A Mirage as Artist

Leeji Hong (Curator, Seoul Museum of Art)


Jaeyeon Chung recalls the memory of the former National Museum of Korea, which was housed in the old Japanese General Government Building during the colonial era. She wants to reenact her memory of the building, which she remembers for its beautiful modern architecture. Chung’s memory is of the building renovated by Chun Doo-Hwan’s administration, which transformed the former colonial administration building into the national museum. In 1995, the building was demolished by the government to commemorate the 50th anniversary of liberation. In her reflections, Chung remembers the sense of aesthetics she had during her childhood, which made her focus entirely on the beauty of the building regardless of the implications of its history. This is how Chung reestablishes the linear temporality connecting her past and current self, as well as her self-inscribed aesthetics and tastes.

After long years of studying abroad and participating in residency programs, Jaeyeon Chung finds herself more familiar with the art history and philosophy of the West than that of the East. She possesses a future-oriented mind, and advocates moving forward to pursue contemporaneity and suppress the past. However, Chung came to reconsider her understanding of contemporaneity in the wake of the huge political scandal that recently struck Korea. Facing the fact that Korean society is not founded on clearly established, Chung realized the importance of a connection to the past—that tracing a line back to one’s past self can be the start of looking directly at oneself.

As a studio resident at Florence Trust, London, Chung searched for new methodologies to familiarize herself with her new space and circumstances. Chung’s 7 Days 24 Hours 7/24 (2011-12) is the result of making cement blocks every day, as if part of a daily practice. From a similar impetus, Chung decided to use the printing press found at her new studio to make prints about the afterimage of the former National Museum of Korea. Looking at Chung’s past works, it is evident that she has always experimented with new art practices. Retrace (2017), too, shows the artist’s attempt to push herself into repetitive physical “labor”, following a certain discipline in order to adapt to a new environment. This exemplifies Chung’s process of acquiring new skills that were once totally foreign to her.

How Jaeyeon Chung thinks of herself as an artist is revealed through how she has persistently learned new printing techniques, positioning herself as an amateur. After more than 10 years of living as an artist, Chung says that she is rediscovering things about herself—who she really is, what her sense of aesthetics is like, what she enjoys—through periods of self-doubt and self-analysis. Thinking that her predilection for the former National Museum of Korea reflected her taste and artistic aesthetic, Chung recalls the memory, molds the shape, and makes overlapping drawings to rebuild layers of the memory. She chose the technique of printmaking to reveal her development from an amateur to a skilled person through a repetitive learning process, as well as to depict the accumulation of time. The title of the work, Retrace (2017), implies that it is about tracing an image, as well as tracing the past.

Chung’s journey to trace her own past takes concrete shape through a list of books she checked out of her school library. The books she checked out from the years 2001 to 2016 act as fragmentary evidence of her tastes and identity. The list includes a fair number of books on the humanities, history, and architecture and reveals the artist’s leaning toward Western art history and Western philosophy in her early 20’s. Reading it enables viewers to gain a deeper understanding of Chung’s works. As much as artists pursue anonymity, they also form their identities as artists by fully exposing themselves. Therefore Chung’s process of objectifying herself to find the origin of her identity is important, and fascinating to observe.

As discussed, Jaeyeon Chung’s methodologies derive from her own self-exploration—which is in line with her work in this exhibition, which began with recognizing the aesthetics and tastes of the artist herself. For Chung, the aesthetic values inherent to art relate to the accumulation of her past, as well as a continuous self-manifestation to prove the ungraspable existence of the self—the self as a mirage.