KOO JEONG A, Civilising Process, 2005, pen drawing on A4 paper, 84.1 × 118.9 cm. Courtesy the artist. 


Koo Jeong A

Korean Cultural Centre UK
Korea, South China USA Germany Switzerland United Kingdom

“Riptide” sets out as a solo show by Korean-born artist Koo Jeong A, but opens up to include an assortment of works by nine artists responding to her pen drawing Civilising Process (2005), in which a giant bird in flight clutches a human figure. Here, translation is the main device and subject of the exhibition. In the process of translating, as words are copied, progress or evolve, there is an inevitable slippage of meaning and a loss of clarity with each new iteration or interpretation of the source material. The exhibited set of Koo’s line sketches, plucked from her book project Koo Jeong-A: R (2006), is appealingly enigmatic, appearing as a type of dream journal exercise or illustrations for a text that they have been detached from. For the show, the artist copied and enlarged these drawings, which reference the story cycle of 1001 Arabian Nights and its framing device of Scheherazade as the recurrent storyteller.

Civilising Process, based on Koo’s reading of the tale, is an illustration of the Roc bird in the Sinbad stories of The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights—specifically the version translated by Richard Francis Burton and published in the United Kingdom in 1885. Via Hannah Barbara’s cartoons and Ray Harryhausen’s cinematic treatments, Sinbad has become a thoroughly Hollywoodized character stripped of his Persian origins. This removal of cultural context is a theme of several works in “Riptide.” Koo’s picture is also an emblem for the exhibition, where content is carried by and passed between artists. Part of Kyung Roh Bannwart’s mixed-media piece, The Traces of Small Finds (2016), stands in a display case ringed by Koo’s drawings, and forms the strongest dialogue of the show. Switzerland-based Roh Bannwart sourced objects from the Mithraic cult, which were housed in a museum in Montagny. One such item is the relief of a scorpion, on which she pressed tissue paper to create a direct copy. This was displayed in a case next to later copies that were created by using rapid prototyping, which were then cast in metal. In these variations we see that the imprint of each generation becomes increasingly obscure. Mithraism originated in Persia and flourished two millennia ago under the Roman Empire before being overwritten by the early Christian Church, which absorbed many of its sites and rituals, including the date of Christmas. Roh Bannwart’s handwritten labels attached to the copies give a glaze of authenticity to the copies, which is at odds with their ambiguous identity—as the original objects that they are based on presumably remain in Montagny.

Installation view of “Koo Jeong A: Riptide” at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London, 2016. (Front) MARTIN ROTH, untitled (persian rugs), 2016; (Back) KYUNG ROH BANNWART, The Traces of Small Finds, 2016. Courtesy Korean Cultural Centre UK.

In a second sequence of copies that is also part of The Traces of Small Finds, Roh Bannwart reduces the Mithras figure to a ghostly head and hand impressions in bronze. The artist used computer-based scanning and modeling to construct the object copies. This recalls the critical debate over the contemporary value of an authentic relic found in a museum if only a partial or unreadable fragment of it exists, as opposed to the worth and importance of a hyper-realized reconstruction. This sequence occupies the same space as Martin Roth’s installation, untitled (persian rugs) (2016), which features genuine Persian rugs embedded with grass seeds that will germinate and grow during the exhibition. The rugs are presented then as an instant ruin, a Piranesian vision of culture reclaimed by nature, repurposed and absorbed like the Mithras cult and The Arabian Nights.

The image of the artist themselves, like Sinbad being carried around by the mythological Roc bird and deposited at whim, is reflected in the other works in the show. This is found in Yva Jung’s video diary, Cache of Monday (anchovy version) (2016), and its accompanying installation. The artist hauls a cumbersome chunk of wood around and attempts to turn it into a sculpture by positioning it along the edge of the sea. After a few false starts, Jung manages to balance the wood on a breakwater, but a seagull lands on the piece and destroys its balance as soon as the artist walks away. The video chimes with Koo’s other pictures on display that provide a travelogue of the artist in constant motion, depicting figures flying through the air or leaping off a cliff, driving home an unavoidable sense of anxiety present in the artist’s precarious existence.

“Koo Jeong A: Riptide” is on view at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London, until November 19, 2016.

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KYUNG ROH BANNWARTThe Traces of Small Finds (detail), 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK, London. 

YVA JUNG, Cache of Monday (anchovy version), 2016, video, wallpaper drawing, 250 × 340 cm. Courtesy the artist and Korean Cultural Centre UK, London.