[The Neighborhood Artists] sound party
Yangpyeong_Keunbyung Yook’s Studio
Keunbyung Yook’s Eyes to See the World
Artist Keunbyung Yook has been an icon of the media artists as a global player since the late 1980’s when he was in his 30’s. He participated in 1989 Sao Paulo Biennial, 1995 Lyon Biennial and 1992 Kassel Documenta to introduce the Korean modern art globally. Especially he was the first Korean artist who participated in Kassel Documenta which holds every five years in Germany, which was the birth of ‘the next Namjune Paik’. We can guess the achievement and the status of artist Keunbyung Yook from the fact that the Korean artists have not participated for 20 years after Namjune Paik and it was the year 2012 that three Korean artists came to participate. It has been long since the Korean arts became a contemporary of the world arts and the Korean arts accomplished a remarkable results but artist Keunbyung Yook who has participated in exhibitions in all parts of the world stands out more at this point. I am sure that he must be an ‘idol’ who represented the Korean arts at that time.
The icon of artist Keunbyung Yook is ‘eyes’. His first artwork the world pays attentions to was the video installation piece of eye image. It was a work to establish a video monitor on a hill of earth and look at the world through the monitor. This work which looked as if someone in a grave sees the world or a grave itself as an object stares at the world would frighten the audience. The boundary between life and death, the boundary between audience the video looks at like a ghost and the work tells us the work is not an object to enjoy but to communicate and experience - in the other way, it was the interactive work to reflect ourselves. The artist shows the new world he sees through the ‘eye’ and makes the audience face the eye. First introduced at the Lyon Biennale, <The Sound of Landscape+eye for Field Survival is History 1945- 1995 “time in the time”> is the video work which unfolded historic events in a documentary way and an eye on the top of the screen looked down at them. The video clips on war and the law of the jungle collected from all around the world before digitalization was telling ‘Survival is history’. Different from Namjun Paik, a world-famous media artist and other artists who did experiments of various forms of art, artist Keunbyung Yook made a story and delivered a message through the story, and moreover could establish a way of multilateral communication between an artist and a work, between audience and a work and between audience and an artist through a special form, a media. And the contents were international, unnecessary to explain and translate because they could be interpreted universally based on language or situation from all countries of the world.
The artist held a private exhibition at Ilmin Art of Museum in 2012, which has been a long time in Korea and opened his studio participating at G-Open Studio, ‘The Neighborhood Artist’ by Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation. His studio where he has already lived for 11 years is located at the foot of a mountain in Yongcheon-ri Yangpyeong-gun Gyeonggi-do and included in the Seolmaejae Natural Recreation Forest. He has rarely been working in Korea since his individual exhibition in 1999, and so many people think that the artist broke his long-term silence and resumed his career. But the artist has continued his work and nurtured the next generation as a professor at colleges in Korea and in Japan. His studio has an old saying ‘A hair in nine head of cattle’, which becomes, the artist explained, a motif in his work. ‘A hair in nine head of cattle’ means he is not telling a special and big history but concerned with individuals’ history of life which is small and not special but meaningful. And this is the driving force of his career. That is to say, his art is not a special and meta discourse but is based on interest in life of ordinary people and love of human beings.
The artist who focuses on nature, time and history showed his new works with previous ones. The new works were video clips and pictures of nature we saw in Yangpyeong studio. To take a picture of nature, he visited the same place several times, examined and waited for the right time. And he expressed the times when he visited the place and the times when he looked at the place with a text in one screen. The artist who waits for the right time, even for a landscape experience, and accumulates multi-time series to go with his works, seems to embody the objects in himself. This is the similar process with painters’ one to embody in themselves the object of which they draw the picture, which is different from just visiting and taking pictures or videos. ‘Nature and the world changes constantly all the time.’ So the artist who finds different things in spite of visiting the same place explores and observes an object until he makes ‘this is it’ decision from within. In his open studio, he continued such a story on his own art world. I wondered why the UN Headquarter Project – which started from 1999 and would resume according to some news articles in 2013 - stopped and how the project will turn out. The artist answered the project which launched 1999 entirely stopped due to the September 11 attacks in 2011. But it is said that he is trying to resume this project. The poster of the UN project in his studio is covered with eyes that are his icon by mapping the outside walls of the UN conference hall with video projection. He was trying to implement the projection way of so called ‘Media-Facade’ in a large scale in 1999. High-brightness projectors were extremely expensive at that time and it was hard to find a precedent of such a big project. Considering media-façade has reved up in Korea since the year of 2010, he was ten years or more ahead of his time. We can expect he will continue to take steps towards finishing this amazing project.
In his open studio the artist talked with visitors and explained his works and his perspective on the arts. And as he introduced his working process and stories with his acquaintances, he sang a song of ‘Morning Dew’ – arranged by him - while playing the guitar. As they saw his interviews through the large screen in his studio and it drew towards night. As the first generation of a media artist, he had various media and computer equipment, and VHS tapes. And he showed briefly how to make a sound using synthesizer and MIDI. The artist who is almost fifty is still making an experiment of new media with an attitude of an ‘early adopter’.
Many people wondered about the status of artist Keunbyung Yook after 1999. And from 2012, he was trying to be reborn as a notable artist in the world. He was already continuing to work in the world including Japan but is going to resume in Korea as the Korean art world has been changing. His individual exhibition will be held at Art Sonje Center in 2018 and he will participate in the exhibition of an art museum which will open in Sichuan, China in early 2016 as a guest artist. In addition, an individual exhibition in Berlin is planned. Still he is an artist who gets attention from abroad, not Korea but taking this opportunity, he opened his studio and let people know he is still going strong.
I am many years his junior and he was a master who I meet and study in the book. His works which include a stare through television and a particularity of media in the context fascinated a lot of audiences as well as me. Making a plan of his open studio, I had a rare opportunity to listen to his idea on fostering artists, which makes me feel worthwhile and unsatisfied at the same time.
As I know, there has been no Korean artist recognized early in the world. He is the only media artist who started a career in Korean and attracted attention of the world while Namjun Paik started his career in Germany and continued in the U.S. It is a little odd that he did not receive as much attention from Korea as from the world, but he continues his works with the whole world as his stage. Especially a large scale of the UN project, which will be revealed after a long-time preparation, will serve as a momentum which the global art world pays attention to artist Keunbyung Yook once again. The ‘eye’ of the artist who pays attention to not a big history but a history of individual subjects composed of a big history and thinks of the role of arts and artists is making eye contact with the world. Obviously it is interesting and exciting to follow his eyes.
Written by Junho Seo (Director, Space O’NewWall)
Copyright(c)2002 GGC All rights reserved.
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