The Korea Herald


Chapman brothers’ cynical vision introduced in Seoul

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Aug. 27, 2013 - 19:58

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Jake Chapman (left) and Dinos Chapman pose at SongEun Art Space in Seoul. (SongEun Art Space) Jake Chapman (left) and Dinos Chapman pose at SongEun Art Space in Seoul. (SongEun Art Space)
British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, brothers as well as artists, make their artworks as horrific and awful as possible.

They paint the faces of wealthy men in 19th century portraits, making them look decomposed with the deformed image revealing rotting veins and muscles underneath the skin. The portraits bought at an auction by the artists were redone to point out how futile their wealth and life has become as their paintings, once a symbol of wealth, ended up for sale.

The portrait is the latest works in the series “One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved” by the Chapman brothers and on display at the their first exhibition in Seoul.

The works seem disturbing, yet raise questions on the intention behind the gruesome images before the audience learns that they deal with such themes as war, genocide, death and capitalism.

Defying norms in art and design where artists work to accomplish a level of beauty, the Chapman brothers said: “What we have done is to avoid the notion that the work of art is necessarily universal…the idea that all works of art have to be necessarily beautiful and all works of art have to have redemptive meanings and all works of art have some positive views of the world,” in the press conference last Thursday at SongEun Art Space. 
“Unhappy Feet,” 2010 (Todd-White Art Photography) “Unhappy Feet,” 2010 (Todd-White Art Photography)

The exhibition displays “Unhappy Feet,” featuring innumerable miniatures of penguins that turn into predators and kill whales, polar bears and walruses in the South Pole. The adorable penguins in the movie “Happy Feet” are gone, but left with blood stains around their mouths, preparing to attack a polar bear.

Stating the images are actually “truthful projections of the world,” the artists have placed another installation piece next to the penguins’ slaughter. “No Woman No Cry” portrays the most disastrous images of war featuring Nazi soldiers, body parts, and skeletons still holding spears and guns.

“It takes a great leap of faith to interpret the world as a positive domain where everything is just nice and fluffy….the world is just a mass of cynical, pessimistic energy colliding with base materials matter in a pointless, utterly and futile purposeless reaction that will end in death and the extinction of living organisms and obliteration,” said Jake during the press conference.

The tormenting images have their basis in the cynicism of Northern Europe and various religious factors, according to the artists.

Cynicism prevails in the section of the gallery that presents a horror version of fairytales for children. “Bedtime Tales for Sleepless Nights” exhibits horrific illustrations and sentences that no parents in the world would tell their children, indicating the brother’s doubt of children’s naivete, much like their doubt about the idealistic representation of artwork.

Children sculptures on the first floor of the gallery are evidence of their point of view, but humor shows this time. The children in black sweatshirts and pants look aged 7 or 8. One has to step closer to discover the twists and humor the artists planted: their faces wear ugly masks of ducks, rats and the logo on their sweatshirts says “Nothing They Teach Us.”

“The reason we are interested in making art is that it’s an invasive activity. It’s possible to be political in a way which is not political,” said the brothers.

The exhibition “The Sleep of Reason” continues through Dec. 7 at SongEun Art Space, Apgujeong-ro, Seoul.

For more information, call (02) 3448-0100.

By Lee Woo-young (