attempt of the living to connect with the dead: that is, to practice mourning as it may be the least the living could offer. It is an attempt to reengage with the history before its permanent closure, before we are reduced to nature. 

The Trauma and Ecstasy of Adjumma(Middle-aged Korean Women)

Park Manu(Director of NJP Art Center)

For the past few years, Im Heung-soon has undertaken community arts work projects in conjunction with local residents in low-income apartment houses in areas such as Seongsang-dong, Mapo-gu and Deungchon-dong, Gangseo-gu. He has taken the concept of public art in the broadest sense possible as a cultural space to communicate and exchange ideas through the participation of residents, reflected in such activities as hosting painting competitions for young children, cinematography classes for youngsters, village film festivals, and map-making and easy contests. Residents who participate in these projects begin to discover their own dormant instinct and restore life memories that had fallen into the well of oblivion. Furthermore, by experiencing these things collectively, the ethics of the community can be restored while they share their affection with neighbors with whom that were previously unconnected. Most of these projects such as exhibitions and video premieres end up reflecting the character of a particular village.

Since taking up residency at Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON in October of last year, the artist held Very Private Museum, taking the opportunity to work in conjunction with local residents on an interim closing project. Though it was a small exhibition, the displays were wonders in and of themselves which suggested a “curiosity room” (Wunderkammer or Cabinet de curiosite) the type of which existed prior to the birth of modern museums.

Rather than art work, the exhibition featured individual pieces created from broken pieces of plates and glasses, the ‘fragments of life,’ from the ‘Adjumma’ near the Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON who participated in this project. Their life (bios) becomes written (graphy), however does this type of writing lead to injuries as some writers claim? If you dig too deeply into your past, it can wound you. Project planner and host, Im Heung-soon’s role seemed to lead each of the Adjumma to the very edge of their boundry without going too far.

Perhaps the most unforgettable work from Very Private Museum was the installation performance video Flying Plates. Housewives who participated in the project threw plates they brought from home at a white veneer wall. Their passiveness and hesitation in the beginning soon gave way to them flinging the plates decisively and without shyness. They take turns throwing their plates; laughing as they do (the fixed camera shot allows us to only hear the sound of their laughter as the women are standing off camera.) The plates hit the wall more loudly, and the shattered pieces fall to the floor. The repetitive action amplifies their amusement and enjoyment, but the game always demonstrates their individual trauma and wounds. The continued impact of the flying plates on the white veneer wall has badly damaged the wall. The wounds, deep-rooted in each of us, begin to reveal themselves in the excitement and enthusiasm of the Adjumma. This work by the artist cannot simply be viewed as a collective curative experience for those involved. This video remains a resonating and lingering image to all those who viewed it as well as the middle-aged who participated, because there is a coexisting relationship between trauma and ecstasy in each of us, and that relationship is strained so that it can only be relieved rather than cured. Norwegian video artist Knut Asdam’s 1995 work, Untitled: Urination is considered a masterwork of this type of video.

The ‘results’ that Im Heung-soon achieved at Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON must not be a coincidence. Beginning with works likeSeongnam Project and Mixrice he has examined the ‘masculinity’ of Korean society, something he continued in 2004 with works such asHomecoming Box and Letter From Vietnam. Now he seems to have reached a stage where he is examining the other side of this ‘masculinity’ and
exploring ‘Adjumma’.