Life-ness contained in the uselessness and the abandoned
Encounter with several scenes or things abandoned
In October 2006, Venue the planning room in the National Modern Art Museum. There stood wooden tiles that had endured a number of trains for a long time. Those had been lying in the wide empty plane and ran suddenly to stand in this place as if they had received some sort of oracle. Their outcry filled in the bay of Gwacheon Mountain. To the wooden tiles that had finished their assigned task and finished its life, Chung, Hyun, 'the artist of the year' selected by the National Modern Art Museum, gave another life. The hero trimmed the tiles in the length of 3 meters and arranged them in a row. Those 40 structures were overwhelming the wide space in the way it made a breakaway with the commonsense of the art philosophy. It is because he made an epochmaking move in the art circle which member normally thinks of formative art as made of noble materials like granite and bronze. Wooden tiles were in short some sort of foundation thing that dedicated itself under the racing trains, the things that showed the true meaning of sacrifice to the benefit of the others, and the things that would be trashed after serving its purpose with such an indifference by the human society in the same way that it had always been even during their service. Now that the era has changed the wooden tiles have even degenerated into some sort of wastes. One person cast a warming gaze upon those wastes, and that was Jeong Hyun who was selected as the artist of the year. This fact was further confirmed by the reminiscent exhibition held in the Art Museum.
The title of the wooden tiles were <Untitled> but it surely reminded of the lower body part of human. Being inserted with some sort of interposition, the two pillars were nothing short of the human lower limbs. These lower limbs were omitted with the trunk of the body which was important, especially abandoning the head part. The long painful lifetime and the scars embraced by the material made the tree nothing better than the forsaken that is far from elegance. The rough and shabby piece of wood evinced the long and painful life with the dark skin and scars engraved upon it. Such wooden tiles, which had been lying on the field for its entire life, were now forming a herd to be arrayed in the same direction. Without the upper body, or rather having abandoned it, they were producing some sort of symbolization. These construction was reflecting the human society that is ever increasingly int the process of being materialized. It reminded of the spiritual world which had been long expelled, and the remaining physical world that is overwriting the reality. Furthermore it was so majestic to the extent that it exerted high-handedness to those before it. What does the array of the bulky lower body mean without its lower part?
In June 2004, Venue Kim Chong-yung Art Museum. The concrete asphalt(ascon) that had once paved the road was occupying the display floor of the museum after being abandoned. Jung was the person who dragged the discarded pavement materials all the way to the Art Museum. He held the private exhibition to celebrate him being selected as the 'face of the artist' by Kim Jong Young Art Museum. In this exhibition, he also turned back on those elegant materials in favor of the wastes. Ascon refers to the dark wastes left over after refining the crude oil. This is usually the favorite material for making roads, so it had some part in blackening a number of cities so far. But when the roads are dug up again for revampment or reconstruction, they are mostly ill-treated as some sort of trouble to dispose. The artist collected the trashed wastes and breathe in new lives to them. He trimmed and cut the black lump to the reasonable degree and dispersed them here and there on the floor. These looked like a group of islands in the Dado Sea but of course in the posture of a human body lying down. It was the resurrection of the wastes settling in the sandy field. Not only that, it also refreshed some strong liveliness there. The stone yard of Yongan temple in Kyoto which is best renowned for its artificial beauty is an artificial garden in which small and big 15 stones are arranged appropriately on the line made by racking up the sandy field. Some praise it highly as the formative revelation of the calm and focused mind which is the famous symbol of Japan. Other say their arrangement is in the shape of the Chinese character heart. And one study saw its arrangement as representing the Cassiopeia constellation, for which it even tried to elevate it to the status of the universe garden. People of the next generation were trying to attach excessive meaning to the arrangement of the stones and stands. How could one encapsulate the beauty of Japan in such a compact expression! Should I like that sort of beauty or not, I did not know the answer.
The stones gathered on the sands. One was pretending so noble that it tried to give up on the smell of human sweats with such a constant pedantic approach. The human figure which was made of discarded ascon on the sand made one ruminate over the existence of human or the true nature of objects. The virtue innately contained in that very essence was the smell of humans. Among those, how could he give back lives to those abandoned after losing their uses, those disfigured and forsaken, and the ugly ones of no use! Chung, Hyun's artwork was directly connected to the return of a human form, that is, the return of a living thing.
Giving Life to the trivial.
At college, Chung, Hyun was baptized with the modernism detached from the reality. His scepticism during the school life led him to the wondering. But that doesn't mean he was directly led to the student rightist movement. He rather chose to go to France, which was reputed as the mecca of 'elegant art', in order to construct the art world of his own there. But the exhibition to celebrate his return to the home country caused a wide curiosity by filling itself with the artworks that were not expected by many people. Though decided on humans as the exhibition title, there was no beauty of human body displayed in the place. There was no sculpture of well-proportioned lady with a beautiful face, nor any elegant body shapes that made use of qualitative stones like done by many Italia background artists. Apart from simply disregarding the forms, the materials that he chose were 'market-valueless' humans that were made of Manila flax plant and plasters. Such start made one anticipate that his artistic activities would be a breakthrough with the previous artists of the French background. The title was human, which is all-time no. 1 subject of investigation for the old and the young all alike. Along with it, other materials that were chosen were not expensive luxurious materials, but old-fashioned wastes. That is why most of the materials composing his artworks were trivial stuffs like wooden tiles, ascon, plaster and others.
Chung, Hyun would rather choose the rough stones that can be found everywhere rather than granites and marble stones which are classy and elegant. Those rough stones could even be used for the real construction works. They are not only shapeless but also have no consistent texture, which means it would be hard to handle them for a creative work. But the artist gradually discovers a contingency through the irregular nature of the stones and starts to understand the formativeness during the working process. Rather than insisting on his own willness from the outset of the work, he would find a tangent point in which a mutual agreement would be reached. It is the same for the lump of coals that he purchased himself from the mine. Spending time with the stones that look willy-nilly let the artist arrive at some sort of conclusion with the forms to give. The artist exchanges emotions with the useless materials that attract no other artist, and searches for the road to the creation of a new life being. The artist says,
“There were times at which I thought lime stones or bronze were the only materials to make a perfect sculpture. Many artists use plaster but they tend to think of it only for the experimental studies. I also liked the freshness of plaster like that of green grass. Another important reason was that I didn't have much money. Tiles, ascon, rough stone, they were all useless and trivial, but easy to get. They all have the painful story of its own, and nothing more than wastes. I liked its fresh properties as if it were raw and unprocessed.”(From the art brochure of the National Modern Art Museum)
Chung, Hyun had affections for the things which were raw and had painful stories. Pain and rawness, these are important concepts. So to speak, "when I saw the trashed tiles, I could imagine the storms and rains that it would have long endured under countless trains throughout its lifetime. It was as if the tiles came to me in the form of a human. Though they were not noticed by anyone, it seemed to have a huge energy melted in it" confessed him. Once trashed, the tiles now were sublimed to the level of one human being, or even to that of one history. It is like being resuscitated as the source of energy. That doesn't show that the work with the wooden ties sailed smoothly from the beginning. He spoke again "since 98, I got down on the real work but the more I proceeded, the less I left their real properties and the more I was emphasizing on my own personality. It was like I confronted with the materials to conquer it. I thought something was not right. It is because my desire got the best of me. To make the tiles and I coexist with each other, I had to have a good understanding of the good properties of the tiles and rather play with them. Between the formativeness and materialness, the body and the mind, it is neither of the extreme reduction, but I would rather like it to be seen as the harmony.” Chung, Hyun surely realized what he had to do. He was oriented towards the friendly attitudes with the materials, and the world of symbolization which would naturally attain itself rather than the artificially created meanings.
“Those we discover from the trivialities, what they are before being expressed in words, the living itself, the rawness, the unpredictable image, suddenness, the emancipation from the sorrow, and the long lingering depth of wanders…………. and I would like to stress power is what we gain as a matter of course through the working. Chasing after the power itself would be nothing more than a formal beauty.”
Being interested in triviality, this is the true starting point for art. Restoring useless materials, this is the final destination for Chung, Hyun. Writing a story about the useless and trivial stuffs is the substance of his works.
The scarred body or human's true nature.
The working process in which one should meddle with cheap materials can neither be elegant. Rough materials often require an excessive labor and brave approach. Be it from the perspective of aestheticism or realism, working with the human body has always respected the forms in one way or the other. Outdated academic atmosphere sometimes give the feebleness regardless of the essential quality. It is because the inner properties are hard to met. Therefore that sort of anguish should firstly start from the abolishing of the form. Though it was not upholding the doctrine of abstract art, the breaking and erasing of the forms were the results of an attempt to deliver a new message. The artist handled the materials roughly and violently to make a shape meaningful in itself. The artworks looked prima facie the raw and unprocessed ores. The did not abuse the special traces of being processed like a stone or a coal. I was only remaining the minimal process with the due respect for the properties of the materials. Thus, the artist was admiring at the rawness like the body voice and longing for the new energy. The freshness in raw things, it is the just starting point for everything that has an infinite potential. There acquired a new fresh message of wild character. It was a distinctive point from the normal sculptures which only tried to look pretty in a decorative manner. In fact, human bodies has been treated as gone out of window in the art society. This is grounded on the problem of expression and different perspectives. Human as the subject cannot but be the everlasting theme as long as the last person remained on earth. What would be more valuable art subject that human is. The question lies in the artful reponses and the methods of interpretation. Chung, Hyun ceaselessly used human body as the source of his art world to inquire into the essential problem of humans. Diverged from the fuddy-duddy way of viewing the human body at the level of reproduction, he tries to speak of the spiritual world via the human body. In turn the formativeness is weakened and the substance left like a chunk of the essential quality. It is in this context that one may fail to have the impression of human body from his body works.
Chung, Hyun used coal tar in many drawings. He also employed recycling papers like newspapers or cardboards to embody the human body. Coal tar reinforces the drawing effects by varying its concentration according to the diluents. The human body in the drawing has the lively and strong moves. It excellently harmonizes the materials and the themes that it intends to express. The drawing of the hemispheres is sprouting a bud over the head. It is a kind of spirits. Some have the green grasses color. It symbolizes life.
Rough but subtle works.
Chung has the double characters as roughness and subtlety. Dealing with the rough materials like tiles, ascon, plaster and stones does not make him any rougher. He is rather unbelievably sophisticated and kind. One of his characteristics is that he is expert at cooking fishes. The delicateness of fish dishes requires one to have a highly developed sensation of taste like the one needed to taste the flavor of French wine. But the master of fish cuisine does not only enjoy the fishes of high quality. He rather prefers to eat various fishes. As the morning fish market of Noryangjin is his main footpath for a walk, Chung, Hyun trained and practised the sense of taste for the sense of beauty. As he likes the sliced fishes of various kinds, he attaches meanings to the trivial things on the lowest bottom. He would prefer 'tsukidashi', the fishes of various kinds, that can never be served as the main dish in the Japanese restaurant. Jung's art is connected to the 'tsukidashi aestheticism' that is served as the leftover rather than a splendid and classy dish. Therefore, he is giving a form to the grand theme of humans with the wastes like tiles and ascon. He is achieving it in the way that while confronting with the true nature and deleting the form, the new life is being brought into. A creation of new life must be in need of an artful touch.
In November 2007, Venue Gyeonggido Art Museum in Ansan. Recently, a new building was built to open Gyeonggido Art Museum, which purchased the majestic artwork <Wooden Electric Pole>. In the length of 17 meters and 6 poles, they are stunning masterpieces. Chung, Hyun is the artist. The artwork had once guarded the front gate of the National Modern Art Museum while it was being displayed there. After then, it was invited to one planning exhibition of Gyeonggido Art Museum, then recently purchased for good as it was considered as harmonizing with the empty environments after the long display. This electric pole stretching high up to the sky is in one respect like the pillar of a temple, and in another like the totem pole guiding the sacred place. What is clear is that it established it self as the landmark of the Art Museum by making a strong impression on the attendants. This electric pole had once served its purpose in one era, but thrown away after finishing its role. But such a gigantic wooden pole in a gathering seems to produce another symbolization. This is also somewhat different from Richard Serra's gigantic iron board building installed in the gate of the Modern Art Museum in Dallas. The iron board is like the intended praise of industrial society. But for the everlasting time, the electric pole had persevered strongly like the nation people of this land. The electric pole is not bending its knees like how our people had been in the past. The trees look beautiful when they are standing upright. The wooden tiles that had been lying for a long time also look more beautiful when they stand up. They all refresh another side of humans and serve as a yardstick to examine the human nature. Reinterpreting human body and giving new lives by using the wastes and worthless stuffs, Chung, Hyun's work in this sense attracts people's attention. (*)
Dramatically Emotional Sculpture for the Valuable Essence of Non-subjects
eunyoung chae (Curator)
Incheon locals can frequently spot giant containers or trucks loaded with industrial materials while driving or taking a walk since Incheon is a trade port with an airport and railroads. When a truck passes, the ground quietly sinks, albeit to a microscopic degree, and non-subjects including the sounds coming from the truck-machines, dust, the smell of diesel, and the forms, smells and creaking noises of the loaded materials (raw lumber, scrap metal, and export-bound cars) are quickly perceived in one lump. One usually looks past them as brief surprises or fear of having had their safety threatened, but if they ponder it again they will be stunned by how even sentiments connected to the sensations of different parts of the body are vividly revealed.
The artist Jung Hyun's discarded crosstie work includes whole sensibilities and sentiments from such memories of what he ordinarily felt by the railroad as a child. The artist, who discovered the depth of experience and sentiments in the traces of the scrapped crossties that have gone through a process of severe hardships, creates art revealing and elevating the value of lowly and invisible, trivial things. Viewers imagine and think about life's process within past time held by entities with exhausted economic use value, as well as the strange, dark and lonely emotions given by dry and rough visual forms they face first. The space and time of the moment one meets the non-subjects that have the depth of experience require the dimension in which time and space complexly cross the time of several subjects and non-subjects, and not the everyday dimension of meeting art for cultural enjoyment and as a hobby.
The artist discovered the essence in removed crossties he saw in his youth, and he discovered depth in auditory organs that were dark and dim due to old age. He began to form an awareness of the individual and society through Eunyul mask dances he saw in college, and he realized the valuable meaning in-season freshness provides through fish including large-eyed herrings and gobies. While these four things are related to the place of the area the artist grew up in, the artist does not represent local subject matter and historicism through the idea of the hometown or criticize the local area's absence and deficiencies through the idea of a world of demons. Instead, he focused more on contemplating the quintessences of humanity as a subject in the world and life and on organizing his life as an artist.
When thinking of the Otherness of junked crossties, auditory organs, the Eunyul mask dance, and fish; one can peer into a relationship capable of leaving behind human vs. non-human, place vs. non-place, subject vs. non-subject, nature vs. culture, and object vs. organism human-centered dualist worldviews. The artist having focused on humanity's essence and depth is for a praxis for a world based on understandings and interpretations between entities that existed in unstratified and relational attitudes but were invisible, rather than being the essence of human beings as subjects in a world centered on people and capital. It is work including the time and space for a place accompanying the moments and processes in which non-subjects hidden by people and capital, such as objects, space, culture, and organisms, reveal their valuable essences.
Art's role and significance as a medium of bright and good appreciation and experiences are being increasingly emphasized in arts and culture education and life culture. In such a situation, the role of art pursuing an essence is heavy, dark, difficult and foreign. Nonetheless, the meaning of art with slow time and spaces of different directions is not light. The artist's installation work represents dramatically emotional sculpture of old and deep non-subjects. One can intuitively feel the inherent sensibilities revealed by the objects without explanations of their localness or historicity, and they can know it through the objects' practical expressions. Also, it is actual as an expression of time holding time. It is an ontological revolution in transition from a space-centered perspective emphasizing localness and the place to the other axis of temporality.
People form deep relationships to the place-qualities of the spaces they grow up and live in as they form their individual worldviews and sensibilities. However, it is not easy to sensitively and delicately reorganize an area's place-qualities as an artist. When we use the words local art or local artist, we limit their meaning to areas as physical spaces and place-qualities and historicity as the subject matter or subjects of art and activities. I discover a locality as a different localness pursuing the valuable essence through a complex and delicate temporality non-subjects hold and recomposing it with reflection on the human and capital centered world, from an unstratified and relational, diverse cultural anthropological perspective; rather than forming close relationships with any human-centered localness, place-qualities or historicity; in the artist Jung Hyun's work.
eunyoung chae studied statistics, arts management, and art theory. She is a research-based curator with a strong interest in the imagination and praxis of visual art that has a healthy tension relationship with capital and the institution in the urban space. She has been running space imsi, which is involved with visual art, the idea of localities, and ecological politics, since 2016.
"Artist of the Year 2006" Foreword
Director, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea
The exhibition, "Artist of the Year" at National Museum of Contemporary Art Korea has been annually organized by selecting an artist who has shown the most outstanding activity in the Korean art world.
This year, the sculptor, Chung Hyun has been selected for the exhibition.
In the world of contemporary art where new genres and new media constantly come into fashion, Chung Hyun is searching for significance and esthetic sense of his works through the traditional subject of human body.
Although rough and crude as if unfinished, his works contain serious reflections on life and human.
The artist's interpretation of sculpture is "power" and "energy". In other words, they contain the image of human as an individual being, that is, as a being that recognizes its own essence. While expressing power through human forms, the artist discovers the forces of' freshness detected in the trivial, liveliness of the raw, unpredictable images, abruptness and primitive violence, etc. 'from material properties of fragments and fortuity in the courses of creation. He brings life to the materials far distant from being the traditional materials of sculpture, such as railroad ties for railways, asphalt concrete, rough stones and coal, etc., which can be regarded as the remnants of civilization.
The exhibition offers us a glimpse of Chung's art world from past to present. It features 60 sculptures and 60 drawings from five different time periods, showing us the changes in form and material. I believe this exhibition will provide the public the precious opportunities of experiencing the inner world of this sincerely trying sculptor who have been continuously substantiating his existence through artworks.
With sincere gratitude to the artist who have unsparingly dedicated effort for this exhibition, I would like to thank collectors who have offered the precious art pieces for the exhibition and also to thank staffs for their hardworking.
Artist of the Year 2006 : Chung Hyun
Assistant Curator, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea
Sculptor Chung Hyun has been selected as 'artist of the year 2006.' Established in 1995, the 'Artist of the Year' award is given annually to the artist who has shown the most outstanding activity in representing the Korean art world. Selected by curators of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, the artist is given the opportunity to hold a solo exhibition at the Museum the following year and Chung Hyun is the first to be given the award in the field of sculpture.
In his work, Chung Hyun has mainly focused on the human body. Although most contemporary artists have experimented by making various attempts to express facial features, Chung has constantly explored the significance of art form through the human body. His works seem unfinished, therefore appearing rough and crude. However, internally, his works contain genuine anguish for life and human beings and displays humans as individual entities standing on their own.
The artist's interpretation of sculpture is "power" and "energy." The artist, while expressing power through the dynamism of the human body, discovers power from fortuity of the courses of creation and physical substantiality of the pieces, such as freshness discovered in the trivial, power of life exuded from the raw, unpredictable images, abruptness and primitive violence, etc.. For him, the trivial are remnants of civilization, such as railroad tie, asphalt concrete and stones, which are distant from the traditional materials of sculpture. The artist mentions the importance of material in his work by saying that he 'plays with the materials, rather than fighting against them 'in order to bring out the properties of the materials as much as possible.
The exhibition offers us a glimpse of Chung's art world from past to present. It features 60 sculptures and 60 drawings from four different time periods, showing us the changes in form and material.
His first piece was created between 1985 and the early 1990s, which was the period of his studies in France. He is expressing the dynamic human body with several compressed lines that do not display volume, such as bone structures and muscles, etc. by distorting the actual figures. The tension in this piece is accentuated by manila hemp in plaster and tautly stretching it over the surface.
The second was created in the years of 1995~1999. This bronze head and torso without eyes, nose and mouth is contorted and shows many vague traces to express the pain of human existence.
The third was created in the last 1990s to the early 2000s. In this piece, where he worked with railroad tie, the human body is almost completely dismantled to border on abstract. The wood torn into pieces and railroad tie cut with ax and attached in entanglement represent human as a being that has been predestined to endure stoic life. This phase of his work is significant not only in terms of the size of his works, but also the introduction of new materials.
The fourth work was created in 2004~2005 by using asphalt concrete, unprocessed stones and coal lumps.
The works made of asphalt concrete are human figures created by combining masses violently cut up into pieces with an electric saw. They strongly illustrate only the physical substantiality of the material used. Also from unprocessed stones and coal lumps, the artist produced abstract figures.
Through his art world, Chung Hyun, who adds contemporary interpretation into traditional sculpture and brings abandoned materials into the world of art, let us look back at the aesthetics of 'novelty' which is spreading out as a craze in present times.
Interview with Chung Hyun
Professor, Korean National University of Arts
Q. I think your works have focused on a body by now. Do you regard yourself as a 'body sculptor?'
A. I have never given a priority to a body itself in my work. A body is just an object to me. I would say that a body has been a good object to express a life, and that's the reason I choose it.
Q. Your works seem to be away from a direct expression or an aesthetic production of a body. However, frankly speaking, I would like to point out your attitude to stick to a traditional theme, a body, compared to other sculptors of the same age who have attempted bold experiments.
A. A sculpture of a human body is very familiar to people. So, they may not be able to find freshness from it. However, I do not concentrate on freshness at the beginning. I just enjoy finding out a variety of life of human beings little by little as opening my eyes to the world gradually.
Q. I am a little bit doubt about that you do not care about freshness as a contemporary artist.
A. Devoting for freshness is a kind of the features of contemporary arts. However, freshness exists not only in a new thing but an old one. In my case, freshness would be found in my trial to change relationships between me and objects.
Q. I think your works in the day you studied abroad focused on lines. But, your first private exhibition seems to be disconnected from the feature.
A. Themes of both works are based on power. The subject is still alive in my works. It is sometimes presented as lines and sometimes as a vague, lump form without specific expression. The works created when I studied abroad are born through a process to break the Realism. I wanted to get into the point without superfluity. That is represented with lines. Each line means a realistic existence of spirits torn apart. Even at that time, there were some works with volume. I made a specific form into a lump by hitting or driving with a lump of steel or a wooden bat. In the end, emotions were concentrated and then the volume became distinctive. I think such massive works appeared in my first private exhibition in 1992.
Q. You have mentioned the words like 'power' or 'energy' as essence of your sculpture by now. Can I interpret the improvisatory attitude in your recent works as a way to capture a power of life more vividly?
A. While engaged in drawing, I realized that the power of life was embedded in the action of gathering certain thoughts into emotion, spreading it throughout the body and having it reach certain materials by using the appropriate tools. In fact, a succinct phrase can often be more intense than a long piece of prose. Although some may say that my actions of drawing or hitting stones with an iron maul are extemporary, I perform these actions for a number of intentions. In other words, I would like to describe my actions in work as writing a poem by gathering various thoughts and releasing them with emotion.
Q. So far, your selection of materials has been very interesting. From the latter half of the 1980s, you started using plaster and rotten wood. Recently, you are using railroad ties, coal and various stones. What would be the consistency, if any, that connects all of these together?
A. There were times in which I thought only bronze or marble was the material to be used for a complete piece of sculpture. Many sculptors use plaster, but they tend to regard it only as a material for the study of a final piece. I liked the fresh feeling of plaster. The fact that I did not have money was also an important link. Railroad ties, asphalt concrete, stones etc... These were trivial, insignificant and easy to find. They all suffered through the times of ordeal, and were merely thrown-away wastes. I liked their rawness, liveliness.
Q. You once said that what raised you was earth and what let you express yourself was railroad ties. How did you come to use railroad ties or what do you feel about this material?
A. In fact, I had been keeping my eyes on the enormous energy of sleepers long before I started using them in my work. One day, I found a railroad ties thrown away and I vividly felt its pain of having endured, the heavy weight of rails and rainstorm over the years. It came to me as if a human and history. Although a waste that no one would look at, it appeared to hold enormous energy inside. I liked it, but could not easily work with it. Maybe, it was like seeing something that was stronger that I was. I had to just look at railroad ties for over 10 years as if with unreciprocated love. It was probably in 1998 when I could finally start working with it because I felt I had accumulated enough energy for it.
Q. Tell me about your drawing work?
A. In order to bring back the initial emotions, I make drawings as if leaving a note or keeping a journal. It takes several weeks to complete a single piece of sculpture and drawing was an appropriate way to keep the numerous thoughts and emotions popping out in the course of it. Working with a model in front of me takes away liveliness of my piece. So, I try to place as many drawings as possible in front of me and to watch them while working so that I can continuously feel my emotions. This way, I don't have to create emotions. They just pop out.
Q. The overall aspects in the sculpture world of Korea at the moment do not seem all that bright. The medium of sculpture itself is dying.
A. I thoroughly recognize the ebbing of sculpture. But, what is ebbing particularly is the 'reproductive, realistic and monumental sculpture'. On the other hand, the scope of sculpture is expanding amid the experiments of medium expansion and genre escaping of the recent times. I would like to describe my sculpture as the sculpture that regresses into primitive point of generation. In other words, it is 'sculpture at the point where the fore and the rear meet'. I would like to emphasize that I am not the master of the medium of sculpture, that I have already surpassed the limitations of traditional sculpture and that I am trying to revive the areas ruled out by sculpture.
Q. What do you like to do in the future?
A. I will try to get away from the uselessly serious works. I want to find the ways of converting heaviness and representing it lightly.
From Sculpturing to Auto-Sculpturing
For Naturalistic Narrativeness in Chung Hyun's Sculpture
Director, Institute of Text Interpretation
The materials Chung Hyun has been showing attention to in the few recent years are mostly 'nothing much'. They are railroad ties expired of use and coal waiting to be given a purpose. Why the interest in nothing much? They have already been or are being used, therefore are not sophisticated. They are simple and crude. In fact, what is truthful is simple and crude. Something that has just been made cannot penetrate into the center. So, the materials he uses are those thrown out from the center or yet to reach the center. Here, the 'center' is practical value. Chung Hyun intends to create aesthetic value from the materials rejected of their practicality. It is because these materials are built in with possibilities given as existing beings prior to and after their practical values. By granting the right to claim one's existence as' already something' and 'yet to be anything', the artist intends to secure aesthetic life that is differentiated from practicality.
Materials are no longer mere objects to him. To materials, he grants the position of subjective being. At the same time, he clearly executes them with substantial causes by escaping from formative causes. The materials, at last, meet up with Chung Hyun, the person who will realize their beings as they truly are. Through his hands,
they slowly reveal their bodies and faces. What is standing with open arms or standing on hands is not a human but a railroad tie. What is lying down is not a human but asphalt. The dark object engulfed in silence is not the face of a human but the face of coal. Although the artist himself is the titular owner of the works, the actual master of them is the materials used. To the materials, which do not have the power to awaken themselves, the artist lends his hands and strength so that they can be reborn. A path not to be found within materials is never to be found outside, either. Only the artist's narration breathes life into the materials and creates a piece of work with meaningfulness. For the artist, materials are the means. For materials themselves, they are the objective. The objective is realized by borrowing the aesthetic sensitivity of the artist. So, emphasis is placed not only on the external aspect displayed in the series of works using railroad ties, asphalt concrete, coal and iron plates, but also on the internal aspect to bring out the story embedded in each material. I define such characteristics of Chung's works as 'naturalistic narrativeness'.
I hope the entire world can sympathize with the uniquely Korean naturalistic narrativeness embedded in the spirit and works of Chung Hyun. However, my concern is on the 'contents' of the naturalistic narrativeness. In order for Chung to confidently introduce himself as a 'sculptor of Korea', I would like to see the elements of 'Korean cheerfulness and gaiety' added in the contents of his works. The narratives of his works are, on the whole, gloomy and dismal. Korea is not just a sad and serious country. The humor and satires contained in folk tales and legendary narratives deliver stories of a bright and pleasant world. Just because the materials are heavy does not mean that the contents need to become heavy and serious as well. I look forward to finding a message of hope emerging from a corner of his works.
Reality of Things and Reality of Being
Choi Tae-man, Professor, Kook min University
The sculpture of Chung Hyun starts from interest in the configuration of a human. From ancient times, the human body has been an important subject matter. In particular, in classical art, the configuration of a human was often treated as a subject implying ideal beauty and was recognizable 'tabloid edition of the universe.' However, the human body expressed by Chung Hyun is starkly different from such traditional sculptures. The form of his work is rugged, the methods employed intense and sometimes even violent. This 'untamed intensity' is an important factor which adds to the reality not only of the materials but also the existence of humankind.
Firstly, the reality of materials is the characteristics discovered in his works where physical attributes of materials, such as plaster, railroad ties and asphalt concrete, are wholly exposed. Plaster works are created by hitting and digging a mass of earth with high plasticity by using the tools such as bars and shovels. These works hold solid shapes because of such violent processes. Although the form certainly is of a human body or face, it is difficult to find specific shapes from it. By going against the traditional method of delicately depicting and reproducing external forms of the body by using the traditional shoehorn, the artist is escaping from the solidified tradition of reproduction, in other words, the academism. The sculptures of human figures created by using railroad ties, which had been thrown away after long years of supporting heavy railroad ties, or asphalt concrete, the symbol of modern city, are also violent, rough and expressionistic. The works to display surface textures created by sawing and cutting railroad ties or asphalt concrete with powerful tools of electric saws or grinders are presented with the physical reality of materials extremely accentuated. Through these works, we can experience not only the minimum of human forms, but also the reality of materials themselves.
What we must take note of here is the fact that the artist's thought for sculpture, his action to put it into practice and the form as the result of such action are untied together to form a harmonious whole. The fierceness in his working processes similar to almost violent maltreatment of the materials, however, represents the suggestive characteristic to unite with the materials in certain aspects, rather than aggressive attack towards achieving 'victory' to remove the physical characteristics of the materials. Chung expresses this course of labor as 'playing with materials'. Maybe, it is a type or extension of possession by spirit where the artist's emotions, thoughts and ideologies unite with the vivid properties of materials. Therefore, the forms created by the artist may well be the totem of an age where god existed. However maltreating he may be to the materials, the artist does not throw away the materials which had been thrown away before. Railroad ties and asphalt concrete stand in their positions as the main elements of his works without their own properties and characteristics destroyed.
'Playing with materials' does not mean he rules over the materials. It represents the artist's intention to become untied with them.
The human forms created by the artist do not let or instruct us to remember specific targets. However, as the emotional sensation stirred up by railroad ties or asphalt concrete is of the accumulated time, the time of endurance over difficulties and the time of silence spent with perseverance to fulfill the individual purposes, etc.,
we must remember that his human forms represent the reality of being because they let us think about the universal values of human who, although worn out through 'maturation of time', still maintains dignity.
Today’s Artist – Chung Hyun
DirectorKim Chong Yung Sculpture Museum
Choi, Jong Tae
The exhibition series, ‘Today’s Artist’, has been established by the Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Museum to discover and encourage young, talented artists keeping in accordance with the spirit of Kim Chong Yung who was constant in his work as an artist and educator.
Every year, our museum selects at least 2 artists who display singularity of vision and commitment to their art as ‘Today’s Artists’, and invites them for a solo show at the museum. In doing so, along with the ‘The Woo Sung Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Prize’ that the Kim Chong Yung Memorial Enterprise has been carrying out since 1990, we hope to provide the pivotal point in the advancement of Korean sculpture.
‘Today’s Artist’ is an artist who shows great promise in the medium of sculpture with a distinguished body of work, and is carefully selected based on standards that are independent and unique to the Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Museum. Its purpose is to inspire young artists and provide a forum for presentation of their work, carrying out the wishes of Kim Chong Yung who was exceptionally devoted to the training of students.
The sculptor Chung Hyun who is our first ‘Today’s Artist’ this year has already received critical attention for his depiction of the tough and strong human figure using railroad ties. The railroad tie may not seem like an appropriate material for sculpture, however Chung Hyun makes cuts, and clear and sharp incisions on the surface with a power saw to render the basic shape of the human body, thereby changing the tradition of figurative sculpture. Chung Hyun’s railroad tie sculpture commands attention not only for its use of unusual material but also for the symbolism carried by the material. For example, one cannot help but think about ‘the silent endurance’ in human history when considering a material that has weathered the massive weight of the trains while absorbing the natural elements of rain, wind, dust, and oil stains.
In this exhibition Chung Hyun deals with asphalt, yet another unfamiliar material for sculpture. Known as petroleum-asphalt, this artificial byproduct of civilization is the black debris left after the petroleum has been filtered out at the oil field. Its adhesive strength is very high, but it is also very sensitive to temperature, and although it is being widely used for building and paving roads, it is hardly used as material for sculpture.
Chung Hyun gathers clumps of asphalt dug up at road construction sites and cuts them up using a tool like a grinder or makes sharp incisions on the surface to create human figures that are lying down. The human figure composed of several clumps of asphalt resembles a ‘large stone face’ and stimulates our imagination as we look for the human figure in a natural setting. His work takes on a new appearance as one changes viewpoints. When viewed from above one finds a human figure lying down, but when viewed from below the work looks as if stone islands are grouped together in a wide open sea. His work has the forms of both nature and human figure and aims to achieve ‘a living form’ created by raw material and solid mass, as evidenced by his work made of railroad ties.
Not only in sculpture but in drawings, Chung Hyun depicts the overflowing energy of the human spirit through lively and energetic lines and contrasting color tones. Chung Hyun’s work is rough and simple on the surface, but it is also important to remember that one can also find the natural order of death and rebirth. Such quality is in perfect accordance with the aphorism by Kim Chong Yung, who emphasized that “art creates infinite order within finite space.” This is the reason behind our museum’s selection of Chung Hyun as an artist whose work succeed in realizing the ideals pursued by Kim Chong Yung. It is our sincerest hope that the ‘Today’s Artist’ exhibition presented by the Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Museum may reach its ambitious goals of playing a small role in the development of Korean sculpture. We look forward to and appreciate your encouragement and guidance.
Chung Hyun and the Affirmation of Sculpture
The human figure in Chung Hyun’s sculpture
The sculpture by Chung Hyun has been generally categorized as ‘sculpture of the human figure’. This is not entirely wrong. Based on the body of work ranging from his first solo exhibition in 1992, objects constructed with railroad ties around 2000, the work using asphalt-concrete prepared for this exhibition at the Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Museum, and drawings, it is clear that the form of the human body is a recognizable characteristic of his art. The artist himself does not deny that his work began from the study of the human figure and continues to deal with the problem of the sculptural depiction of the human figure. For example, he has said, “By means of sculpture I attempt to reexamine and reinterpret humans and the human figure (…) There still remains a lot to do with the human figure. It is not a thing of the past.” His work has also been widely viewed as “man’s existential state in the face of crisis and despair” or “a portrait of ourselves today with a layer of appearance stripped away”. Sometimes a term like stoicism is suggested to describe his work. The work constructed with the railroad ties in particular is discussed in relation to a kind of “long period of stoicism”. Chung Hyun himself has said, “The railroad tie is a work of art on its own in that it has endured for many years snowstorms and rainstorms, while the train weighs down from above and below the pebbles dig into the wood.”
While it is true that Chung Hyun’s sculpture is related to the human figure and human existence, it nonetheless requires supplementary explanations about the work. The first thing we need to pay attention to in Chung Hyun’s work is that the human figure and human existence, in other words, the anthropomorphic and the figurative aspect of the work is not the ultimate goal of the work. In his work, the form of the human figure only has vague, subtle presence, and as evidenced by the plaster-cast work formed by clay being modeled with a shovel, the railroad tie objects carved with an axe and a power saw, and the asphalt-concrete sculpture in this exhibition, the human figure is almost buried in the intensive sculptural act with the material in many cases. Thus the form of the human figure and the anthropomorphic element only make up a partial aspect of Chung Hyun’s sculpture and a critical description of this partial aspect seems to be the starting point of study of special qualities of Chung Hyun’s work. By asking questions like ‘To what degree is Chung Hyun’s sculpture about the human figure?’, ‘How does the human figure manifest itself?’, and most of all, ‘What else is the work about, if not the human figure?’, we can discern and analyze his work within the dynamic shifts of the structuralized boundaries between the ‘human figure/non-human figure’, or ‘presence of sculpture/absence of sculpture’.
During his study abroad in France, Chung Hyun abandoned the kind of realistic sculpture he had done in Korea and began rough modeling with the clay using tools like a square bar, a lump of metal, and a shovel. The artist considers this period “a turning point leaving behind academic sculpture.” He begins to think of the human figure as “simply the object” and at the same time, his sculpture turns away from the teleological concerns of representation of the human figure and begins to take on ‘various forms of play taking place within the limited condition set forth by the human body’. When he says that “the human figure is simply the object”, it means that the form of the human figure is not the final aim but it doesn’t necessarily mean that his work is completely turning away from it. In Chung Hyun’s previous work as well as the new work made with asphalt-concrete clumps pulled apart with a power saw, contours of the human figure like a corpse are present, however vague they may be. This presence of the human figure can amount to no more than just an arrangement of heaps of stone and represents a figurative sculpture that has ‘taken a step back’. This sculptural retreat however brings out new aspects, key elements that were previously left out by the epistemological and intelligible reading of his work focusing on the human figure and its anthropomorphic aspect. What stands out can be described as a furiously entangled dance; a dance between the power that is applied to the material and the material that resists that power. The condensed heap of rubbles penetrated and sliced and sections of asphalt and rubbles that have been cut, such are the manifestations of the dance.
But if we are to say Chung Hyun’s work is all about the’ aesthetics of the material’ or the ‘expression of the material’ then it would be no different from the aesthetics of the Informel or Abstract Sculpture. The unique qualities of Chung Hyun lie here – that there is a kind of stage providing simultaneously the place as well as limitations for this dance with the material. That stage is in fact the form of the human figure and the dance with the material only takes place on this stage. In doing so his work is able to retain both materiality and formality, and body and spirit, instead of being reduced to either one of the two extremes. I would like to use the term ‘Whole Sculpture’ to designate this characteristic of having both elements together. Furthermore we can conceptualize such ontological position as ‘the sculptural’.
Cybernetics of ‘Whole Sculpture’ – From the human figure to the body
The aim of the intense dance with material is not to copy the human figure. The form of the human figure is merely the temporary stage set up by Chung Hyun, the dancer. As the dancer’s job does not lie in copying the form of the stage, the stage only becomes aware of its boundaries intermittently or accidentally from time to time in the midst of the dancer’s erotic exercise. ‘The totality of the whole sculpture’ (unrelated to the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk) is the result of conserving altogether the dance and its stage, the aesthetics of the sculptural ingredients and the form that these ingredients represent. Chung Hyun’s sculptural form does remind us of the intense process of the existential endurance, but we should go one step further to really focus on the intensity and endurance of the dance which sustains the whole preservation. That is in fact the intensity and endurance of the sculpture itself. Within the site of the ‘Whole Sculpture’, there are two pathways leading to the human figure. One is the ‘reproduced human form’, in other words the ‘human figure’, and the other is the dancer who dances with such human figure and its materials (in other words, the main body in the relationship between the artist and audience). Whereas the former is merely an object of visual perception, the latter exists only in the first person ‘I’ , in the ‘here and now’. The latter is ‘I as a firsthand participant who is sensually immersed in the sharp refractions of the asphalt clump that is before me at this very moment’.
When he started working with the railroad ties, Chung Hyun used to ask himself if he could ever win his struggle with the material. In line with this, sculptors often use the expression, “the material is defiant”. Such expression has nothing to do the phallic culture that has to always change the natural state of matter into an artificial form. On the contrary, to say win over, or resist is the field terminology of sculptors as they try to express a kind of ‘cybernetics’, where physical senses are exchanged with the object, going beyond the cold visuality. Chung Hyun is an artist who indefatigably preserves and emphasizes the scene of that sculptural cybernetics.
The core of Chung Hyun’s work is not the problem of the human figure, but that of the body, and although this body is not visible it signifies the entire field of my presence where intense mutual exchange between me and the object takes place. Chung Hyun’s material struggles endlessly as if to copy somebody’s face or pose while caught in a vortex created by the precarious balance, material’s self-preservation, and the evidence of the great weight that’s been applied to the material. Sculpture was originally about an ‘interaction between representation and its rebellious material’ (think of Michelangelo and Medardo Rosso). But in art history a majority of sculpture pursued the extreme victory of one side. In the case of realist sculpture, any trace of sculpture’s cybernetic movement is completely erased for the epistemological aim of creating ‘a specific human figure’, ‘the pose describing a certain action’ , or ‘ a certain historical event’. Or in the opposite case, such as Minimalism, the shape of the human figure is eliminated to show the material itself in a state of excessive self-awareness. Chung Hyun preserves the scene of these two extremes entangled. And it is as if what we normally consider figurative sculpture was already there (pre-existed, so its present state is read as the destructed form of that human figure), or is to be achieved after (so that one expects to see a realistic rendering of a human figure very soon). To maintain the simultaneity of having both pre- and post- qualities as long as possible is the very task of Chung Hyun’s art, because sculpture in such precarious position is in fact ‘the reality of sculpture’ and ‘whole sculpture’.
Same analysis can also be applied to Chung Hyun’s drawings because his drawings are done in the same manner as his sculpture. At first glance it looks like a rendition of the shape of a human head but upon closer examination, one finds the evidence of strength applied with sticky charcoal ink, repetitive lines, and the eruption of energy from that ’head’; all these elements elicit the kind of physiological excitement and pulsating rhythm also felt in his sculpture with its sharp marks made with the axe and saw blade. Again Chung Hyun considers the human head as mere given object. The drawings look like they depict the form of human head expelling some kind of energy, but they are only the boundaries of the stage which is intermittently perceived in the midst of the intense physical cybernetics. Another important characteristic of Chung Hyun’s drawing is that it has a kind of cinematic animation quality. When the drawings are all lined up in a sequence like a reel of a film, each looks like a still from a movie, but when they are viewed together there is a progression of movement reminiscent of Muybridge’s study of human movement or the Zootrope. This sensation of movement results from reading, or experiencing using all of my physiological senses, and that is the cybernetics of Chung Hyun’s work.
Towards affirmation of sculpture
I hope that this year’s ‘Today’s Artist’ exhibition will be an opportunity for Chung Hyun’s work to be seen in a new light. By which I mean that some of these critical rhetorics that his work has been associated with should be reconsidered in a wider context, rather than disappear altogether. For example, phrases like “an artist who dares to singularly pursue the human figure” or “the portrait of the dejected human spirit in contemporary society” are mere thematic discussions from critical-theoretical point of view. Instead, his work merits attention for its unique methodologies, including his profound investigation and intuition towards sculpture itself, and the greater premise on which the very different experiments are based from his early to the present work. Only then do we recognize that he is ‘not just an old-fashioned sculptor of human figures but a very avant-garde pioneer’.
In the genre of figurative sculpture that can easily be subjected to arguments relating to formal aesthetics or romantic symbolism, Chung Hyun’s work brings the focus back to ‘the power of sculpture itself’ and ‘the realistic quality of sculpture’ by emphasizing the possibility of layered readings and physical cybernetics. It aspires for what Nietzsche called ‘affirmation’, because affirmation is not a rational action like approval and persuasion, but rather a process accompanied by a bodily exercise that restores wholly the original totality by going back to the starting point. Chung Hyun is a sculptor of repetition who starts from the very beginning every time, through that very affirmation about the medium of sculpture itself, and for the re-affirmation of that affirmation.