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Green from Green

Green from Green: Euyoung Hong's Sculptural Mapping of the Metropolization of Seoul


Hye-yoon Jin (Art historian)

A small potted plant sits on a corner, squashed against the ceiling. Placed on a ceiling corner instead of the floor, it could have gone unnoticed it if was not for the lighting. Upon a closer look, it’s clear that a plant can barely stand up straight, as the shelf that’s meant to support the pot is actually strangling the plant like a barricade. Euyoung Hong found this potted plant on some street corner in the city, discarded after having served its purpose, and brought it to the exhibition space, only to literally squeeze it into a corner as demonstrated in its title Squeeze (2016), bending the plant so much that it looks as though it could be uprooted from the pot. Juxtaposed under the plant is an imagery of densely wooded mountains with trees reaching straight and tall for the skies. Split between two rectangular panels on the wall, the image feels like the landscape scenery that can be seen out the common sliding window. Against the viewer's expectations, this work was actually created by cutting up and reassembling wrapping sheets used for construction, as aptly indicated in the title Constructed Landscape (2016). By presenting the clash of two different forms of green that inhabit contrasting spaces of indoors and outdoors, real and fictional, and reality and non-reality, Hong has captured the way the space called Seoul is created. This is the true bare face of Seoul: a city of civil engineering and construction that continues its anti-environmental and anti-cultural urban development under the guise of its green mask.

Hong's works redefine space rather than just simply occupying it. Hong collects objets from where capitalism has swept through and realigns or reassembles them in the exhibition space to redefine the space. Hong's methods reached an important turning point when she began to specify the space of Seoul. Before, Hong focused more on the space of yin (陰) than yang (陽) and contemplated the existential qualities of the space by subverting the hierarchical order of art work and its background. She sliced up her found objects and painted them white to remove their original context, then exhibited them in white exhibition spaces as in the works Chair(2006), Iceberg(2006), Iceberg in Fog(2005), and Drawers(2005)]. The cross-sectioned edges of these objets would protude out towards the walls and ceiling as if they are floating in mid-air, bringing a sense of ambiguity and unfamiliarity to the outlines of the exhibition space (Fragment(2005), Fragments(2005), Fragmented (2005), Connection and Disconnection(2005)). A phone cord which occasionally but repeatedly appeared loosely connected the objets and left traces of their original shapes.

When Hong's works began to trace the visual reality of Seoul, her exhibition space that appeared to be an infinite space void of gravity finally began to change. The way Seoul subjected even nature to a certain set of specifications in order to consume them in a uniform way has imbued a new order to Hong's works. In particular, her recent work resembles the camouflaging colors and manner which the bureaucrats and money in the world of construction and civil engineering put on in order to continue expanding and controlling their domain. For example, the large flower pots that once decorated the roadside walkways of Seoul controlled the exhibition space and the path of viewers in the Flower Pot Project (2013). Then in Hong's later works, those pots were embedded into more traditional types of sculptures as their hidden components, as in Urban Monument(2014) and (Un)balancing(2016)]. Hong presented these roadside potted plants&; which were once mobilized to push out the roadside kiosks and ended up driving out even the pedestrians; as the epitome of the forces that drive monotonous urban development.

Artists who react sensitively to the changes in the urban landscape often choose to directly replicate such landscape in their works. While this applies to Hong, shepresets the experience from the very familiar spaces of daily life. Haesung Villa represents the view from her studio window during her residency at MMCA Residency Changdong in 2009. With the candid presentation of the red bricks to the grey aluminum screen, the laundry visible through the windows, various bowls, pots, toilet paper, flower basket, globe, and wine bottles scattered throughout the veranda, the work was an exact replica of the veranda of villa-type apartments commonly found throughout the cities in Korea. Derived from the terrace or balcony in western housing, Korean verandas evolved from being a space for leisurely enjoying the outdoor view into something appropriate for the realities of Korea's apartments. Nowadays, it’s more natural to see verandas being used like storage rooms in Korea. Besides, there is not much to see from the veranda in Korea other than the veranda of the house across the street. When such scenery is introduced to the white cube of exhibition space, the viewer comes to share the spatial perspective that Hong experienced on site. The viewer then looks back on the space in which they are standing as part of the scenery visible from the veranda.

Whereas Haesung Villa provides a compact look into the monotonous apartment culture of Korea born from the developmental interests of the construction industry, Study of the Space of Han Pyeong(2016) and(Un)balanced (2016) depict the unstable lives that depend on the whim of the construction industry: on a pedestal the size of one pyeong , a unit of measurement only used in Korea, sits a pile of various sundries such as plastic cups, water bottles, a ladder, a ventilation fan, and chairs; on a table formed by a spiral of wide-winged T-shaped stands, pairs of objets with equal exchange value are placed on each stand to create a precarious sense of balance. The tension created by the objets that can easily be acquired anywhere and thus discarded just as easily evokes the unstable reality of another Haesung Villa that may suddenly disappear or be demolished to meet the needs of the construction industry. It just so happens that the two latter works were created around a decade after Haesung Villa, which coincides with the urban redevelopment and reconstruction that cycles through every 10 - 30 years.

The way Hong began to track down the metropolization of Seoul starting with Haesung Villa is similar to how Walter Benjamin explored the modernity of 19th century France through the decaying Parisian arcades. As an active observer of cities, Hong traces after the space and time of decay instead of creation to present a view on the current reality of Seoul through the fragments she finds in her pursuit. Those who drive the patchwork growth of Seoul are brought into the exhibition space through the hands of Hong, making the audience reflect on the growth period through a more critical perspective, while also demanding a newer spatial awareness in them. In this regard, Hong is an artist with outstanding ability to select and utilize objets d'art. She possesses acute observational skills and precise analytic abilities that enable her to present her perspective as an artist on the metropolization of Seoul through the objets she finds from venues where politics and capital replace human warmth and nature's vitality. While such strengths are not as evident in the works that feature pedestals, it is worth nothing that these works appear like well-crafted traditional sculptures even though they have not undergone the traditional sculpting process of adding and carving (For example, (Un)balancing and A Study of the Space of Han Pyeong). There are points of ambiguity that make it hard to tell if pedestals, rectangular or otherwise, represent the visual reality of Seoul that Hong uncovered or if they are merely pedestals. What is clearly evident is that Hong has already demonstrated her ability to deliver meaning through visualization even with just a simple potted plant in Squeeze. Hopefully such opinions can help Hong advance further in her exploration of ‘space’, including that of Seoul.

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