Choi Xooang — The Blind for the Blind
The Blind for the Blind
Past: March 6 → May 10, 2014
In 2007, Xooang Choi held a solo exhibition titled The Vegetative State. Choi has continuously explored ordinary people and the social milieus in which they live. His interest centers around how social systems — as they become both accelerated and urban centers expand — become more standardized in order to manage and control people more effectively. Most people have no choice but to adapt to these changes, and some — without their knowledge — are brought to a standstill (become helpless), a condition Choi has termed The Vegetative State. The sculptures in his embody this “state”, drooping almost lifelessly and appearing resigned, as if they are suppressed by a great force. In 2009, Choi presented two works The Wings (2009) and The Hero (2009), both of which reveal his interest in the issue of “microfascism”. The French philosopher Felix Guattari’s analysis of capitalism and fascism noted that figures of authority in a capitalist society try to control the population by making their values internalized by the masses. That is to say, what the society desires is induced, and the masses in turn follow the desired actions voluntarily. Even though it may appear that those following authority desire something forced upon them by an outside entity, the desires may in fact be their own.
The military regime that governed Korea during the 1960-70s emphasized the value of the collective over the worth of a single individual under the guise of growing the industry and economy. The people of this generation followed the direction established by the authority figures and regarded themselves the protagonists and heroes of Korean society’s progress. However, as time passed, this historic era has been (re)assessed, raising the question of whether its generation was in fact heroic or if they had been manipulated by the ruling party. The Heroes and The Wings specifically address these longstanding issues. In the works mentioned above, Xooang Choi began examining the relationship between the collective and the individual, exploring issues of generation, ideology, and history. In later works, Choi focused on observing the relationships between different social groups rather than trying to classify an individual within the collective. Following the insight of French postmodernists like Guattari and Michel Foucault, Choi developed his own insight into how collectives disregards certain characteristics of an individual in an attempt to integrate them a single unified stream. In this context of fascism, whatever does not fit in the mainstream is deemed abnormal. It was this tension that prompted Choi to develop two distinct bodies of work, the Islets of Aspergers (2009) and Speaker (2011) and Listener (2011).
First, Choi took interest in social minorities. In his series Islets of Aspergers, he focused on people who have Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome is characterized by individuals who have difficulty integrating into mainstream society and lack basic social communication despite normal linguistic and cognitive development. Those displaying this syndrome may also be sensitive to sensory stimuli such as sound, light, smell, and taste, and they have a tendency to become intensely focused on idiosyncratic subjects, sometimes displaying an outstanding gift in a specific subject. Given the broad definition of Aspergers, Choi asks the question: is it possible that certain individuals are described as outside the norm and suffering from psychological conditions based solely on their behaving outside the norm? Anybody can become immersed in a certain subject, and there may be a difference in intensity and focus, but this is the kind of distinction which separates certain individuals further from social norms and not the basis for medical condition.
Second, Choi has explored the issue of perspective, focusing on the two roles of Speaker and Listener. Exhibited as a pair, his sculptures show a male figure (Speaker) with his hand raised, suggesting that he is saying something, while the female figure (Listener) sits passively and listens to the speaker. The artist has depicted the hand and the mouth of the male figure and the ears of the female figure clearly, while the rest of the body was sculpted to appear blurry. In addition, the figures are clothed, an unusual feature in Choi’s work. At first glance, the Speaker on the higher pedestal seems to dominate the Listener who occupies a lower pedestal. One would assume that the former holds the power. However, this is not the only viable interpretation of the work. While the female Listener sits comfortably wearing loose track pants, the male Speaker stands in a precarious position, wearing a tight pair of jeans. Moreover, most viewers would consider the clearly defined areas of the body more important, but the rest of the body rendered indistinctly reveals that the listener appears more composed and relaxed than the speaker. As such, power can easily shift depending on the point of view — a point that informs Choi’s critique; that social minorities are created from similarly arbitrary viewpoints.
Recently, Xooang Choi’s work has begun to explore explicitly “ordinary” subjects. Although themes of society, collective and cultural structures are important, it is always made up of individual “humans”. Choi sculptures frame the importance of these individual traits examining self-awareness and the inner conflicts of ordinary people, focusing in particular on the ways these elements manifest in the subjects’ physical stature. By presenting two bodies at the same time, the artist visualizes the subtle psychology and attitudes of individuals through the dichotomies of the subject and object, active and passive, dominant and submissive, exposed and hidden, variable and constant. Comprised of two female figures, the work Reflection (2012) addresses “self-awareness”. The work presents a woman looking in the mirror and the shape of her body reflected in the mirror. One figure is rendered clearly but the other remains indistinct. It is easy to look at the pair and say that the clearly defined form is the actual model and the blurry form is the mirrored image, yet the opposite is true. The viewer can recognize this by looking at the tattoos on her arm, ankle, and waist. The model may have seen a reversed image of herself in the mirror many times, but she has probably has never seen herself reversed three-dimensionally. A mirror shows our reflection as an exact copy but nevertheless still a reversed image, different from our actual appearance. In this same way, humans have difficulty perceiving their bodies and personalities accurately. Humans are more likely to be familiar with looking at themselves through another’s gaze rather than their own. The model in Reflection has gently turned her head to look at herself and one can see that her expression shows cautiousness, curiosity, and surprise. In another work, Isometric_Male (2013) is also formed of two figures. They are in fact the same person.
The same applies for Isometric_Female (2013). The two male figures depicted in Isometric_Male put their hand atop each other’s head. The naked man covers the mouth of the other, while his male counterpart who is wearing panties covers the genitalia of his companion. In a similar manner, the two women depicted in Isometric_Female place their hands on one another’s heads. The woman wearing panties covers the eyes of her mirror image while she in turn places her hand inside her companion’s panties.The sculptures reveal a scene reminiscent of a puppet show because their hands are placed into the head of the other almost as if they were directing them. But because both figures are doing the same thing, it is difficult to discern which one is human and which is the marionette. One man wants to say something but he is unable to do so because his mouth is covered. The other man wants to expose himself but his sex is covered by his opposite’s hand. To say something and to cover one’s mouth, to reveal and to be covered up at the same time, this reveals the inherent inner conflict of the individual.
Settlement (2012) and Colonization (2013) reflect on the “changeability of the body”. Though historically the human body was believed to be fixed, inviolably determined at birth, recent development in medicine and plastic surgery has made it possible to change a part of the body or even get an organ transplant from another. These changes have affected both the attitudes and awareness of humans as well as the definition of what being human is. Many people now consider a body to be infinitely changeable. In the future, a human body may be combined with artificial organs, machines, and even artificial intelligence. And when this happens, the definition of the body, subject, and awareness will also be completely transformed.
Settlement is a sculpture made up of a combination of completely disparate anatomical parts from humans, animals and objects. In particular, the face is awkward; if one assumes that the human is wearing a mask skull, then it would not be possible for the teeth of the skull to appear more in-set than the lower lip. Or if one supposes that the skull is the subject, then it would appear that the skin had been transplanted onto the skull. Together this highly refined and surreal hybrid human makes it difficult to determine whether it is a living being or if the skull is the subject. The rear view of Colonization is also unsettling due to the corset-like strings tied to the back of the sculpture. It looks like an item of clothing but it is indisputably joined at the stomach. Moreover, the figure is wearing shoes, but the tips of the shoes are actually toes. Again, it is difficult to distinguish which part is a human body and which part is an object. It is also difficult to separate the subject and the object.
Han-seung Ryu Art Critic & Curator at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea