LASS UNS IN UNBEKANNTSCHAFT BLEIBEN
LET'S STAY IN UNKNOWN
SEP 24 - NOV 4, 2022
SAMSTAG 24 SEPTEMBER 11 h - 18 h
24. - 25. SEPTEMBER 2022
SA 11 - 18 UHR / SO 11 - 18 UHR
Let's Stay In Unknown, 2010 / 2011 — installation
Towels, Thread, Metal
Total size 3 m x 5 m / variable
Each 5 m x 2 m / 4 m x 2 m
The installation "Let's stay in Unknown" consists of towels collected for a long time by my Korean acquaintances and friends living in Germany. Different advertising slogans can be seen on each towel.
I can't say anything more specific about the strange story of Korean towel advertising culture, but it exhibits a singular ritual of everyday life. For the purpose of commerce or anniversary celebrations, these towels are given away with advertising slogans printed on them. The 350 towels collected are from different years of production, for example: one was given for a first birthday, others for sixtieth and seventieth anniversaries; but also for elections, restaurant openings or other various events between 1980 and 2011. On the old and pale fabrics, the slogans are rather difficult to read. Actually, everyone wants these towels without the kitschy and banal blue advertising slogans or anniversary dates as a gift, but has to put this wish to rest as soon as possible. In everyday use, no one thinks any more about the content of the advertising or the power of memory through advertising slogans. In this case, advertising functions as a vehicle to dry oneself from head to toe after the daily washing.
I took different sets of each towel and sewed them together in the size 5 m x 2 m. This proportion is related to the traditional towel shape. The superimposed and juxtaposed advertising slogans produce the idea of an individual and social networked acquaintanceship. The phrase in blue script at the centre of the installation, "Let Stay In Unknown", so to speak, ironically works against this manipulative kind of networking through advertising.
In the 21st-century South Korea, a house conveys a special property. The expression ‘getting one’s own house’ is used in many subscription deposit and loan services. Buying a house is recognized as the final mission of an adult next to marriage and giving birth to children. In such a society, a house is a commodity with a complex nature.
The most significant and important property of house is that it is an asset. As Haecheon Park observed in Concrete Utopia (2011), an apartment unit is a major index for analyzing the flow of current assets and an object of desire for middle class citizens while being a representative type of residence in Korea. For Koreans, a house is a significant measure of one’s life that can also be converted into economic value. It is also a symbol of one’s social class.
The house in Wonho Lee’s work functions as a device for the viewers to confirm the intensified desire toward the possession of a house while imitating the notion of a house as an asset for average middle class citizens or those who want to become middle class citizens. In a project Bu. Dong, San(Real Estate)(2014), Lee collaborated with a real estate agent that had arranged him a house in the redevelopment area in which he was living. The photographs in the exhibition are detailed images of buildings that are out in the market. The viewers are invited to enjoy the photos of the buildings and the map of the area as works of art. Then, they experience the images once again as they are introduced to the realistic conditions of buying the properties through the performance of the real estate agent. While the performer explains the size, price, and the potential of redevelopment of the buildings, the viewers are dispossessed of the images of the buildings as art and return to the members of the Korean society who crave the possession of a house.
Lee’s new work for the current exhibition, Floating Real Estate 浮不動産(2015), takes a look into the fundamental property of a house through the subject of the house of homeless. The artist visits major areas in Seoul where homeless people tend to congregate, such as the Seoul Station, the Namdaemun underground passage, and Yeongdeungpo. He then meets homeless people who build their temporary shelters with cardboard boxes, asking about the price. He buys them and installs them in the exhibition space. What is important in this project is the very process of homeless people converting their house into money by calculating the size of land they occupy and putting the value to it. The possession of a house and its value are usually considered as the share of the middle class. However, homeless people also crave a house while they live without it. In Floating Real Estate, Lee acquires cardboard houses made by homeless people that live a way of life denied the legal possession of a house in the capitalist society. He then gives an economic value to the houses. This process is an imitation of a real estate investment technique. Nevertheless, the process of valuing the cardboard houses where homeless people evaluate their home is differentiated from the ordinary assessment of a house in the capitalist society. For homeless people, the temporary shelters made of cardboard boxes are connected to the essential values of the house, such as privacy, safety, and insulation at the least. The values they put on their space are instinctive and essential. They are deprived of the value of ‘surplus,’ which is the value that is added to the house as a commodity in the capitalist society. Through this process that reveals the desire implicit in the house, Lee discloses the naked face of the house and indicates its social position.
text by Sooyon Lee
Assistant Curator, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea
Brigitte March International Contemporary Art Stuttgart