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Beijing Commune
Da Shan Zi, 798 Art District,
4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
Beijing, China   map * 
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by Beijing Commune
Location: Beijing Commune
Artist(s): GROUP SHOW
Date: 25 Nov 2014 - 28 Feb 2015

The objective of this exhibition is to introduce the artistic realms of today's trend-setting, representative contemporary Korean artists to the continental nation of China. The history of exchanges and mutual influences between China and Korea dates back as far as to the times of the Xia (夏) dynasty. It is because the Korean people were the Dongi tribe. When the Shang dynasty was overthrown by the Zhou dynasty, the former Shang official Jizi (箕子)immigrated to Gojoseon. Nonetheless, King Wu, the actual founder of Zhou, seeks out Jizi for advice on tao, or the righteous path. This is a mystery. This was a fictional encounter invented by the young Zhou dynasty to establish its own dynastic legitimacy via the recognition of the previous dynasty’s leading intellectual. Established by the Dongi tribe, the Shang dynasty had enjoyed the greatest civilization in East Asia at the time. The Han Chinese monopolized power since the Zhou dynasty. The de-facto original stream of our history of interactions is likely even older than this.
As mentioned above, the history of interaction between China and Korea commenced in the ancient era to form a coalition between the kingdom of Shilla and the Tang empire (military exchange), and also form the friendship between the Goryo and Song dynasties, characterized by cultural and spiritual exchanges. Particularly, Sage Learning, represented by Zhu Xi, was a mainstream scholarly discipline and a hallmark of Korea’s spiritual history. Later, upon the founding of the Joseon dynasty, Zhu Xi Confucianism became ournational policy, reinforcing our relations with the Ming dynasty (China). The Joseon dynasty’s intellectual history can be divided into the earlier and later halves, and while scholarly opinions diverge, Zhu Xi Confucianism completely dominated the first period, while in the latter half the spiritual content of Wang Yangming’s philosophy of “The Mind as Principle (心即理)” and Northern Learning’s (北学) “seeking truth from facts” were included in Zhu Xi Confucianism’s larger framework.
Investigating what “Human Nature as Principle” and “The Mind as Principle” are here, and what difference they have is very important to us art professionals, too. “Human Nature as Principle” signifies that human nature is a principle equivalent to the principles under which the universe operates (information). Then what is human nature? It is the Four Sprouts (四端)of the Four Cardinal Virtues. Only the Four Cardinal Virtues are the higher program operating under the principles of the universe, and the seven emotions of joy, pleasure, anger and sorrow, etc., are a program to be internally repressed. Then Wang Yangming’s "The Mind as Principle" argues that emotions such as joy, pleasure, anger and sorrow, etc., thus far known to be unworthy, too are admirable in their own way, and the reason is because although a certain thought or emotion can operate on the mind, innate knowledge, or liangzhi (良知) mediates this. If the culture of the early Joseon dynasty was in fact highly doctrinaire and regularized, the second half of the Joseon era saw free expressions of one’s daily life or emotions between a man and woman through true life poems (真境诗) or folk paintings, etc.
Cultural exchange between China and Korea begins with The Book of Documents (书经), and "The Great Plan of Jizi (洪范九畴)" in particular, in the ancient era Before Christ. As Buddhist scripture including Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna, of the third and fourth centuries, were later introduced, Confucian colors changed to Buddhist ones. After that, since the completion of the philosophy of the Five Confucian Masters of Northern Song (Zhang Heng-qu, Cheng Ming-dao, Cheng Yichuan, ShàoKāngjié and SimaGuang) in the eleventh century, the Korean people accept Confucianism as their national policy, a general pattern lasting into the early twentieth century (1911). It is self-evident that, regardless of the era, thought forms the roots of society while arts and culture are the equivalent of flowers. The Joseon dynasty's arts culture may summarily be defined as visual transformations of the Li-Qi Theory and Gewu Qiongli (格物穷理) Theory of Zhu Xi Confucianism. Painters discovered and painted from nature's mountains and rivers universal principles as revealed in the River Chart and Writ of the Luo. They painted genre paintings emphasizing the importance of the Four Cardinal Virtues, and represented the heavenly laws a man of high birth should abide by as revealed in The Four Gentlemen. However, this rich relationship with China's arts and culture is completely shattered by external forces.
Amicable exchanges with China, i.e. the continental culture, were interrupted by a marine culture represented by Japan and the Unites States of America. American Black Ships pressured Japan to open her ports, and Japan pursued radical Westernization. A modernized Japanese military, equipped with the West's modern weaponry, began deeply involving itself in Joseon's domestic administration before forcibly annexing Joseon. The thousand-year-old spiritual culture of realizing the Four Sprouts (四端),was begun to be proscribed for the reason of being an early dawn of the pre-modern era. Japan's government-patronized scholars led this movement. They thoroughly skewed history and devalued The Four Books and Three Classics. Therefore, Korea's cultural appearance of the early twentieth century was of mere imitation of Japanese novels simulating Goethe, Stendhal and Dostoevsky or Japanese Impressionists or Fauvists emulating Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh or Matisse.
The Korean War, which began immediately following Korea's liberation, formed an opportunity for a wholehearted acceptance of American culture. Koreans would attend on the United States as the most blessed nation on earth, which has released their people from the chains of Japanese oppression. The only other dynasty to be honored thus by the Korean people was Ming China. Receiving Western culture somewhat strained and digested by Japanese filters was problematic in that the culture was a Japanese Western one. On the other hand, accepting American culture was problematic in that it remained at heartbreaking dyspepsia because we completely lacked the energy itself for absorption.
At our current point in time, sixty years since this history of acceptance, we are meeting with the Chinese again with six artists. Korea's art culture is not immune to criticism that it attained power by uncritically accepting American Modernism. Of course we had many artists and thinkers who ceaselessly strove to find our own spirit and grains. Nonetheless, Korean institutions, including art museums, galleries and universities, hired wholesale and put up at the forefront of activities talent that returned from studies abroad to uncritically transplant foreign visual culture, in the name of accepting advanced products of civilization and constructing a global network of human sources. Not one of American Modernism, European Post-Structuralism, European Post-Colonialism, the Russian Avant-garde and Russian Socialism is Korean. The political left or right cannot be a standard of sincerity either. However, we still distinguish good artists by such criteria.
The South Korean curator, Suh Jinsuk (徐真锡) has given his full, dedicated efforts to improving Korea's contemporary art, despite the above inadequacies in resources. Particularly, he fought a lonely struggle to discover Asian art’s identity. Suh desires to become a protector of Asian culture. He particularly believes that the Confucian outlook on the universe, formed by China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan; and Asian thought, steeped in the worldview of Huayan's Theory or Lao-Chuang Philosophy, lack nothing in comparison to the worldview of modern physics. No one is prouder than Suh of the former’s feature of richly explaining the universe's substance. Asian civilization is characterized by its high spirituality. In such light, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan's spiritual cultures have been demonstrating embarrassing standards lately.
The Chinese and we Koreans were convinced of "Human Nature as Principle" based on our aforementioned outlook on the universe. In essence, a human being's ultimate character is Heaven's decree (the principle operating the universe), and humanity's rightful path (道) is abiding by its nature(性). Paving the road for others to conveniently find this path is called teaching, or academics (教).The reason for literature and the arts' being, then, is as a means of edification, to assist people’s acceptance of the universe's Heavenly decree into their hearts. Viewing the West's installation or media art through our Eastern discernment will attain significance when it leads us to abide by our knowledge of humanity being one, and thus refrain from divisive self-identification, or assists us to avoid fragmentary thinking and achieve holistic perspectives.
Currently popular philosophical discourses in America are attempts to somehow reinstate Socrates. Another discourse can be found in efforts to merge Ancient Roman Stoicism with American pragmatism. Their inevitable failure, however, is attributable to a single reason. All of Western philosophy is derived from Socrates, meaning knowledge and life must become one, and Socratic ideals become possible only when one espouseskalokagathia- that beauty, goodness and truth are one- as verity, and intellectual theoria and actual ethical practice form a complete whole.
The Stoic School, tracing its lineage from Musonius Rufus to Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, too holds practice as a principle. Pragmatism is a philosophical discussion affirming the limitless diversity of humanity to the extent that no one is harmed. However, the true beauty of Socrates' or Epictetus' philosophy is in their innate idea (本有槪念). It argues that the aesthetic grains a person possesses by birth are the source of that person’s desires-versus-dislikes, and ability to distinguish between good and evil. Those spiritual grains are "original existence." This "original existence" is the universe's logos and idea. The spiritual grains brought to "original existence," and striving to reach the universe's logos through self-discipline edifying these grains, represent close similarities with the East’s Confucianism. However, today's American philosophy ignores this, and affirms all human behavior that ensures freedom. Pragmatism's core discussion, which views the world through a so-called utilitarian disposition, is so. It appears aesthetic attitudes giving free reign to all human thought and behavior while forgetting the innate idea is also a source of contemporary art's disorder.
Now an introduction of the Korean artists visiting Beijing Commune (北京公社) is due. The aesthetic realms and biographies of the seven artists here will be presented with images later. What I wish to touch on immediately is: Why the title of "Gate-opener?"
Beak Jung-ki(白丁基) is perhaps the most critically acclaimed artist since 2010. The artist is actually closer to a thinker in that he thoroughly understands and visually represents the profundity of the first sentence of Zhang Heng-qu's Correcting Ignorance (正蒙). "The Great Void (太虚) is formless. It is nonetheless the noumenon of chi, the collection and dispersal of which is like the freezing and melting of water and ice; and when one acknowledges that the Great Void is chi, there is no such thing as emptiness."The atmosphere is not Newton's empty space, but something closer to a quantum field saturated with chi. A quantum field represents a repeated overlapping of the Great Void to become matter and energy. The artist collects energy filling the atmosphere to transform into matter, and disintegrates matter to return it to energy. It is to demonstrate that the entire universe moves as a single, interconnected entity.
Lee Changwon (李昌原), too is close to being a pioneering thinker in how he reveals differences between Eastern and Western philosophies through his work. If one were to seek out the fundamental difference between Eastern and Western epistemologies, they doubtless would arrive at “dichotomy” as their answer. The famous sentence, "The sage knows of the existence of a transcendental world but remains silent" appears in Zhuangzi's "The Discussion of Making All Things Equal (齐物论)."It derives from an ancient rationalist mode of thought refusing to discuss anything external to tangible, daily reality. However, Western epistemology has understood the world as a combination of phenomena and noumena since Parmenides overwhelmed Heraclitus. Phenomena likely belongs to the visible world (可视世界) while noumena likely to the conceptualone (可思世界). The visible world here likely will then branch out into everyday objects and shadow illusions. The image of a cave Plato invoked translates to the world of shadows, and while it was used in quite a negative context, it was nonetheless likely to be humanity's first-ever meditation on images. Nietzsche referred to the inveterate skepticism toward images and the illusory world here as "aesthetic Socratic philosophy."However, the artist affirms images and illusions as a methodology allowing the revelation of truth. In fact, it should possess a more substantial aspect relative to the intangible world of faith because it is visible to the eye. The artist hardly intends to denounce Socratic thought, attempting instead to guide us to self-reflection.
Song Gee (宋智允) 's canvases consist of an ingenious overlapping between ideals and reality, and nature and the synthetic. "In the digital age of the twenty-first century, the subject versus object dichotomy in the dualist version of the world collapses. The subject transfers to projects, and the world moves toward given datum and manufactured factum."We have inherited datum from nature, and the word shares the same linguistic roots with “deity.”Transforming the deities' realm into humankind's projects is the twenty-first century's shivers-inspiringgoosebumps. Song Gee's paintings are filled with elements of beauty. However, they look shivers-invoking rather than beautiful. The history of the East's spiritual philosophy lacks any precedent of imagining something filled with artificiality itself. We must pay attention to what is most valuable to us upon witnessing Song's shudders-inducing beauty, or aesthetic triteness. The artist awakens us to our own attitudes toward the rest of the world.
Bang & Lee(方和李) is a two-person collective formed by Bang Jayoung(方慈英) and Lee Yunjun (李允凖). The project consists of three installation pieces: Livingroom, Cul-de-sac and Harry. The stuffedgoat decorated with embroidery and fringe leaving behind the flashing light Cul-de-sac onstage fills a private space named a livingroom. A few video cameras with different standards in general use around the world broadcast a vivid scene captured in real time via an old TV monitor, brand-new flatscreen monitors and larger beam projection on the wall. Watching at montages of switched image in which the features of various perspectives are super imposed over one another as if monitored by surveillance camera, that is not unfamiliar scenery unfolded before us as we are quite experienced in such "Broadcasting yourself" culture. The society is becoming increasingly entertaning, and everyone making a spectacle of him/herself and becoming a spectator occupy places to relax and spaces to contemplate. At the point where private space is blurred as there is no exit, art descending to entertainment will vanish like event creations. The event-like art productions eliminate time to think about and proper distance to appreciate a work of art. In this opened livingroom, the scape go at faced with a dead end reminds of a portrait of the artist living troubled times with no way out.
Lee Wonwoo(李源雨) represents artists of a happier generation, who were born into the Republic of Korea's period of rapid growth to fully enjoy economic prosperity and cultural advantages. Barbequin gbulgogi, a representative Korean dish, requires a grill. The efforts and process involved in cooking meat requires tremendous care. Inasmuch as such, the grill symbolizes bonds between close friends. Lee refuses to blame emotional flotsam or delusional jetsam, which are bound to wash ashore from the daily life people make together. Rather, he dissolves them in the grill. His memories regarding everyone he met from work, exchanges and various formalities become considerably filtered and ordered, and transformed into the shape of a special grill. Aesthetic sensibilities differ significantly from formulae or rules. They are synonymous with discovery. Discovering beauty in cooking equipment is profound. Simple pleasures of daily life (cooking) collide and blend with various everyday emotions (enmity, irritation and anguish) to be transfigured into an entirely new psychological mechanism. Today’s younger generation shares a common phenomenon worldwide, and it is the desire to appear "cool" to others. Lee effectively reveals in his art the prevailing state of society in which the self and the world become increasingly refined in sensorial terms, but true understanding (sociology, phenomenology, psychology and information sciences) between oneself and society continues down a path of deficiency.
Yeom Ji-hee (廉知嬉)demonstrates a very unique painterly realm. Yeom's painting world simultaneously reveals several spaces. Her several spaces represent multiple events. Also, an event doubles as someone's memory. Mutually exclusive events create mutually different psychological contexts. However, disparate incidents form a dramatic harmony, like an organism, in Yeom's paintings. Conversations between respectable gentlemen, a lady seated in an armchair, the howls of beasts and the gloomy flight of crows share little in common. Despite this, they still produce a delicate yet dramatic resonance in Yeom's paintings.
People wear various masks in life. In the same day, one may wear the mask of a father in the morning, the mask of supervisorial authority at a bank during the workday, a mask as a religious worshipper participating in community service after work and a father's mask again upon returning home. If one peels off the multi-masked substance of human consciousness, piece by piece, it will be like peeling an onion, and eventually nothing will remain. The self, therefore, represents a void.Then, unlike the past in which people wore only so many different vizards, the current era requires that we assume and change faux identities in more delicate and complicated situational contexts. We face disintegration of our consciousnesses when we slant away from the appropriate wearing and removal of them. The artist prognosticates the future of our situational role playing, which may become more brutal.
The above explanations of our artists' work suggest something to us. The Joseon dynasty accepted Confucianism as its national policy at its founding in 1392. It was 1575 when Yulgok Yi Yi dedicated The Essentials of the Studies of the Sages (圣学辑要) to King Seon-jo. Yulgok's book signifies a complete understanding of Confucianism. In other words, our ancestors were able to completely understand Confucianism in no less than 183 years. We call this Joseon Confucianism. In general, if philosophical ideas were the roots of a plant, economics and politics would constitute the plant’s stems and arts and culture the flowers. Since the founding of the Joseon dynasty, stylized copies of Chinese paintings formed the mainstream. Scholarship agrees that Joseon's own painting style began with Gyeom-jaeJeongSeon's 1711 Year of Shin-myo Book of Paintings of Mt. Geumgang in Autumn. Thus, it took 319 years since the dynasty's founding for its own original art to emerge.
In truth, Korean contemporary art has not fully understood the West. We lack a philosophy for viewing the rest of the world, let alone having our own system of aesthetics and science of the arts. We import everything from and rely on the West. The year we accepted Western culture is considered to be anywhere between 1894 (social class system and civil service examinations abolished)and 1954 (representative democracy accepted). It has been 120 years since 1894. At the same rate as above, we will enjoy our own philosophy in 2137 and our original contemporary art in the year 2273. This is extremely difficult to acknowledge and vertiginous to think about. Will China, which flaunts the world's greatest culture and history, be free from indiscreet Westernization and unconditional acceptance of and transformation vis-à-vis Western civilization? The art communities of China and Korea must recover our innate spirit and sentiments, which we had lost in the past, through patient and provident exchange with one another. The objective of organizing this exhibition is exactly this. We refer to those who discover our innate spirit and emotions as gate-openers. The seven artists summoned together here are fully entitled to recognition as gate-openers for their pursuit of our original sense of aesthetics and inquiring into the significance of the reality we live in. However, in the future this title will truthfully go to those who put the entire people, who have lived in the past, live in the present and will live in the future, before themselves.
Texts by Lee Jin-myung, curator of Kansong Art and Culture Foundation
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