YEONDOO JUNG, Handmade Memories-Jeju Island Camel, 2008, video still, video: 8 min 14 sec. Courtesy Kukje Gallery, Seoul.

Handmade Memories

Yeondoo Jung

Kukje Gallery
Korea, South

Korean artist Yeondoo Jung signaled a shift in direction with his 2007 solo exhibition, “Memories of You” at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul. Known primarily as a photographer, Jung presented work that included installation and video, making use of low-tech special effects and traditional set-building techniques. In his latest solo exhibition at Kukje Gallery, he continued to explore these practices through an interactive photo-booth installation and a new body of work comprising both photographs and video.

“Handmade Memories” occupied two stories of Kukje’s Space 2, a free-standing building that opened a few steps from the original gallery. The entrance leads into a white cube, empty except for Time Capsule (2008), a large-scale, red-and-white oblong sculpture that doubles as a functioning photo booth. A clamshell door on the side of the piece opens out onto a set of stairs, allowing visitors to enter after inserting a few thousand won (approximately USD 1.50). Inside the large compartment, a bench lines one wall and a Korean-language narration instructs the viewer to sit down. The only light source is a spotlight that is carefully focused on the bench, making it difficult to see one’s surroundings. Moments later, there is a flash of light, revealing a seemingly opaque wall facing the bench to be a transparent screen. On the other side, an artificial garden stretches to the other end of the capsule, a distance of several meters. A few minutes later, an A5-sized photo pops out showing the visitor in a fantastical garden, seated among blue and purple flowers. Visitors were invited to take home these images or to tape them to the gallery wall.

On the second floor, Jung further elaborates on the theme of artificial landscapes with the series “Handmade Memories” (2008), comprising six video works and seven photographs. Each video work uses the same format of two adjacent flat-screen monitors displaying synchronized videos. The screen on the right shows an interview in which an elderly man or woman tells a story based on a memory that is linked to a specific setting, such as a railroad, a barley field or a beach. On the screen to the left, a crew of stagehands sets up props and scenery on an empty stage to re-create these settings.

Each story involves a person or situation that is not what it seems on the surface, emphasizing the slippage between appearance and reality. In Handmade Memories – Jeju Island (2008), a woman talks about a promise made by her boyfriend, “to take me to Jeju Island to ride camels and take pictures.” As she talks, it becomes clear that her boyfriend lives far away, is already married and is in ill health. The promise of a romantic getaway with him seems increasingly unlikely, and her faith in the fantasy becomes painful to listen to. As this story unfolds, the screen on the right begins with an image of an empty stage, which is completely transformed into a tropical beach in a single, highly orchestrated take. Two trucks loaded with sand back slowly into the frame, dumping their full payloads. As they exit, a hydraulic excavator spreads the sand evenly across the floor. A swarm of workers with shovels enter the scene, bringing with them a plastic blue pond and fake palm trees. Two stagehands descend from the rafters on ropes, dropping leaves onto the ersatz beach. A worker leads a live camel into the scene. The interviewed subject who inspired the scene is not shown, and presumably was not present. This process is further documented through a series of production stills presented as C-prints in the gallery.

In “Handmade Memories,” Jung plays the role of a productive, empathetic listener, imagining the context from which his subjects speak. Jung takes his role one step further, rendering this mental image in a lavishly detailed physical form, giving the viewer a sense of emotional connection with each subject. For all of the skill, labor and capital invested in creating his synthetic worlds, Jung’s real talent may be as a documentarian.