Introduction - Modern Times 2008
A story of industry, of individual enterprise - humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness.
- from the motion picture “Modern Times” (1936)
These days papers and TV news shows talk about the recent global recession everyday, which was triggered by the collapse of Subprime-mortgage loan at the turn of the year 2007-2008. Yesterday this bank decided to receive government support, today that investment company declared bankrupt, et cetera et cetera. Some people claim that this is the worst crisis since the Great Depression in 1929.
Inspired by the hardship and suffering of people in the aftermath of the crisis, an American movie director/actor Charles Chaplin created the quasi-silent movie titled “Modern Times” in 1936. In this basically comedy film full of masterly funny actions of the famous mustached “Tramp” played by himself, Chaplin tried to reveal a number of problems that derived from the social system which put emphasis on economy and efficiency - from, in one word, capitalism. Now, some 70 years on, the problems Chaplin illustrated in the movie are still there; as powerful and as troublesome, and ever threatening to grind the raw human conditions. As it seems we are on the verge of unwanted - and perhaps worsened - repeat of the history, it might not be meaningless to show, at this time, an exhibition which aims to deal with the similar issue as the famous movie classic.
Featuring work of Max Neumann (German), Cui Xiuwen, Zhang Dongliang (both Chinese), Tamiko Watanabe (Japanese) and Choi Nari (Korean), “Modern Times 2008” will provide a platform on which we can re-examine the base condition of all human lives in the present times, and to put a new light on humanity through works of art from different corners of the world. A mixture of various social and humanistic issues - gender, sexuality, discrimination, alienation, solitude, survival and so on - will be presented in this multi-national exhibition. Named after the Chaplin masterpiece, this exhibition do not claim to emulate the great American filmmaker’s effort of declaring the importance of humanity and of awakening individual conscience and endeavor; but the exhibited artworks will surely, though maybe in detoured ways, bring forth the hope of “humanity crusading” in this difficult time.
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Max Neumann (1949- ) is one of the most prominent painters Germany has produced after the World War II. Like his compatriots and contemporaries Markus Lupertz and Georg Baselitz, his work always feature gloomy and mysterious human figure, who, in most cases, shows no expression. It is not easy to “read” his painting because of this apparent lack of emotions; however, the viewer of his painting comes to realize a deep-running mixed feeling of agony, anxiety and fear, which is rooted with the very existence of human beings. Through his work Neumann shows us how separated and solitary the human beings are. This will be the first time that the works of Neumann are exhibited in Korea.
“Angel” of Cui Xiuwen (1970- ), which will be shown at this exhibition, is a series of photographic works which features a young girl, dressed in white and pregnant. This controversial artist from Haerbin tries to highlight the precarious position of women in a society where they are still regarded as “le deuxieme sexe” (the second sex). Despite her unmistakably feminist standing, her work offers more than the gender issues; beauty of the young girl, her swollen belly, her unhappy face indicating an unwanted pregnancy; all these alludes to, in a broader sense, the difficulty of life of all human beings on earth.
Zhang Dongliang (1970- ), like other Chinese painters of his age, paints human figures with masterly depictive techniques, but he does not wield his techniques to surprise people with exaggerated expressions or outrageous colors, or to loudly indict the society for its problems; instead, Zhang tries to engrave his own experience of suffering and struggle onto his paintings, in a very quiet and reflective manner. In his series “What Are You Looking for?” appears a man or a woman who seems to have lost something and looks for it so eagerly but so comically that the viewer might initially smile at the scene. However, eventually the viewer would identify with the person in the painting, and would inevitably begin to contemplate the “search” of his/her own.
Tamiko Watanabe (1982- ) presents a project titled “Bodysuit for Assimilation,” with photographs and video work. The artist herself wears a suit made with hundreds of small steel plates, shaped like fish scales or flower petals. Each plate is polished up until it becomes like a small piece of mirror; thus, dressed in the bodysuit, the scene or the landscape around her can be seen reflected on her whole body (theoretically at least), erasing off her existence at all, making her invisible and dissolving her into the setting perfectly (theoretically, again). However, in reality, wherever she walks she clearly stands out from the scene and the crowd. Flavored with humor and absurdity, Watanabe’s work succeeds in pointing to the subtle borderline between integration and alienation both physical and psychological. For this exhibition she photographed several new works in Seoul.
Still a graduate school student at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, Choi Nari (1983- ) is a young painter who works in en-vogue “Pop” style. The characters in her painting, painted in bright colors and with manga-inspired bold contours, are assigned with roles to play to illustrate the artist’s interest in human relationships, especially the one between man and woman. Despite her age, Choi is not quite romantic about the subject; she deals with it quite coolly, with a cynic’s eyes, and brings home the irony of expected manliness and womanliness, especially in Korean society where you can still sense the air of male-domination based upon Confucian traditions.