Media Art from the Museum Collection

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© Courtesy of National Museum of Contemporary Art Korea
Media Art from the Museum Collection
Curated by: Sooyoun Lee

313 Gwangmyeong, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
427-710 Seoul
Korea, Republic of
March 1st, 2012 - November 30th, 2012

Korea, Republic of
+82 (0)2 2188 6114
photography, video-art, sculpture


• Media Art from the Museum Collection

In 2010, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea hosted the exhibition Out of the Silent Planet, showcasing representative new media artworks from the museum's collection. Following up on that successful event, the museum is proud to announce a new special exhibition, Media Art from the Museum Collection. Key concepts of this year's exhibition include "memory" and "shadow," as exemplified by the astonishing works of internationally renowned artists William Kentridge and Christian Boltanski. Audiences will be awestruck by these monumental works, which have been installed by the artists like a set on a theatrical stage. Utilizing drawings, photographs, videos, and sculpture, Kentridge and Boltanski present us with installed devices that allegorize the personal and social memory that each individual accumulates over time. The sources of these fascinating works include a short story by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol and Botanski's own private experiences. Each work is accompanied by a textual description to help enhance the audience's appreciation, and we hope that these notes provide visitors with a better understanding of the detail and context of the stories before they allow themselves to be engrossed by the "play."

• William Kentridge (b. 1955)
• I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008)
• The Nose (2007)

Born in South Africa, William Kentridge routinely crosses over the established artistic boundaries between drawings, films, sculpture, installations, animation, prints, theater, and opera. By refusing to restrain himself to a certain genre or category, Kentridge has established a very unique artistic career, and is now globally recognized as one of the most influential contemporary artists. His works are imbued with a satirical view of society, an attitude that emerged from his own conflicted experience in regards to his home country's policy of apartheid, which was designed to separate white residences from black residences to "protect" the safety of the white ruling minority of the country. As whites, Kentridge's parents ostensibly belonged to the group perpetrating the injustice, as well as the privileged class, and yet they were human rights lawyers. Under their influence, Kentridge has long nurtured a critical perspective of social injustice and absurdity, which has caused him to look upon his own society with an air of cynicism. This tendency can be seen in works such as The Nose (2007) and I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008).

Both The Nose and I am not me, the horse is not mine are based on The Nose, a short story by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol. The original story provides a satirical look at the political corruption and bureaucracy that was prevalent in imperial Russia. The story revolves around a bureaucrat named Kovalev, a Collegiate Assessor (8th rank), who is distressed to realize that his nose has suddenly disappeared. Embarrassed by this turn of events, as well as his noseless face, Kovalev searches desperately for his nose, and eventually finds in St. Petersburg, the city of deception and phantasm. However, much to his dismay, his nose is dressed in the uniform of a fifth ranking official, which means that Kovalev is apparently outranked by his own nose. From this point, the comedy dissipates somewhat as Kovalev struggles to restore his nose to its rightful place on his face, despite the nose's desire to continue its new existence as a civil service official.

Adapting this surreal and absurd story in his own creative way, Kentridge made a video work with eight episodes. The title?I am not me, the horse is not mine?refers to a phrase that Russian tenant farmers supposedly used to say to deny some accusation, and which has now become a proverb that Russians use to avoid responsibility and culpability. The title aptly illustrates the social absurdity that the work exposes, as Kentridge uses this eight-channel video to lay bare the institutional violence of Stalin's regime.

• Christian Boltanski (b. 1944)
• Play of Shadows (1984)

Christian Boltanski was born in Paris, but his family was Jewish Russian. He left school around the age of 12 and began receiving Jewish homeschooling, so he learned art in an independent environment. Boltanski was one of the first artists to integrate the unique features of amateur photography into his art, and he is now recognized as one of the pioneers and most representative artists in the post-modern field of "Memory Art." As exemplified by his 1970s series Reconstitution and his 1980s series Lessons of Darkness, Boltanski's art has always emerged from his private experiences and memories of violence and anti-Semitism. He grew up in the aftermath of World War II, amidst the destruction and discrimination which marked the legacy of the Nazi occupiers of Paris, and this experience persistently resonates through all of his work.

In the Reconstitution series, Boltanski elevates his personal memory to collective memory by reconstituting photographs. When we look at a photograph, we are usually reminded of a memory of a specific point in time in the past, and we believe that the memory exists as truth and reality. However, our memory is always imperfect, and in fact, it is impossible to reproduce and reclaim the exact memory with perfect truth. Therefore, we can say that any memory spawned by a photograph is really just a version of memory as reproduced by our logic. Boltanski repeatedly reproduces photographs, thus inducing the inherent fallacy of our memory, as the apparent meaning of the image changes sequentially with each repetition. In the end, a specific object is rearranged until it becomes a universal object, and an individual's specific memory is rearranged as a collective memory. Thus, by sharing these ideas and experiences with the audience, he reconstitutes the dark memories of an individual?himself in particular?as collective memory available to all of us.

Following the Reconstitution series, Boltanski produced the series called Lessons of Darkness, which comprises works such as Shadows, Monument, Candles, and Children of Dijon. This series also included Play of Shadows (1984), which is presented as part of this exhibition. When Boltanski first exhibited Play of Shadows, he installed the work within a large box with a little hole in it, so that the audience had to look through the hole to see the flickering shadows inside the box. Then, towards the end of the exhibition, he removed the box to reveal to the audience what had created the shadows. With nothing more than these shimmering shadows, he is able to pose profound questions about the nature of truth. In the end, through this series, Boltanski is asking us to question our own memory and to consider the oblivion of history and politics in both a theatrical and philosophical way.