13th Gwangju Biennale — Minds Rising Spirits Tuning

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Min Joung-Ki

Veteran artist Min Joung-Ki’s newest work, Poetic Circles’ Pavilions in Mountain Mudeung (2020), traces the presence of circle pavilions—sites around Mudeungsan, the mountain in the center of Gwangju—that provided space to heal people’s character defects amid the chaotic political disputes and conflicts of the late Joseon Dynasty. Altar of Heaven in Mountain Mudeung (2020) depicts temples and old streets around Cheonjedan, a place where ancestral rites were observed in the sky against the backdrop of Mudeungsan. In Min’s interpretation, the site figures not only as a place of simple worship and shamanic tradition but also as the origin of the spirit and creative force of Koreans, embracing past and present time cycles and capturing the mountain’s long spiritual history. Connecting landscape forms to ancient maps and internalized interpretations of society, Min has said, “Painting landscapes is not merely depicting what is seen but representing history as a means of communication between the past and present. What I do is not to feel nostalgia but to portray the landscape of today through the remnants of the past and human traces left on nature.”

When the height of democratic protests against Korea’s military dictatorship coincided with the Minjung art movement in the 1980s, Min created major works that actively reflected his critical view of society. In particular, Reality and Remark (1980) vocalized the criticisms of an artist group rooted in the intellectual movement of the 1970s to call for fundamental changes in the art world. The anger and skepticism felt by the artist during this period is apparent in the social jeer and satire of the Rumor series (1980). Fragments representing a split consciousness, eyes, mouth, and ears appear haphazardly stuck on the figure’s body or to be escaping it to convey an allegory of anxiety and discontent. Through these expressions, the works reflect the artist’s abstract and symbolic experience of reality and its contradictory structure. This sentiment is also evident in In the Street – People (1983), which critiques a fast-developing capitalist society through the exhausted faces of people tired of their mundane lives. The “wall” in the work symbolizes a society that the artist has perceived as isolated and disconnected.

Joowon Park