Knocking Air. If you took a moment to make the gesture and wait for something to happen, as we did, then Chung Seoyoung’s job is already half done. A google translation of the Korean phrase, gonggireul dudeuryeo, it’s not the accuracy of the translation that the artist desired for the exhibition title, but the loss of it. And how such an accident, when emptied of a literal sense, can become an electric turn of phrase, sparking connections that otherwise would have been overlooked. Wouldn’t it have been so wonderful if knocking air did produce a satisfying rap? Wasn’t it worth a try?
For Chung, it’s not that language is abstract, but that it’s not abstracted enough; its practical functions make it easy to forget how loose all of it is. Relating to her practice, Chung is invested in questions surrounding sculpture, and what makes a sculpture a sculpture to begin with. Having played a leading role in the establishment of Korean contemporary art in the 1990s, a pivotal time when commodity culture went on the rise, Chung Seoyoung entered an art scene in transit. Attention shifted away from Minjung (people’s) art and toward the new generation’s emerging sensibilities. By incorporating material common in industrialized society (Styrofoam, linoleum, plastics, and so on), the sculptural states Chung had produced limned what her rapidly changing social climate had divided. For this exhibition, the artist covers a broader range through ceramic, aluminum, Jesmonite, glass, and cloth.
Upon entry at Barakat Contemporary, the first sight is a series of ten white pedestals. Literally elevated to imply art status, atop each is a paper-thin ceramic plate with calligraphy almost unceremoniously blotted in. The featured text are excerpts of impromptu observations by the musicians for her 2014 sound installation Nap, which she had recorded as they explored historical sites in the demilitarized zone of Cheorwon County. As with the 27 works widely spaced apart in the exhibition, the words don’t make immediate sense in their new context. The relationships between the works are difficult to surmise; meaning-making comes at a poignant delay, if at all. Further in stands “Table A,” a circle of cut glass resting on makeshift stools for legs, and the words “blood,” “flesh,” and “bone,” etched into a wooden sign. Chung Seoyoung’s endeavor is not so much presenting art objects as it is depicting the exact moments in time when disparate materials piece or fall together, and make for that tense encounter when an assemblage becomes sculpture.