Loss of Memories, and Restoring Counter-Memories

Juri Cho(Independent Curator)


Looking back on Jaeyeon Chung’s past works and her speech habits, there are no right answers, or at times, there are multiple right answers, or the answers may even change with the changes in the tone of the questions being asked. In other words, it is like the uneven order and current state of the world is being reflected with an air of nonchalance. Chung is mainly interested in complementary sets surrounding a categorical world, weak grounds that support seemingly concrete things, and unseen links that connect the great past to contemporary microhistory. Therefore, this exhibition the Lost Corner, showcase memories that mentally structures and reorganizes the “sites” that once physically existed. The story, and landscape that unfold in this show are in line with the paradoxical world where no clear cut answer exists.

In Chung’s earlier works (2009-2014) she administers artistic involvement in public spaces to gently question the sense of place and method of consumption that have been implemented within certain social circles without question, implement certain conditions, and to induce reactions and interpretations. She regularly frees herself from the galleries or residence studios, to actively seek out public areas where her audience can directly be confronted by her work. As a situationist, she creates a narrative of the effects and failures of communication that she sought to experiment with.

From 2016, she moves away from observing and intervening in preexisting sites, to opt for summoning memories that are buried in unconsciousness and experiences. Past thoughts she lost, and memories of places that she buried in the past mind palace, are recovered, and retraced. If one is to follow Chung’s work for the past two to three years, there are slight but clear changes in her attitude, and selection in media. In her 2017 work Retrace, she restores the now demolished Japanese General Government Building of the colonial era in the form of print work. To Chung, this building is not the symbol of the harrowing past, but a piece of beautiful architecture with its gothic refinement, and resplendent interior that feels comfortable and warm. However, to the people of Korea, it is the hallmark of the vestiges of disgraceful history, and was taken apart with the launch of the civilian government. The façade and complex of colonialism that stood through 70 years of names that changed along with the changes in its usage and value, remains as a site of old, only existing in the form of photographs, records, and videos of its demolition.

The now gone National Museum of Korea is a Lost Corner of sorts to the artist, an area that has disappeared. Of course, physical destruction, or non-existence does not directly translate to psychological loss. This state of loss encompasses the ineffable involuntary intents, and obscure processes. The place that is etched in the artist’s memory as a child, and the scenery that is implanted deep in the artist’s ego are incorporated into collective memory. Therefore the word loss sums up well, the state of being erased and repressed by the self.

However, facing history with a sense of political rightness, and personal taste and speculative memories don’t necessarily only and always exist in conflict. Rather, they are of different dimensions and at times can be contradictory. The sentiments and bond one may have for a certain place, or topophilia, is extremely subjective, and can therefore, exist as counter-memories that betray consensual memories. The memory storage is shut at the skirmish line where widely accepted context, and the extraordinary personal perception of a site are in discord. However the artist’s efforts to rebuild the memory palace, and reclaim the repressed anti-memories are witnessed in the exhibition space. Rather than depicting the neo-classical grandeur, and the decorative elements in detail with seemingly borderline colonial-nostalgia, Chung chooses indirect expression through distorted landscapes consisting of image fragments of the building, traced in etchings; projections; and audio-visual narratives that are out of sync; and serious yet oddly comical bodily movements. As such, the process of reclaiming the memories, and subtle hints are spread and laid down in the labyrinth.

What Chung aims to achieve through memory performance is not simply to reenact the past memories that have fleeted from individuals, or to bring to light, thoughts that were kept in the dark. Repetitive print making, video featuring the artist as the performer, and sound that is out of sync with the video all convey in their own way, the middle ground between paradox and contradiction that are still unresolved, or experienced by the artist. Clear cut hypotheses and themes, methodology, and conclusion reached with inductive means do not exist. Surely the artist is continuously modifying her coordinates atop binomial structures such as the “self” that is thought as the self by the self, and the socio-cultural self; the internal and external ego; the individual and collective; political rightness and personal attraction; the building up and breaking down placeness.

Once Jaeyeon Chung’s artistic experiments and actions are interpreted as attempts to dust off and recover the moments of unintentional oblivion and dissociation, and retrace the ambiguous and uncomfortable sentiments that were dismissed, then one can finally appreciate that the Lost Corner does not simply signify architecture that is lost along with secluded places with the passing of time.