A talk shop fun and weird Jul 16 2013
Artists, parents forge a 'hesitant dialogue' through art

Gu Min-ja’s “General Assembly” is a part of the artist’s collaboration with her parents. / Courtesy of Artsonje Center

Contemporary art seems increasingly to reflect the social and political realities of our times. Still, the daily lives of the artists who produce these works continue to remain an enigma to the rest of the world — including even their parents.

“Our Hesitant Dialogue,” a new exhibition at Artsonje Center in Seoul, is a delightful project that pairs artists with their parents and requires them to collaborate in producing new art.

The project forced the parents to understand what their children were trying to convey through their works, which were often too convoluted for them to comprehend.

As for the artists? Well, can there be a more difficult working environment — whether you’re a painter facing an empty canvas or an office drone behind a monitor — than when every little thing has to go through mom and dad?

The end product seems to be worth their troubles. Four artists and their parents, including curator Lee Sung-hui, participated in “Our Hesitant Dialogue,” which managed to be humorous, experimental and poignant all at once.

Lee’s proposal of the concept, announced last year, won the Artsonje Open Call, a contest for determining special exhibitions. The judges were looking for potential to “break the meta-narratives and mobilize art as another way of communicating in everyday life.” That’s quite a fancy sentence, but fortunately, the actual works shown at the exhibition were as striking as they were straightforward.

Park Hyung-ji’s “Wedding Cake,” left, and her mother Yoo Chang-hee’s “Untitled” show how they interpreted the same object in different ways.

Gu Min-ja, 36, and her parents Gu Jae-yu and Yang Hui-jung focused on the tight but often awkward relationship between artists and their parents. Many artists depend on their parents financially for long stretches before they become a recognized name. Their parents have vague admiration for their children’s art, but are concerned and saddened by the economic hardship they face.

During the process, Gu’s parents came up with the idea of establishing the “Gu & Yang Art Foundation” to support young artists, or namely their children. But the foundation is not so much an organization as a metaphorical concept to spark debate on finding better ways to support young artists and give them a shot at financial independence.

Gu’s father Jae-yu said, “I am glad that my daughter loves art and that she is an artist. At first, I could not understand what she was trying to say with her works, so I went to each of her exhibitions. Now I have a slight acquaintance with art. Pursuing art is a life-long process and I think I have to support Min-ja through that process, so we came up with this idea of establishing a foundation.”

Some of the works Gu and her parents presented at Artsonje were made from photos from what they called the foundation’s “inaugural meeting.” This includes a piece titled “Symmetric Exercises,” which summarizes how they describe their relationship.

Painter Park Hyung-ji gave a larger role to her mother, Yoo Chang-hee, an enthusiastic amateur painter, who she listed as an equal collaborator to their works displayed at Artsonje.

Park said she and her mother had been each other’s worst critics. Park didn’t consider Yoo’s works seriously and Yoo found Park’s paintings as abstruse.

In participating in “Our Hesitant Dialogue,” Park and Yoo made stronger attempts to communicate and bring out the best in each other. Park challenged her mother to paint artificially illuminated objects and urban nightscapes, while Yoo wanted her daughter to paint countryside scenery similar to her childhood neighborhood.

Lee So-young attempted to capture the essence of her family in video and installation works. She asked different questions to her parents every morning, not face-to-face, but by leaving notes with queries such as “what is your dream?” or “what was the loneliest moment in your life?” on their dining table. The parents answered in handwriting and the material provided what Lee needed for the exhibition, where she reflects on her personal life within the context of the family.

Curator Lee organized her own father Lee Jung-gil’s calligraphy, which he has compiled for some 20 years, under the title, “Youth Grow Old with Ease; but Achieve Studies with Difficulty.”

“I was scared of bringing in amateur calligraphy to a contemporary art exhibit, but I wanted to give a new look at my father’s hobby,” Lee said.

“This exhibit is meaningful to me because I shared time with my father while preparing for it.”

Gu believed that participating in “Our Hesitant Dialogues” could prove to be a turning point in her artistic career.

“I tried to explain my works to my parents and we talked a lot about what art is in preparing for the Gu & Yang Foundation. I faced difficulties in explaining what art is, but this was an interesting practice,” Gu said.

The exhibit runs through Aug. 18. Admission is 5,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for students, combined with Chung Hee-sung’s photo exhibition “Inadequate Metaphors” held at the same venue. For more information, visit artsonje.org or call (02) 733-8945.

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