A Look at the City – Disquieting Truths

By Kim Mi-jin, Exhibition Director of Seoul Arts Center Hangaram Art Museum & Associate Professor of Hongik University Graduate School


This exhibition aims to shed light on both the interior and exterior scenes of a city that we face in our daily lives through works of two artists, Kim Hong-shik and JaeWook Lee. They both work using different mediums, but address the same subject. After making film stickers with disaster scenes from news found in cyberspace, JaeWook Lee cuts them out and puts them up real windows, finally taking photographs of the resulting day and night scenes. The stickers are put up and photographed, but soon removed from the window and again compiled with a new set of photographs. Lee contrasts popular news images made of thin, transparent stickers with the unified, coercive, yet convenient and beautiful view of the cityscape.

In contrast, Kim Hong-shik prints common street scenes, signs, and monumental buildings on stainless steel plates in an achromatic gray tone. Stainless steel, a medium symbolic of the present age, and fleeting, lighthearted scenes reflect the senselessness of cotemporary people’s everyday life. Kim makes these photographic films on stainless steel using a method of photo etching and completes the work by grinding or through silk-screening.
The two artists have something in common in that they both work with digital photographs of cities or daily living spaces that they have experienced in person and appropriated. With the commencement of human civilization, cities have been constructed and have played a crucial role in bringing about social values and power structures. The city produces the myriad of the aspects of our lives such as labor, commodities, the masses, transportation, medicine, and architecture, offering us hope, delightfulness, sumptuousness, and convenience, and on the other hand, alienation, unfairness, ostentation, barbarity, and violence. In today’s digital era, a modern city incessantly produces, circulates, and consumes new symbols and signs. Within luxurious downtown areas, new slums are created and the city outwardly expands to create other urban spaces like the so-called ‘new towns’ or ‘new cities.’
The film Metropolis, produced in 1927, addressed the confrontation between the elite and the working class and their contrasting work and living spaces, making a bold prediction about the future. The mass media today produces a huge amount of information about violence, crime, and traffic accidents each and every moment, making us believe that our cities are no longer safe. Kim Hong-shik expresses the various aspects of a city with his technique using lenticular lenses. The spaces he presents are quite sensual with their flamboyant colors and dueling images. Prohibition signs in the city scenes convey the paradox that something that can be so pervasive in our daily life can also be banned or illegal.
JaeWook Lee intends to represent materially abundant and happy daily life with sumptuous icons and star-like images over the background of the beautiful light of the Han River. The motive of each image, however, is appropriated from disaster scenes from digitalized cyberspace. We embrace daily disaster news and scenes as part of our everyday life, often considering them as trivial. Lee’s Beautiful seems like disposable, lighthearted, and pleasant, but also carries a subversive message. This seductive fantasy was created at the cost of the devastation of nature, inner self, and spirit. Lee builds up both real and imaginary spaces with these images of disasters and accidents. Like matter and the soul, the relationship between the beauty of a city and its natural disasters seen through his work urges the viewers to take a closer look at our daily lives.
Deconstructed images appear as dead birds and flowers which are not flying freely but look like gloomy plastic lumps. Networking the combination and deconstruction of space and time, Lee expects them to be communicable like freely flying birds. Through this exhibition, Kim Hong-shik and JaeWook Lee depict the city surrounding them by experimenting with new mediums and watch disquieting truths of our time with the acute eyes.

Jaewook LeeComment