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JAE HOON LEE, Zaha museum


1976, Seoul





Unmonument-Are All Doing Well? (No.1), 2007

Korean Traditional Paper, Quicklime, Oriental Color, Acrylic Color, Oriental Ink, Charcoal, 110 x 80cm

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A memorandum for stuffed images

A situation full of characters that have become stiff like stones; partially looking, various characters are clearly placed in one event, but if you look at the surrounding circumstances, there are other events that are happening at the same time. In another piece of work, characters are tangled up together like a ball to make one mass, and objects, which hardly seem to be able to bear their weight, is holding the characters up arduously. What is clear is that the characters that have stiffened like fossils are obviously telling a story through certain actions. However, interpretation is solely the viewer’s share of work.

The problem begins here. What we can do through the images unfolding in front of our eyes is to substitute situations happening in paintings onethe by one, mobilizing all the layers of experience we had learned through our society. It is a duty of finding clues of interpretation whilst observing tacit actions the characters are posing with very personal ways of thinking which was obtained through learning. Had one of the general methods revealing certain notions within society constituted by individuals be the pattern of human behavior, Jaehoon Lee is, conversely, presenting patterns of tacit behavior, inducing us to find clues of notions in them. However, our conclusion is confronted with confusing situation which is completely unpredictable. There is no correct answer in which one can say A is B, only, perception and notion acquired through experiences of the viewers just circle above the picture, merely maintaining the invisible fragile ring of connection of interpretation, which looks as if it would snap in a second. It is a disturbing situation of not being able to reach the exact notion. Had the artist embodied the cross section of consciousness within modern society by showing various icons related to each other in one complete composition of picture represented by monuments in the past, in this solo exhibition, held under the name Artificial, the artist clearly shows how learned notions and promises within society can be arbitrary and artificial, and how it controls our thoughts.

Lee had been exploring problems of collective system of value and conventionalized perception existing in modern society consistently. In his solo exhibition held under the title Unmonument in 2008, he showed works asking question on the one value that represents society in forms of monuments. The so-called monument, in general, is made to monument or commemorate a historical event that happened in the past of a generation, and to continuously deliver its meaning over to future generations. However, borrowing the function of such monuments, his thoughts lead to presenting notions existing on the hidden side of the social structure, and the various actions deriving from them in series of stereotypes. Formally, monuments have certain phrases or words engraved on them, and normally, there are figures which suit them. He painted the social values and ideologies in which the so-called “gloomy generation” live in forms of typical characters. It was done by presenting a word on the center or the surroundings of the monument, or on blindfolds covering the faces of the characters, and then filling in all the blanks without leaving any space with characters and objects related to it under typical structure of monuments. Here, the artist takes a step forward and starts to nudge the value which actions of such characters claim to stand and the hidden side of which it forms furtively. graduallyText disappear, the background revealed, and the actions of the characters begin to stand out. The form of typical monument is gone and the situation which the characters are gathered is presented in the forefront. Unlike before, the viewers can only predict roughly the situations unfolding through gestures presented in the picture. Artificial-Behavior Study II is a masterpiece, making us see with our own eyes how hard a task it is to deduct a notion through human behaviour and the fact that it is result of one-sided superficial judgement on the seeing per se. When behavior is called a series of phenomenons that reflect learned thoughts, Lee is studying how the socialized notion reveals itself in phenomenons such. The Head series, which experimented on how our thoughts combined with each other could form various narratives of meaning through combination of objects that seem irrelevant to each other, can be viewed from the same context, Viewers faced with objects thrown inside the pictures without any clues create rich stories about which character they are expressing or what situation they portraying through their own layers of experience.

The result of studying behavior of modern people in which conventionalized thoughts have been reflected on visually can also be identified in Artificial- Behavior Study I. Artificial- Behavior Study I is a film that studied conscious behaviors within society through the signifier, clothes, which the artist is introducing for the first time through this exhibition. Eliminating all the other explanatory elements, like the paintings which presented arrangements of large group of characters and artificial combination of objects, the artist, under minimal guidelines on behavior, observes how behavior, completely deriving from learned thinking of humans, are through a performer’s actions. This observation begins from ordering the performer to wear clothes then make actions that contradict it freely. The performer wears the clothes hanging on the hanger one by one, and performs motions contradicting with the role which the clothes give to the character successively. The clothes here function as the vehicle that symbolize socialized convention and promise, and the eye of others, and the various motions that is being acted wearing the clothes is a kind of a phenomenon which reveal the hidden side of society where the subject is regulated as an incomplete object due to such common ideas. What is interesting is that through the film, the viewers can also predict which pose he will make and imagine a totally different action from that of the performer. For example, an action of a person being punished for committing a crime wearing a police officer’s costume is agreeable but one can feel strange about describing an action of a pitcher wearing a bullfighter’s clothes. This is perhaps understandable as an act made by the point of resemblance in sounds the two words have as the performer was requested for an impromptu act. As the performer wears layers of clothes, one on top of another, he is given a role by force, as if bearing a heavy burden, not free from the roleimposed from society, the subject lost. As layers of clothes are put on, the skin of notion become thicker. The highlight is the performer’s choice shown at the very last scene. The performer plays a guitar, head-banging, and then suddenly stops, standing, and drastically taking off and throwing away all the clothes he had worn up to then, walks out. This behavior of the performer which not even the artist had predicted enlightens us how an individual(performer) shows physical action as a bowl containing conventionalized thoughts through clothes, how deep such thoughts are rooted down, and on the other hand, how superficial blind faith on socialized ideology can be when faced with unexpected actions.

In the past, had the artist shown conventionalized values discovered in modern society directly and after finding the archetypes of behavior related to them, presented them in monumental icons, lately, he deducts learned notions through patterns of socialized behavior, revealing the instability produced by arbitrary connection between notion and behavior, and the vulnerability and forcibleness the social promise or the convention and norm have indirectly. Deviating from showing archetypes of predictable behaviors which derive from notions by stylization, now, conversely, the viewers are positioned directly in the center of the process of deducting value and thoughts in which the various behavior-clearly this is also behavior learned through social convention-observed within society carry. The artist presents certain values elucidated in the works through texts and related images, and took the form of asking back the meaning of the works through titles. For instance, in the piece that have the message “well done“ is given ”Is Everyone Doing Well?“ as the title, and in the piece with a beautiful woman drawn on it, throws the question, ”What Are You?“ At a glance, the artist seems to be inducing value judgement on the content inside the painting from a neutral position, but in fact, they are titles that have artist’s subjective judgement and criticism that is contrary to such notions directly. However, in recent works, even such consciousness is backing off a step. Titles such as ‘Behavior Study’ or ‘Props’ is visible here and there, and this also seems to be a kind of an alternative way of distancing on the reality that is not free from conventionalized thinking. On the other hand, in the middle of this, you can see that the fresco method, which had brought the effect of making it look like old gravestones, in past works which embodied monuments, is still maintained in recent works of paintings. This works as a formative element which makes us observe the large group of characters and the still objects that show various compositions from a consistent time distance. The fresco method in his work, above all, delivers the substantiality of objects by making phenomenons of the present age into a suspended record which informs the fact that the function which began from monument forms is still valid in the masses of characters, and at the same time it is an important point which gives us a peep into contemporary introspection in the artists work.

 In this way, Lee maintains a keen insight which looks into the hidden side of reality. and also, without losing witty code of humor which only his generation can express, keeps on studying the relationship between content and form in depth, building his own language of forms. Above all, he reminds us of the fact that the form of an individual relating with society is made through tacit agreement, and sharply captures the hidden side of modern society which such agreement is inducing. Additionally, his work explores the archetype caused by common social ideas, and by taking a step forward from the method of raising it in personal critical vision, is developing into the direction which explores and observes concrete forms of social matters that make the human behavior and roles as notion-deducting phenomenons possible. What is the situation happening in front of our eyes, and what are we trying to find in it? What could it possibly be that operates such thoughts? In a society where tacit agreement for maintaining social relationship exist, a society where reasonable amount of oblivion and reasonable amount of consciousness on reality coexist, how do we think and behave? Like how I had done when I was first faced with Lee’s work 5 years ago, I ask myself in front of his work again. 

Jeongin Hwang (Independent Curator)


A Reasonable Oblivion, Artificial Choice

The works of Lee Jaehoon can be characterized by its bleakness.  In his paintings, the dry grass in an autumn fleld sways in a chilly wind. On rare occasions, there appear flowers, but the flowers prossess  neither  vitality nor gaudiness.

They are dull heavy as if they were for funerals.  What makes the world created by Lee Jaehoon depressing  and dreary is closely related to his subject matter and the method he chose to use to express the subject matter.

His fresco paintings show various role models that our society encourages its members to follow.

The figures with the labels such as “Teacher.””Student.””Hero.” and “ Beauty” are in the form of a half figure while their lower haives are being immobilized. Despite that they are beings who are deprived of the ability to move themselves as the subject, they seem to perform faithfully the roles that society requires in their given position. The handsome “Teacher” is reading a book, “Unemployed” with a magazine in the waist of his pants is standing in the wind. He is slightly crouching in a very lonely pose. “Student” is studying very hard and “Beauty” is flirting with all kinds of men. The figures in his paintings demonstrate the stereotyped behavioral patterns that this society demand of them. Furthermore, some modern catchwords such as “You can do it” and “Very good” appear while inspiring them to further efforts.

Meanwhile, these figures exist only as role models which are merely the components that are needed to operate the system of society rather than as individual human beings with dignity. The relationship between them and society reminds of Chaplin in Modern Times. In the process through which he becomes just a part to operate the system, Chaplin is obsessed with his job to tighten bolts while announcing his loss of human dignity. In the painting of Lee Jae Hoon, the role models as parts roles without revealing their own thoughts. Rather, they are performing in earnest their given roles as being blindfolded.

Even though the figures do not realize what situation they are in, Lee sets up some apparatuses to dety the stereotyped role models that society demands of its members. The artist inserts the label of “Gloomy Generation.” When collective ideologies have lost their strength, the fossilized modern value standards define role models in society, and the artist present them as in the form of “ unmonumental” monuments. “Hero” which appears with the monument on which “Gloomy Generation” is written in What are you?, does not go with image of “hero” appropriates the image of Superman: the blindfolded hero without his lower half boasts its muscles and is wearing a red cape. In order to disclose the truth about the roles that this society demands people to perform and the inhuman falsehood of the value system that formulates what roles are needed, Lee puts together contradictory images in his paings, For those who do not realize it. He is kind enough to ask a question: “what are you?”

In his dualistic works, Lee puts various blinkers in places so that one can read the various stratums of his works, He is an artist who attempts to talk about the importance of communicate appear human figures who are incapable of communicating. The stereotyped images in his paintings represent doll-like existences who faithfully perform the roles given to them in blindfold on which a word is written to tell who he or she is. Even if they were not blindfolded, they would not be exchange looks or words with neighboring figures since they are eradicating the possibility for communication by assuming an immobile pose looking towards the front.

Since the absence of communication demonstrated by these figures casts light on the lifestyle of the “Gloomy Generation” that is reluctant to associate with other people and once again like a paradox generates another paradox, This is too complicated and too difficult. But then why not? It is life.

Ki Hey-Kyung (Curator, National Museum of Modern Art)