The power of lightness and symmetry. Korean artist Jong Oh in conversation with Maria Abramenko.
Your work is very complex and fragile in its construction, can you tell about techniques and materials you use in your installations?
In order to occupy space as less as possible, I mostly use linear and fine materials like thread, thin chain, fishing wire, graphite lines, etc. Although the process of making is intuitive and the works are illusional, in reality, thereʼs a lot of small engineering and math going on. Most of the materials are suspended and every single of them are doing physical working by pushing, pulling or hanging onto each other in order to maintain the tension and balance in the installation. All the linear materials look almost identical but actually itʼs a combination of many different types of thickness and texture depending on the weight itʼs needed. The scale of the thickness varies within one tenth of a millimeter and even the weigh of a thin cotton thread affects the balance of the structure.
What is the concept of your work?
I basically provide a spatial experience by creating an equilibrium, a total balance between the space and the material. In this state of balance, itʼs impossible to crate whatever I want. I have to carefully listen to what space and the material suggests and allows me to do. Anything can speak to me. A nuance of the architecture, changing natural light, shadows, the tension of a metal rod and even cracks on the wall can be elements to respond. The entire process is a conversation between the material, space and myself and the finished work is a record of the conversation. As space is a big part of our identity, I believe that the same applies to the art works. Space is inseparable to what I create because it is my biggest inspiration, itʼs involved in the entire process and itʼs part of the finished work.
What is your background and how it connects to your current practice?
My life and work are not separate. My way of life naturally affects my works and vice versa. I was born in Mauritania, spent my childhood in Spain, went to college in South Korea and did my masters in the US. This has influenced my work to be temporary and site-responsive, which has made my nomadic life even more extreme. Iʼve been constantly traveling in the last 5 years without a permanent home or studio.
My minimalism is connected to nomadism which connects to the non-possessive and apprehensive nature of life. For me, minimalism is not a concept that I aimed for. Instead, itʼs just a way of my existence.
What can you tell us about contemporary art in Korea at the moment?
I canʼt say I know the Korean art scene very well since I was away for more than a decade. But what I saw in the last 6 months, while I was stuck in Seoul during the pandemic, is a lively and fast-growing scene. Not only there are a lot of funding opportunities from the central government and local governments, but also young commercial galleries are enthusiastically seeking for emerging and unknown artists, which is very important for a sustainable art environment. Corporates are opening art spaces and giving out grants while new alternative spaces are still popping up simultaneously across the city. As the complex situation in Hong Kong continues, major international galleries and art fairs are thinking Seoul as one of the alternative markets. Surprisingly, during the pandemic, the contemporary art scene has been more popular than ever to the public. It seems to be combined effects of K-pop celebritiesʼ interest in contemporary art, the sense of liberation by lifted COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and social media.
What are you currently working on?
Iʼm working on a temporary outdoor piece for an exhibition at Deoksugung, a beautiful palace in the center of Seoul, organised by Art Plant Asia(APA) and the Seoul City Government. Iʼve done few outdoor installations 8 years ago when I did the LMCC residency in New York. They were simple and small geometrical thread installations that responded to the structural form of the tree branches. This time Iʼm doing it in a much larger scale with a complex structure. The geometrical forms can stretch out through several trees above the walkway of the park. I have to figure out a way to secure my delicate installations from the frequently visited intensified typhoons made by climate change. Itʼs going to be a fresh challenge for me.