Jean Gallery Subverts Taboos at Playful Breast-themed Exhibition in Seoul

By Annie Chung

Be Silly, Be Honest (슴가 展: Be Silly, Be Honest) exhibition at Jean Galley, in Seoul, South Korea.

Be Silly, Be Honest (슴가 展: Be Silly, Be Honest) exhibition at Jean Galley, in Seoul, South Korea.

Jean Gallery, one of South Korea’s oldest and most established first generation galleries, broke taboos in the most irreverent way possible with Be Silly, Be Honest, a bold and playful breast-themed exhibition that was on view March 14th to April 16th.

The exhibition showcased works by KITSCHS, a collective comprised of six young South Korean artists who are known for their quirky and decisively low brow approach to art. Members include Dopamine.C, Lee Changho, elly’s, FORI, Yang Eunbin, and Hwang Taewon. The artists work in diverse mediums, but speak the visual language of their generation — the language of cartoons and animation — and employ that symbology extensively in the exhibition.

Curated by gallery director, Shin Min, Be Silly, Be Honest took a lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek approach to a taboo subject and was conceived out of a desire to de-stigmatize, de-sexualize, and re-beautify women’s breasts. The exhibition theme and the collective’s visual language were well-matched, as the artists’ works are subversive in their silliness. From a giant inflatable breast in the courtyard to robots sporting Jean Paul Gaultier's iconic cone bra, artists used the agency of humor and childlike nuances to disarm a taboo and induce a healthier dialogue around breasts.

KITCHS' breast installation at Jean Gallery

KITCHS' breast installation at Jean Gallery

With almost sixty works in two buildings, the ambitious exhibition was well-organized and managed to display diversity in perspectives within a cohesive visual framework. From the cheeky use of slang in the exhibition title (“Seumga” is a quasi-anagram of the Korean word for breast) to the choice of hot pink walls and bubblegum pop, no stone was left unturned in the gallery’s commitment to the artists and the exhibition’s creative vision.

In particular, special consideration was given to details that would create a truly immersive, interactive, and enjoyable viewer experience. Instead of entering a contemplative white-cube gallery, viewers were transported into a (very pink) no-holds-bar world where they could enjoy light-hearted fun as they interacted with over-the-top works. This was a magical world where visitors could try on cartoon breasts, admire whimsical paintings, and relax on a sofa adorned with kitschy breast pillows. In this feel-good world, guests could literally have their cake and feel good too, as their purchases benefited a breast cancer surgery fund.

Interior of KITCHS' Be Silly, Be Honest exhibition at Jean Gallery. 

Interior of KITCHS' Be Silly, Be Honest exhibition at Jean Gallery. 

Interior of Be Silly, Be Honest exhibition at Jean Gallery with elly's, You Can Have Boobs, 2017 

Interior of Be Silly, Be Honest exhibition at Jean Gallery with elly's, You Can Have Boobs, 2017 

Breast-shaped mochi rice cakes and cupcakes bake sale to benefit breast cancer surgery fund. 

Breast-shaped mochi rice cakes and cupcakes bake sale to benefit breast cancer surgery fund. 

For all their cuteness and quirky humor, the works should not be taken at face value, as their unreality “softens” negative perceptions about women’s breasts. This, in turn, creates a relaxed environment where viewers can engage the topic in a way that is not possible in reality. Indeed, many of the whimsical works address difficult social realities. For instance, in the painting YASSIN (2017), Dopamine.C explores the fine line between happiness and sexual addiction by depicting the mind of an addict. In this colorful brainscape, Dopamine.C paints a portrait of a comical monster that, as the artist explains, “only comes out at night.” Its frenzied expression and symbolic bra and blazing torch seem to suggest that the character has lost all self control.

Dopamine.C, YASSIN, 2017 (Photo courtesy of the artist) 

Dopamine.C, YASSIN, 2017 (Photo courtesy of the artist) 

In Outside, Inside (2017), elly’s juxtaposes two halves of a woman’s torso that she fashioned out of dazzling sequins and exquisite embroidery work. The left canvas depicts the beauty of a woman’s breasts and form, while the right version depicts internal anatomy with textbook accuracy and precision. Both versions are stunning in their brilliance and technical skill, but the inner version re-humanizes breasts by serving as a reminder that breasts are only one part of a living being. Ultimately, though, the viewer is left to choose what to see.

elly's, Outside, Inside, (외면, 내면) 2017

elly's, Outside, Inside, (외면, 내면) 2017

In Annie the Robot (2017), Hwang Taewon takes a cynical view on human nature and suggests that people exploit advances in technology to discover new ways of abusing others. In the series, the artists paints a world where robots think and feel like humans — and even fall in love with them. Unfortunately, the life-like quality of these robots makes them vulnerable to abuse, as people use them as objects for sexual gratification. Annie, the robot, is a victim of this experience and bears her pain on her expressionless face.

Hwang Taewon, Annie the Robot (2017) sporting Jean Paul Gaultier's iconic cone bra. 

Hwang Taewon, Annie the Robot (2017) sporting Jean Paul Gaultier's iconic cone bra. 

Be Silly, Be Honest was irreverent, loads of fun, and meaningful in its efforts to address taboos and in its support of emerging artists in South Korea. It was refreshing in its bold approach to unpacking the stigma surrounding an uncomfortable subject — and did so in the most surprising way. Jean Gallery also merits special recognition for its dedication to supporting talented young artists, as the exhibition was a bit of a departure from the gallery’s history of exhibiting blue-chip artists, such as Warhol and Yayoi Kusama. The collaboration was both a popular and critical success, and it will be interesting to see what creative directions Jean Gallery and the KITSCHS collective will take in future exhibitions.

 

Additional photos:

Exterior shot of Jean Gallery. Bra in signature Yayoi Kusama print references the gallery's longstanding history with the Japanese artist. 

Exterior shot of Jean Gallery. Bra in signature Yayoi Kusama print references the gallery's longstanding history with the Japanese artist. 

In Godiva #1, Lee Changho creates a hologram of a nude anime female that holds variations of coy poses that change as the viewer moves around the work. The title takes on the name of a luxury chocolate brand, which implies consumption and indulgence. Lee's work highlights the personal responsibility viewers have in consuming another's body for gratification, as viewers can disengage instead of trying to see the various poses. 

In Godiva #1, Lee Changho creates a hologram of a nude anime female that holds variations of coy poses that change as the viewer moves around the work. The title takes on the name of a luxury chocolate brand, which implies consumption and indulgence. Lee's work highlights the personal responsibility viewers have in consuming another's body for gratification, as viewers can disengage instead of trying to see the various poses. 

KITCHS art toy wall at Jean Gallery

KITCHS art toy wall at Jean Gallery

Yang Eunbin, Attack of the Lips (습성: 입슬인의 습격), 2017

Yang Eunbin, Attack of the Lips (습성: 입슬인의 습격), 2017

Yang Eunbin, Contemplation of Eggs that Could Not Hatch (부화하지 못한 달걀의 사색), 2017, kinetic sculpture

Yang Eunbin, Contemplation of Eggs that Could Not Hatch (부화하지 못한 달걀의 사색), 2017, kinetic sculpture

FORI, Black Dog, 2017. In his JUNK BIT series, FORI critiques society’s excess consumption and wastefulness by repurposing discarded electronic waste and refastening them into robot creations.

FORI, Black Dog, 2017. In his JUNK BIT series, FORI critiques society’s excess consumption and wastefulness by repurposing discarded electronic waste and refastening them into robot creations.

FORI, Junk Square, 2017. Make from recycled electronic waste. 

FORI, Junk Square, 2017. Make from recycled electronic waste. 

FORI, 2017,. Variations of breasts made from recycled electronic waste.

FORI, 2017,. Variations of breasts made from recycled electronic waste.

Lee Changho, How to Cook Healthy Food, 2017

Lee Changho, How to Cook Healthy Food, 2017

Lee Changho, Signing, 2017

Lee Changho, Signing, 2017

Lee Changho's graphic skateboards, 2016

Lee Changho's graphic skateboards, 2016

Lee Changho, Art Toy, 2017

Lee Changho, Art Toy, 2017

elly's, Pixel Boob, 2017

elly's, Pixel Boob, 2017

From left to right: Dopamine.C's Dopamine Beer (2015), Life of Dopamine 1 (2016), Like of Dopamine 2 (2017)

From left to right: Dopamine.C's Dopamine Beer (2015), Life of Dopamine 1 (2016), Like of Dopamine 2 (2017)

Dopamine.C, Boobs of Dopamine (2017) with Dopamine Art Toy (2017). 

Dopamine.C, Boobs of Dopamine (2017) with Dopamine Art Toy (2017). 

Hwang Taewon, Annie the Robot series (2017), mixed media sculpture

Hwang Taewon, Annie the Robot series (2017), mixed media sculpture

Hwang Taewon, Book in the Pond, 2017., mixed media installation. 

Hwang Taewon, Book in the Pond, 2017., mixed media installation. 

MUSICIAN PROFILE: Party Fears

Maggie Devlin's solo project, Party Fears, is exactly as great as you expect it to be. She is a bad ass singer, guitarist, and activist. If you told me Maggie sprung from her mother's head fully grown and wearing armor- I wouldn't be surprised. 

Party Fears is a solo project- tell us a little about who you will play with at Malaise.

I play with a gang of top-notch musicians and good people who were supporting me long before Party Fears. Premium imports, I like to think. Mike (bass) and Alberto (keys) from my previous bands, BaekMa and New Blue Death respectively; Brad (drums) engineered/produced both bands' albums; I know Tyler from when he dated Baekma's singer, Steph. He was always a big support to us, and he gives a lot of his time to Party Fears; he's on lead guitar. And Angela has been amazing at providing backing vocals/her former cheerleader's brand of energetic, warm support.
 

Do you actually have party fears? If so, have they changed over the years?

Yeah, completely. I get anxious about meeting big groups, especially new people. Then after I'm home I'll do the usual autopsy: did I use that big word I read last week correctly? Did I call Thomas 'Tom' and he hated it? Was my skirt riding up my backside? Did I vomit before or after So-and-So left? (that's an early years Party Fear). Am I normal? Am I liked? Am I passable? I think a lot of people share the same anxiety though, right? I don't think that's so unique. The name, Party Fears comes from a song by The Associates. Those lyrics are pretty spot on; so I know at least their singer Billy Mackenzie felt the same. 'My manners are failing me, I'm left feeling ugly'. I mean, that's just so perfect. 

Have they changed over the years? Probably. I was always really conscious of not fitting in at university parties; a lot of posh parties. I always felt a bit of an impostor. Then at home too, when I went back to the council estate, or went out in town; I felt a bit of a traitor. Long time ago, of course, and largely gone now; but I think those kinds of confusions stick around somewhere inside ourselves.

Then there's the other kind of party fear. David Cameron! The Tories!

Your former project Baekma was involved in feminist activism. Do you identify as an activits?

I would like to, but I don’t. I’m too much a coward, I think. I’m like an entry-level seditionist intern; fetching the coffee for the person who fetches the coffee for the activist. I admire people who do speak up though. I would very much like to be more like them: your Billy Braggs and Mark Thomases. Your Audre Lordeses. I wonder if that kind of fearlessness can be learned? One hopes.

What comes first words or music?

Always music. In fact, a lot of BaekMa and New Blue Death songs never moved beyond the original scratch lyrics. Lyrics intimidate me. It's easier for me to be abstract or broad, than to sing about my own feelings or experiences. Also, I don’t know if I have very much to say, or am at all interesting. It's something I want to change with Party Fears; write from some inner me I haven't been able to articulate yet. It's all kind of been a charade until now. I'm not sure I'm even up to the task, to be honest.

Has your approach to song writing changed now that you are working on a solo project?

Yeah. It's had to change. It's a lonelier process, absolutely. I've had to experiment by myself a lot. I make maybe 4 or 5 versions of each song before sending my favourite demo to the band, then I add to band demos after we’ve all met. There are a lot of mistakes! It's mostly positive though, or at least it will be in the end. It's forcing me to learn a lot, very quickly. I do a lot of the groundwork in my undies; a prerequisite of going to a practice room in public is putting on clothes. You don't have to wear clothes in a solo endeavour; not at the writing stage. And there are endless cups of tea. Also farting with abandon.

What part of the song making process is the most fun?

I like the first burst of inspiration. It usually happens when I'm walking home, just before I wake up or fall asleep, or in the shower. That's exciting, because there's so much potential, you know? None of the pressure to be good has arrived yet. Then the moment, much later in the process, when everything comes together. It's like hearing the song anew for the first time. It's really exciting, because it's not just me anymore; it's the whole band making this thing that both is real and is nothing at the same time. 5/6 people in a room do their thing, and pop: a song leaps into existence. That's really fun.

You are more gifted with vulnerability than a lot of people- how did you get there- have you always been skilled at articulating your inner world (does your music articulate your inner world?)?

Really? I have no idea. I do have problems working out very simple equations of right or wrong, maybe that's why I broadcast those kinds of signals; the vulnerability? I mean, my inner compass is faulty. Even for small or inane things. I make bets with myself for rewards. An example: "Should I buy a sandwich?" "Okay, if a bus passes me before I reach the bakery, I'll buy a sandwich". I sound like a nutter! But it’s true. Choices are hard. My friends will know this; I'll often consult them on decisions I should really be able to make by myself. So I don't know if it's as much a skill as a disorder; this compulsion to mine for other people's thoughts or beliefs. I mean, I've always created; writing or acting or music, so it's probably all part of the same quest to find answers I can't provide by myself.

 

For more Party Fears, check out their website and read On Doubt at period.ink RIGHT NOW! 

 

-Amy

 

ARTIST PROFILE: 최지우

최지우 is a painter who uses her medium as if she were cutting into clay with sharp knives. The rawness of her strokes and her sedated sense of color lead to a sense of helplessness on the sense of her viewer and decimation in the subjects of her paintings.

'couples' 2013 oil on paper

'couples' 2013 oil on paper

최근에 landscape을 그리고 싶었다고 하셨는데, 계기가 뭔가요?

풍경화가 갖는 reputation 자체에 최근 다시 매료되었다고 할 수 있을 것 같습니다. 요즘 누가 " 전 풍경화 그려요" 라고 했을 때 눈길이나 줄까요. 하지만 제 생각에는 멈춰있는 평면의 이미지 안에 세계를담을 수 있고 그것으로 충분히 존재 할 가치가 있다는 것입니다. 무엇보다 제 작업들을 봤을 때 사람들은 항상 레이블을 달고 싶어합니다. 이것은 현대미술인가요? 어떤 미술인가요? 라는 질문들을 하는데그 중 제일 적합 한 것이 풍경화 아닐까 하는 생각에서 출발한 것입니다..

Golden Ticket에 뒤에 글들은 누가 쓴건가요? 

즉각적으로 만나는 사람들에게서 얻어낸 글들입니다. 길가에 우두커니 서서 기도를 하던 사람. 아르바이트에 늦어 커피를 원샷 하던 친구. 등에게서 복권추첨 느낌으로 "너에게 골든티켓을 주겠다. 어딜가겠느냐" 하고 물어 받아낸 답변들 이었습니다. Golden Ticket 으로 사람들은 제가 일시적으로 만든공간에 있게 됩니다. 이곳은 제가 헤프닝 작업을 했던 것으로 비행기 내부를 구현해서 정해진 시간 안에 사람들이 머무르게 됩니다. 목적지도 출발지도 아닌 ‘중간’에 있을 때에 대해 공부한 작업입니다.

보통 작품들을 하실때 어디서 영감을 받으시나요?
특히 “Hospital”, ‘How It Works’, “Poetry About House”, “Where Are We”, ‘I sure made myself fucking comfortable’, “껍데기” 에 대해 알고싶네요. 

제가 작업을 할 때는 굉장히 개인적인 이야기나 기억 속의 이미지에서 시작되지만 그것을 구현해 내는 과정에서는 다른 매체의 것들을 가져와 사용합니다. 예를 들어 Hospital 이나 Where are we 같은 작업은 우연히 신도시 건설 예상 모델하우스를 구경하다가 거기서 걸려있던 사진들을 조각조각 이어 붙여 페인팅으로 작업했습니다. 중요한 것은 건설현장 이나 모델하우스 사진이 제 작업의 영감이 되진않았다는 것입니다. 그저 그것들은 제가 갖고 있는 이야기, 이미지 들을 trigger 한 도구였습니다. 제가담고 있는 이야기들을 표현하기에 가장 적절한 것은 건설적이고 구조적인 이미지들이기에 그런 공간들에서 영감을 많이 받습니다.

Hospital 은 개인적인 경험에서 나온 작업들입니다. 어린시절 부터 정신병원을 방문자(병문)로서 자주가곤 했습니다. 그곳에 가면 항상 환자를 병문안 할 수 있는 방이 있는데 따듯하고 가정적인 것을 억지로 꾸민 것이 누가 봐도 굉장히 조잡하고 위조적인 분위기가 났습니다. 기다리다 보면 환자가 오는데그곳에서는 만날 수 있는 시간이 제한 되어있습니다. 그 환자는 저를 보고 대화하는데 하던 얘기는 계속 여기서 나를 꺼내달라는 것이었습니다. 그때 그녀는 저에게 병원에서는 입밖에 낼 수 없는 것들을말했습니다. 왜냐하면 그녀의 감정이나 불편한 것들을 병원에서 말하거나 거부하면 더욱 미친사람으로 취급할 것 이였기 때문입니다. 이것이 제 방문의 패턴이었고 몇 년을 반복한 후 제가 성인이 된 후에는 더 이상 하지 않았습니다. 나중에 반복되는 꿈에 저는 시달렸는데 그것은 제가 직접 환자가 된 꿈이었습니다. 환자를 방문할 때 저는 환자가 지내는 곳을 절대 볼 수 없게 되어있었습니다. 그래서 환자에게 들은 이야기를 바탕으로 이미지가 형성 되어있었을 뿐이었는데 그것이 꿈에 그대로 드러난 것 입니다. 꿈에서는 굉장히 구조적이고 배열적인 병원의 모습이 인상적으로 나왔는데, 그 중 두개의 시설이두드러지게 인상에 남아 작업하게 됐습니다. 끊임없이 이어진 하얀 침대가 있는 방과 용액이 가득 채워진 욕조가 있는 방으로 각각 침대와 욕조에는 무언가가 있었습니다. 그것들은 사람이라기 보단 어떤덩어리들 이었으며 정해진 스케쥴에 따라 잠시 와서 이름표들과 기계를 잠깐 쳐다보고 나가는 관리자들이 있었습니다. 꿈이 너무 강렬해서 작업으로 옮기며 계속 지녔던 질문이 있었습니다. 제 주변에 있던 덩어리들에 대한 질문입니다. 침대와 욕조 안 들어있던 것 들에 대한. People are treated in a certain way and that raised a following question. “Are they still human being in this condition?”, The reason of ‘being’. 이 질문은 제 작업들의 근간이 되었고 하나로 묶이는 중심 이야기 입니다.

'untitled' 2012 watercolor on paper

'untitled' 2012 watercolor on paper

나아가 다른 작업인 Where Are We에는 서로 다른 시간대에 존재하는 두 개의 보트가 있습니다. 끝이안보이는 바다 한가운데 보트 위에는 구조자 들이 무언가를 구하기 위해 있습니다. 하지만 그곳에는구해져야 할 것이 존재하지 않습니다. 그럼에도 반복되는 구조는 그 무엇을 위한 것도 아닙니다. 그들은 그저 반복의 관성만 지키고 있으며 목적은 없는 상태로 말입니다. 그들은 강렬하게 믿고 있습니다자신들이 무언가를 하고 있다는 것을. 그러나 그곳엔 아무것도 없습니다. 그들은 빈 껍데기를 따라가고 있는 상태로 존재를 소진하고 있는 상태인 것 입니다.

포장지로만 만든 의자작업인 ‘껍데기’ 또한 이를 시각적으로 나타낸 작업입니다

제가 작업하는 집들은 ‘남겨진 집’들에 관한 것들입니다.

페인팅할때의 지우씨의 약간 흐리고 흐르는듯한 스타일이 있는데 이건 언제부터 이렇게 그리게 됐나요?

테크니컬한 부분과 흐린(?)듯한 분위기는 항상 제가 어렸을 때부터 갖고 있는 identity 입니다.


ARTIST PROFILE: Jenny Robinson

We've been scheming to get Jenny Robinson into a show since 쪽 in 2014.

Jenny creates landscapes with ceramic clay, hanji paper, powdered copper, acrylic paint, and, I assume, magic.

We were very lucky to have her Journey Series in Archaioposterus and Archaioposterii: The Ides and are extremely excited to show some of her recent work in Malaise.

Untitled, mixed media on canvas, 91 x 115 cm, 2015

Untitled, mixed media on canvas, 91 x 115 cm, 2015

Microcosom, oil, clay, and foam board on canvas, 60 x 45cm, 2015

Microcosom, oil, clay, and foam board on canvas, 60 x 45cm, 2015

"그림에 지리적인 풍경이 새보듯이 조감도 시각으로 보이고 이주하는 거위새가 가끔 등장한다. 이런 철새처럼 저도 두 집에 왔다갔다 한것같다. 어렸을때부터 매년 여름 에가족과 미국 한국을 왔다갔다. 작품의 큰 영향은 비행기 창문 밖에 보이는 조감도 시각 풍경과 비행기안에 있는 길을 알려준 모니터와 공산송학 지형도이다. 지구를 그런 시각을 몰때 풍격이 이상하고 신비한 세상으로 변한다. 작품안에 이 느낌을 만들 수 있게 특이한 감축을 만드는 소재를 사용했다. 사막 같이 가라지는 말른 도예흙, 빤작거리는 부리근말, 섬세함 한지와 아크릴 등등 을 사용했다. 또 그림안에 걸망한 감동을 담았다. 머리 속에 상상하는 집이었다. 어머니는 원래 한국사람이고 아버지가 미국 백인이라서, 미국 한국이 둘다 고향이라고 생각했지만, 두 문화와 생각과 느낌을 합치고 완전 소속감을 느끼는 고향을 원한다. 왔다갔다 살면서 두 나라에 정체성이 따로 있는것같아서 한 정체성을 키울수있는 고향을 갈망해서, 그림에 그런 고향이나 그런 고향을 찾는 탐구를 표현한다. 이 작품 의미는 소속감을 느끼는 집을 찾는 탐구다." -Artist Statement
Odyssey I - VII, clay, charcoal, gesso, foam core on panel, 30 x 30 cm (each), 2015

Odyssey I - VII, clay, charcoal, gesso, foam core on panel, 30 x 30 cm (each), 2015

You are currently in an MFA painting program at Ewha Women's University- has this changed the way you approach making art?

The major and best change enrolling in an MFA has brought to my process, is how it has changed my environment. Working alongside other peers in an MFA studio has been especially beneficial, not only because I have easy access to critique and feedback on my work, but because of the energy in the room when you are making art with other artists. We have built our own small community that supports each other and our work, and that type of environment feeds creativity, and a great working environment

 

How do you create such dense textures? What is your process? Do you plan everything in advance or leave things to chance?

My process in the works I put together in the Malaise exhibition go through a process that starts off as improvisational. The the thick, dense textures are created by a layer of clay slip applied on the canvas,and as the clay dries it cracks naturally depending of the thickness of the application. The cracked composition is then my starting point, and the foundation of my painting, and from then on I work with that foundation. I enjoy the improvisational part of that process, because it allows me to relinquish some control in how the piece is made. Much of my other work is done in a highly technical and crafted way where the mark making is tightly controlled, but this work loosens me up and challenges me to work outside my usually strengths and style. Clay as a material is create to use when depicting landscapes, because it is an earthy medium. It feels appropriate to create abstracted images of the earth using dirt and clay, that also behaves and shifts like the earth and landscape changes

Images property of Jenny Robinson.

For more Jenny go to her website and come to Malaise