“Korea’s contemporary art scene is very diverse and has great potential,” says Minjung Kim, art curator and artist. “Some may expect to see the artworks in a specific context or narrative due to Korea’s unique history or geographical location in Asia. However, contemporary Korean artists cannot be defined in a single sentence as they deal with many different subjects.”
Sojung Jun is a pioneer who has been actively involved in shaping the discourse of contemporary Korean art since the 1990s, right up to the most current, addressing pressing issues and innovative technologies. Her recent exhibitions and projects include a screening at the Leeum Museum of Art, a solo show at Atelier Hermès, and the CIRCA project 2021, in which Jun became the first Korean artist to show her work simultaneously in Seoul, Tokyo, and London.
Using the language of video and writing, artist Jun is interested in creating a non-linear space-time to awaken a new awareness of history and the present, or how the shifts in physical boundaries permeate daily sensory experiences. Using the medium of video, “she tries to bring surreal plots like time travel, wormholes, and teleportation into the real world,” Kim suggests.
In particular, Jun has created works that weave and intersect with her personal experiences, paying attention to people who stand on the frontier amid the ruins of modernity and invisible voices.
Her influences include tightrope walkers, divers and machine embroidery designers. “With them I questioned the gap between ideal and reality, the speed and dizziness caused by the time difference between past and present; all these questions mixed with my ambivalence and curiosity to have both feet on the ground as an artist.
“I am interested in border spaces – the things that happen at borders and their ambiguity. I see these things as essential to the hidden aspects of our world,” says Jun. “I use my passion to rewrite stories, time, and landscapes of individuals left behind by the speed of the city. My early work pays much more attention to individuals and their stories. I believe in the power of small and specific stories to create change.”
She has taken interviews, historical materials and narratives from classical texts and conducted experiments that intersect personal, psychological and aesthetic factors.
Based on the early poem “Au Magasin de Nouveautes” by Yi Sang, a representative avant-garde of modern Korea in the early 20th century, the video work Despair to be Reborn (2020) attempts to disrupt reality by intersecting different spatial temporalities: contemporary and modern Korea.
“Despair to be Reborn” is based on the poem “Architecture Infinite Cube” (1932) by the Korean poet and architect Yi Sang, who was active during the Japanese colonial era in the 1930s. The works look at the present in the context of the time difference of almost 100 years,” explains Jun.
“In the original poem, the poet observes the then newly opened department store in Seoul—Mitsukoshi Department Store—and foresees the dawn of modern capitalism in Seoul. Using this poem as a prism in my work, I envisioned the pace before Seoul, the times when agency was absent, and finally the escape from it all or the acceleration that encompasses energies.
With this symbol of “imitation modern” in mind, the poem explores modern Seoul in its transformation into a capitalist space, the crowd striding through the city, and the ambivalent reality evoked by modern civilization’s confusing codes and multi-perspectivity.
The video is a non-linear montage of footage the artist filmed in Seoul, Paris and Tokyo and appropriated excerpts from television documentaries and films. The perspective-free camera angles, the mechanical body movements of the parkour performer gliding through Seoul and Paris compressing the cities’ spaces and time, and the concerto of harp and gayageum increasing the tension, together maximize different bodily sensations.
The installation structure that unfolds around the video functions as a kind of labyrinth, a modern passage, an airplane runway or a display case in a department store. A viewer can watch the video and view the sculptures while strolling through the architectural structure as if viewing the products on display in a shopping mall. Each piece exists independently and awakens different senses of the body; on the other hand, an intimate relationship between them can also be assumed.
Sonjung Jun also created The Organ series, which consists of several stone sculptures. “I thought of the paradoxically beautiful and bizarre structures throughout Seoul as scattered organs. They are like a belief that endures; the Gutpan – the Korean exorcism – for example, still takes place on Mount Inwang, surrounded by skyscrapers in the middle of Seoul. The paradoxes of modernity and pre-modernity, rationality and irrationality, systematics and improvisation still prevail.”
Bringing out an imitation-driven modernity in a Japanese-style department store that mimics a French one, Sojung Jun’s video work, sculpture and installation evoke ways of escaping the modern world; The works renew the awareness of reality and history.
The artist wants viewers of her work to reflect on the “references that oscillate between past and future, landscapes and people that are left out of historical narratives, and the senses of people living in the present. All of these references flow into my work.”