Young In Hong: The Moon’s Trick
20 January – 3 June, 2018
Review by James McColl
In South Korean artist Young In Hong’s solo exhibition, The Moon’s Trick, themes of censorship, authorship, and reinterpretation with a focus on Korea’s own cultural and historical struggle with similar issues are explored. Named after a Soo-Young Kim poem, Hong’s exhibition refers to the vortex created by a spinning top which poet Kim once watched and felt let him exist in a different sphere from our world and gave him a new level of perception. This overly romantic notion is captured in a far more tangible way by Hong who, in this exhibition, longs to reach such a level.The Moon’s Trick is an exhibition obsessed with perception. Throughout, Hong presents us with images that seem stuck, both in her mind and a collective cultural mind. These images are firmly fixed to a period not easily escapable, for a country or Hong and refer to Korea at a particularly turbulent political and cultural time. In ‘Burning Love’ (2014), one of Hong’s grandest pieces, Hong creates a compressed moment as she calls it; the events are impossible to decode or be represented as anything other than they are in this work. This embroidery in the work impresses on many levels, something Hong wants her audience to notice, having painstakingly stitched it together herself. Thousands of small dots flood the streets, like a river running towards its mouth. These dots are protesters marching, photographed from above. The dots radiate a golden light which is absorbed by towering surrounding buildings. As with many of Hong’s works, Burning Love refuses to be seen in a void or to be stripped of its cultural and historical context. Instead, Hong forces us to observe and process the giant photo-realistic piece, something that is not an easy task.
Hong seems mesmerized by this period, when freedom of speech was not guaranteed and censorship was commonplace. Much like her large-scale embroidery, her obsession with capturing historical documents is in itself hard to miss and she is not one to dilute an image. However, with ‘Prayers’ (2017), Hong has reduced photographs to the point where only abstract lines are left intact. These images refer to her country’s history and political documentation and suggest an interpretation of being geographical boundaries. These occupy a space absent of colour and devoid of obvious imagery. Fine black lines are dotted around the room. These pieces are fragile, almost lost in the snow-white background. Upon closer inspection, each work is the faded outline of a subject presented in the most simplistic of shapes.
Hong strives to push her work and the audience to new levels of perception, and it is with works like Prayers and Burning Love that she begins to achieve this shift. The textures and fragmented imagery experienced in this exhibition dominate our understanding of both the artist and this period of history specific to Korea.