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WON SeoungWon

WON SeoungWon, The Museum of Photography, Seoul


1972, Goyang





The Character Islands, 2013

C-print, 148 x 195cm

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Assembling Fragments of Space-Time to Find a Cure

In 'dynamic' Korea, everything changes so rapidly that nothing can be properly perceived and remembered before it is gone already. This perhaps explains why the images in Won Seoung Won's 1978, My Age of Seven (2010) and her other works evoke such great feelings of nostalgia.  It is obvious that Won recently collected the images from all over the country, but they are reminiscent of the scenery and atmosphere of the 70s, when the artist was a child. The collage of dwellings and living environments required a great deal of time and effort by Won, and they are disappearing at this very moment. The atmosphere she creates is nearly a world away in time and space. The past and present become an archive, revived as cells in the scene of an unknown place and breathe. Won's works are a montage of discontinuous fragments of space-time, and they are so vivid and fresh that they could easily be taken for a real landscape today. She collected all the disparate images in her works with collectomania's enthusiasm from all over the country, and they seem entirely appropriate in their proper places in her landscape, filled with symbols of the yearning and hope, the dreams and adventures, and the pains and frustrations of her childhood.  The more intense the meaning of a symbol, the greater the density of images of her landscape composition. Tacit things such as narrow alleys, shabby houses, a tiny vegetable garden, and a poor neighborhood shown in her virtually produced spectacle exude strong feelings for humanity.
Distant scenery and times past put travelers on the journey of life at ease. However, even if the gap in space-time can be bridged, a childhood incident cannot be forgotten. This childhood incident, which Won cannot forget, is everywhere like a wound. What coiled up in each and every scene are empty holes and cracks demanding to be filled and cleared through endless deciphering and interpretation. Although the accident that deeply traumatized the artist actually happened on a certain day of a certain month of a certain year, the truth is of a more fundamental dimension. According to psychology, trauma starts with experience of birth. The event of meeting one's mother after being perfectly protected within her womb itself becomes a source of successive sufferings with a storm of excitement beyond capacity and all traumas one inexorably experiences in life afterwards. The traumatic moment Won focuses on occurred  when she was seven years old. She had to be separated from her mother, who had been a part of her, in order to enter the symbolic structure of society. It was then that little Won Seoungwon was left alone as her mother, a daughter-in-law of a head family, entered the workforce.
Won says that her memory of the year when she became seven years old is especially strong.  She recalls earlier and later times much more vaguely, but remembers events from that one year in the most trivial detail. These events left strong marks on her body and soul, and her works have been her means of healing and reconciliation with her past. Her work involves difficult processes repeated over and over again, through which Won communicates with others, be that other people or her higher self. In Won's works, the most private is the most universal. Her early work My Life (1999), which is related with her recent works, was produced out of desperation to review everything she owned one by one in her 2x4 meter room when she underwent the crisis of having to discontinue her studies in Germany. My Life (1999), an installation consisting of 628 photos of everything she had in her room and related memos, pushed Won, an artist who had studied sculpture in Korea, to switch from large conceptual works to smaller but inner-reaching works. After My Life (1999), she did works exploring cause-and-effect between space and the individual.
The Dream Room (2000-2004) series was produced like a photo shoot of a dream?a dream of people’s desires in modern society who all live in a small, box-like places. A room of Won's friends changes into a space where their desires are projected: the small room transforms into a big room. It also emphasizes that space is an extension of the human body and that the soul resides in the body. Dream Room is a space where an individual’s psychological issues or illnesses are healed. The Tomorrow (2008) series includes virtual landscapes comprised of incidents that actually occurred and the main characters involved in them. To switch to drawing and photography from sculpture and installation was to shift from a macroscopic dimension to a microscopic dimension in terms of contents and form. Increasing the density and intensity of a work will cause concreteness and uniqueness to come into confluence with universality and generality. Despite the fact that Won uses digital language characterized by unlimited copying and speed, the creation of her work is extremely labor-intensive, much more analogue-like than even analogue itself. She can produce only ten pieces in two years.
The scenes mingled with facts and illusions are impossible to separate and may be painted.  However, Won intends to use index characteristics of photography to guarantee reality and truth in her work, though drawing is as important as photography. Her drawings are often exhibited along with her photographs for this reason. She makes countless alterations to her photography, but she does her drawings at once and reveals the process of bloody conflict between consciousness and unconsciousness very vividly. Her drawings are more straightforward than her photographs connected with metaphor and metonymy. When drawing, her mind and hands are connected directly and do not make many corrections. Her work on dragons, which combined all the dragons that appeared in her dreams when she was preparing to hold a solo show, and works that depict the helping hands of family members whether they were close to her or not strongly reveal dreams and unconsciousness, and reality of memory. Photography starts with an intention, while drawing provides an opportunity to trace back the intention. Whatever the case, the end result is not yet decided. Her scrupulous work aspires to wholeness, but this wholeness is open to countless possibilities.
The long journey to find things and scenes in reality begins when an idea sketch is done. Then, the hundreds of scenes collected by the camera during the journey are assembled as an exquisite collage. Like the 'found objet' of surrealists, there must be moments when thing are found that embody the artist's intention and desire, with numerous coincidences and inevitabilities having been crossed. It is in the gaps of space and time that otherworldly things are created with such great effort, and though they are otherworldly, they were born from reality. It is not easy for Won to find necessary things amid such indifference in society where everyone goes about his or her own business without a care about anything else, even though she started with a purpose and scenario. Fortunately, she only tries to find things that are ordinary, not novel. Daily life is structured into a new event. Elements of incidents in the past and facts in the present are combined and manipulated to produce new incidents in the past that are not fixed immovably.  Causal relationships or chronological time and successive space are fragmented and reedited as images of uncertain creation. Incidents which cast shadows on Won's work are such episodes in reality and at the same time psychological incidents. And, meaning and location of the present, which are moved out of context for reprocessing, also vary. The past and the present are open to the future. As such, the next scenes are not determined like rolling dice.
Although there is a skein of thread here and there to trace the way through a maze on a little girl's journey to find lost things, her destination is as uncertain as her starting point. Like a garden in Borges's novel in which forked roads frequently appear, it is possible to make simultaneous selections rather than choosing one road or the other. The road is structured into context every time, reinterpreted and rewritten, and moves towards the future in a different way each time.  Even a single incident that cannot be forgotten unfolds into a pluralist universe in which the single incident can be replayed in many different variations. Symbols within space-time which is structured into a new context, do not mount clear answers that should be deciphered, but serve as momentum for questions to be raised successively. Riding on tortuous ranges of life confronted like a rootstock, her story branches endlessly towards an unknown direction. This is a dimension of art, which is unlike science or history. This flexibility and variability of art differs from a strategy to find a solution through accurate reproduction. Despite all the efforts Won has made, her fundamental incident and wound are not solved or cured, because fear of injury is the other side of desire that should not be fulfilled after all. Only seeming reality where the past and the present come together, which cannot be defined as either reality or fiction, shows itself. Won maximizes the possibility of choice and discovers freedom in it by finding potential in reality, dividing the potential into endless fragments, and reassembling them. 

Seon-yeong LEE (Art Critic)