Haven’t I Seen This Before?

9 Jul

I recently wrote some initial thoughts about viewing the same work in different places and contexts, and I cannot help but go back to this theme once again. The first time I encountered a work I had previously viewed was at Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ exhibition “Double” at the Plateau museum in comparison with his instillation at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the second instance was a double encounter with the work of 이광기 (Lee, Kwang-kee) in the exhibition “Twisted” at the Sungkok Art Museum and “Motherhood- Mother Images in Asian Art” at the Ewha Womans University Museum.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Beginning), strands of beads, 1994,
Plateau Museum, Seoul

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Beginning), strands of beads, 1994,
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

I first saw Gonzalez-Torres’ work “Untitled” (Beginning) at the contemporary wing of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston without even realizing that I was directly interacting with the artwork. “Untitled (Beginning)” consists of a curtain of green and silver beads hung over an entrance way to another space. I had thought the work was just decoration until I encountered the exact same curtain of beads at an entrance way of the Plateau Museum in Seoul. The purpose of the work is to have the beads unconsciously touch the person passing through them as it references to the beginning of the fear of touching people with AIDS during Gonzalez-Torres’ period in America while simultaneously marking the beginning of an exhibition. In reference Miwon Kwon’s statement in One Place AfterAnother: Notes on Site Specificity, both works are installed in the same manner at an open entrance-way so that visitors in both the U.S. and Korea can have similar encounters with the work which allows it to be “deployed in another [site] without losing its impact”. But because the “Untitled” (Beginning) is a part of Gonzalez-Torres’ first exhibition in Asia, this work, and the exhibition as a whole, is able to “[find] new meaning and [gain] critical sharpness through re-contextualizations” (Kwon, One Place). In many countries and cultures in Asia it is still taboo to talk about and identify oneself as a homosexual. But the fact that Seoul has so enthusiastically embraced the work of Gonzalez-Torres, whose work references his own homosexuality, puts the country and the city at the forefront of modernization/modern thinking in Asia. Gonzalez-Torres’ collection of work establishes “issues as the ‘site’ of [the] work” gives it the ability to adapt to different areas of exhibition while also commentating the the different cultural society and context in which the work  is being displayed (Kwon, One Place).

Lee Kwang Kee, 내가 니를 어찌 키웠는데 (How did I Raise You), neon lights, 2011, Songkok Art Museum, photo by Sujung Chang

Lee Kwang Kee, 나는 엄마에게 속았어요 (You Fooled me, Mom!), neon lights, 2011, Songkok Art Museum, photo by Sujung Chang

Lee Kwang Kee, 내가 니를 어찌 키웠는데 (How did I Raise You) and 나는 엄마에게 속았어요 (You Fooled me, Mom!), neon lights, 2011, Ewha Womans University Museum

 

Another instance where I saw the same work in different contexts was when viewing 내가 니를 어찌 키웠는데 (How Did I Raise You) and 나는 엄마에게 속았어요 (You Fooled me, Mom!) by 이관기 (Lee, Kwang-Kee). Unlike Gonzalez-Torres’ exhibition, one gains insight about the work not specifically through contrasting social contexts but through the exhibition themes which present the viewpoints of different groups of people in the same society. When part of the exhibition “Twisted” at the Songkok Art Museum, one which creatively brings together  Lee’s fluorescent-light phrases in the context of growing up, the phrases are meant to be viewed in relation to adolescence when a child/teenager goes through a rebellious period. Therefore the viewer sees the pieces as the result of a rebellious conflict. However, when displayed at the exhibition “Motherhood-Mother Images in Asian Art” at Ewha Womans Universtiy Museum, Lee’s works are automatically placed in a site where the viewer will see the work from the mother’s loving perspective of having to raise her children. One site emphasizes conflict while the other emphasizes persistent work towards a resolution. This can also be seen in the ways Lee’s work is curated differently in both places. At Songkok, 내가 니를 어찌 키웠는데 (How Did I Raise You) and 나는 엄마에게 속았어요 (You Fooled me, Mom!) are placed separately (the first at the entrance of the “adolescence” room and the second at the stairwell of the passage leading to the “children” room) to emphasize the passage of a person through childhood/adolescence to their young adulthood. At Ewha, the works are placed right next to each other to highlight the role of the mother as both the originator and receptor of these sayings. One aspect that does not change is the specificity of the mother-child relationship to Korean culture. The different themes under which the work is displayed requires the viewer’s “critical acuity regarding the ideological conditions of that viewing” (Kwon, One Place).

*Note that the translations of the titles of Lee’s work are slightly different than those in a previous post about the artist’s work. The translation that I have used is the one referenced by Ewha Womans University Museum of Art.

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