Young artists take on human body

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : Jul 8, 2019 - 17:34
  • Updated : Jul 8, 2019 - 17:34

Our bodies are constantly changing, often in ways we are unaware of. You look at pictures of yourself taken years earlier, and you can see changes you did not notice as they were happening.

Chang Seo-young and Hwang Sue-yon are two women artists in their 30s whose works, which make close observations of bodies, are on show at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Young Korean Artists 2019 exhibition.

While Chang, 36, and Hwang, 38, both deal with the body, their approaches are different.

Chang looks at physical changes over which we do not have much control.

“In the recent work, I have been specifically interested in the lumps and chunks that develop in our bodies, things that grow inside of us but things that we hardly know are happening,” Chang said. 

An installtion view of Chang Seo-young's works at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art's Gwacheon branch (MMCA)

The exhibition space dedicated to Chang comprises several sculptures and the large video installation “Your Delivery” (2019), in which a woman reads from a letter. The narrator, whose identity is unknown, speaks to her descendants.

Shown on the video is a camera spanning over scattered Polaroid images of the sculptures installed at the exhibition space.

“The narrative is a message written by a person whose genetic information is sent down through to generations to come,” Chang said.

Chang said she had tried to express things that would grow into chunks in our bodies. “They could also be diseases or cancer,” Chang added in notes on her sculptures with several holes in them that appeared like holes in cheese. The artist said, through the video, that she wanted to express the time it takes for our bodies to change.

Chang’s latest work was produced while she was in New York on Doosan Art Center’s artist-in-residence program.

“Later I would like to focus more on aging itself. I think there are different layers when we talk about aging,” Chang added.

The body that Hwang talks about is the body that endures external forces.

“Our bodies live through time and change in the meantime. I wanted to focus on exploring the physical changes that withstand the taxing daily routines,” Hwang said.

An installation view of Hwang Sue-yon’s works at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Gwacheon branch (Shim Woo-hyun/The Korea Herald)

At MMCA Gwacheon, Hwang’s sculptures are made of nonpermanent materials like paper, aluminum foil and wood.

Hanging from the ceiling, “Shade” (2019) is a set of two pointy sculptures made of paper that represent the shapes of our bodies and faces.

“Harder” (2017) is a sculpture made of aluminum foil, which has been scrunched into a ball and thoroughly hammered down. The bunched-up foil is as hard as a rock, yet part of it is worn away from the continued hammering.

“The work is about the body that becomes stronger as it continues to bear external forces,” Hwang said.

Hwang works with paper and foil because they are fragile and changeable, like our bodies, she explained.

“I had to do many part-time jobs for a while after I moved to Seoul. I got easily exhausted. It was then that I started to pay more attention to changes that happen to my body,” Hwang said.

The MMCA’s Gwacheon branch’s exhibition Young Korean Artists 2019 under the title “Liquid Glass Sea” features some 50 works by nine artists: Keem Ji-young, Song Min Jung, Ahn Sung-seok, Yoon Doo-hyun, Lee Eun-sae, Chang Seo-young, Chung Hee-min, Choi Ha-neyl and Hwang Sue-yon.

Young Korean Artists is the museum’s program dedicated to introducing works by up-and-coming Korean artists. The program, which was discontinued in 2014, resumed this year. Artists who participated in the program since its founding in 1981 include Lee Bul, Choi Jeong-hwa and Suh Do-ho.

By Shim Woo-hyun (