Friendship Ages, Colleagues Endure
Looking back at the recent past is tedious labor. For example, reviewing the art of the recent past called the 1980s is a weary business. Here and now, the 1980s is merely being reproduced as dominant discourses and images. For this reason, working artists from the recent past are deprived of their being in time in between the frames of documentation and commemoration such as archiving and the celebration of anniversaries. As much as they are called as master artists or living histories, they become subordinate to the irony of the increase in their commodity value. Because they are already inscribed in history, they are infinitely drawn to the names of authority, power, and establishment. Questions that are deemed not to meet the values of contemporaries fall into outdated thoughts. As soon as they become symbols, they become transparent. They inhabit in the isolated chamber as if they do not exist, bound to the roles of concession and prudence that are originally reserved as befitting properties of the past. Then, wouldn’t it be possible to find in them the contemporariness in them the contemporariness that is demanded by the present moment?
Nietzsche wrote in Untimely Meditations(1873~1876), “This essay is also out of touch with the times because here I am trying for once to see as a contemporary disgrace, infirmity, and defect something of which our age is justifiably proud, its historical culture. For I believe, in fact, that we are all suffering from a consumptive historical fever and at the very least should recognize that we are afflicted with it.” Here, depending on how one reads the ‘historical culture,’ the methodology of contacting with those who struggled in the recent past also changes. For example, if one interprets the ‘historical culture’ as a field of popular struggle for democratization, those who struggled in the recent past become beings that contain a defect of suffering from ‘a consumptive historical fever.’ However, if one considers the ‘historical culture’ as a snobbish world that derives from civilizations and accelerates by itself, the thoughts presented by those who struggled in the recent past present through their work become quite contemporary.
Everyone can have one’s own perspective, but if one has to be with others, how can it be done? The current exhibition, Pleasantly Bluntly, considers a possible answer to the question with a device of ‘peer critique,’ done by the two artists born in the 1940s – Kim Jungheon and Joo Jaehwan. The two have been working as colleagues for almost 40 years since they first met in the collective Reality and Utterance in 1979. The oppositional ego, experienced by the contemporaries in the Minjung Misul group during the 1980s, was manifested in the form of social solidarity such as the struggle for democratization and labor movement. Although Kim Jungheon and Joo Jaehwan may have seen each other’s work as foreign languages, they had the same direction with regards to the meanings of their works. By the way, can we call the recent works by the two artists as works of Minjung Misul? Probably not. It is because Minjung Misul does not originate from individual artists from the period; it departs from ‘the moment in time.’ Both artists have been continuously exploring the issues raised by ‘the present’ that we easily name as ‘the contemporary.’ For young artists, things are the same. They only differ in terms of how they think about those issues and through which path they have been developing their thoughts.
In this exhibition, ‘comments’ are inserted as a device to rethink peer critique with artists with different histories of thinking about those issues. And Kim Jungheon and Joo Jaehwan talk to each other. The two call each other as ‘Mr. Joo the elegant’ or ‘distinguished elegance.’ What can be said about such mutual support for their colleagues? The word ‘pleasantly’ is given to Joo Jaehwan by one curator to describe him. ‘Bluntly’ is also a word given by an artist to Kim Jungheon. Strangely enough, these two words have constantly been used to describe the two artists and also mentioned by other artists around them. The point at which these words become a critique is not when they are spoken but when they are mentioned by others. For this to happen, Kang Sindae, Lee Woosung, and Hong Jinhwon take part in the exhibition as commenters. They provide a critical language, which might be laborious yet worth trying, to the two artists; they ask the two artists about what they feel curious about as artist colleagues; or they re-edit the words about the two artists that have been already in common use. Kang, Lee, and Hong say that they are clearly indebted to the two artists. Nevertheless, their comments do not start from any intimacy nor praise.
If one is convinced that their comments are perceived as symbolic devices as such by the two artists, it is highly likely that the estimation is wrong. If that is the case, what would the destination of the comments made by artists that take part in this exhibition as commenters? It is believed that artists present aesthetic sensibility through their work, and those who perceive the sensibility can try to explore the possibilities of shifting into new subjects. However, all of this is not something that is suddenly presented by a single artist who in one day discovers a new sensibility that will captivate everyone. Perhaps, suggesting certain sensibility and gauging certain possibilities by perceiving the sensibility is something that starts from the peer critique. Peer critique is not about exposing the destitute. Rather, it is what makes artists’ uncertain life and incomprehensible creative labor become a process of elevating each other. Finding a place for criticism is an attempt to find a missing link between ‘the recent past’ and ‘now,’ and it is also an effort to find a place for one’s colleagues. In the end, the current exhibition shifts the question “Why one continues (creating works)?” into another question “How to continue (one’s creation)?” In doing so, the exhibition traverses artists in different age groups and different historical periods.