May 18, 2019 - Art Sonje Center - The Island of the Colorblind
May 18, 2019

Art Sonje Center

Kim Juwon, The night of the past recalls the past, 2019. Desk, grid paper, printed photograph, acrylic panel, 84.3 x 59.6 x 75cm. 

The Island of the Colorblind
May 17–July 7, 2019

Art Sonje Center
87 Yulgok-ro 3-gil, Jongno-gu
03062 Seoul
South Korea
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 12–7pm

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Kim Juwon, Manon de Boer, Björn Braun, Xu Tan, Ursula Biemann & Paulo Tavares, Yu Araki, Rim Dongsik & Woo Pyongnam, Part-time Suite

Art Sonje Center proudly presents a group exhibition The Island of the Colorblind from May 17 to July 7, 2019. Conceived from the question “How to live together?” the exhibition features the works of eight international artists/groups: Kim Juwon, Björn Braun, Manon de Boer, Ursula Biemann & Paulo Tavares, Xu Tan, Yu Araki, Rim Dongsik & Woo Pyongynam, and Part-time Suite. Along with the emerging issue of coexistence between humanity and nature, the artists will unravel stories of the ones who have disparate identities and ways of living but live together. 

The beginning of the beginning came with the discomforts of living. Why are our days made up of all these awkward experiences? Why do we live our lives encountering signs of raging discord in images? Why is it sometimes unbearable to spend time with those around us? How did daily life become so stifling (both metaphorically and literally)? This exhibition focuses on sympathy and ecological thinking, contemplating coexistence as a precondition for living.

With its artwork, the exhibition attempts a form of sympathy based on a symmetrical exchanging of positions within the broader magnetic field of ecological thinking, sharing examples of art that seeks to transform through this approach. Though the works address the relationship between human beings and nature, they focus less on emphasizing the threat to the environment than on suggesting a shift in our place within the human-centered framework. The different works also speak to the trading of places and “coexistence” in the relationships among human beings. The exhibition is premised upon a proposal that we start with the fundamental question of ecology: how to view each other and how to spend time together within our micro-level interactions.

The exhibition starts by focusing on the relationship between nature and human beings with Forest Law (2014), a project based on research conducted in the Amazonian oil fields of Ecuador and mine-bordering regions by artist/curator Ursula Biemann and architect/urban studies scholar Paulo Tavares, Björn Braun’s work that seeks out the places where nature intersects with culture, and the natural with the artificial, and the work of Rim Dongsik and Woo Pyongnam that has been based in a sense of ecological/esthetic awe and a longing for primal human feeling.

The artwork in the third-floor space focuses more relationships among human beings as it discusses the matter of coexistence. Among the many forms of artistic expression that concern relationships, we find stories about inequality between individuals—in terms of nationality, ethnicity, and gender in particular as ecological thinking is concerned.

From Manon de Boer’s video work Bella Maia and Nick, From nothing to something to something else, part 1 I (2018) that three teenagers playing musical instruments in a setting where the ocean can be seen outside the window, a newly commissioned work by Part-time Suite, Neighbors ver.1.0. (2019) where the artists mix together live webcam images that are shared online, relaying the videos to the center in real time and creating a space where the neighbors’ landscape is temporarily visible, Kim Juwon’s The Night of the Past Recalls the Past that the fragmented images appear together with the various relationships and societal incidents that remain present within daily life to Yu Araki’s long-term project, Bivalvia (2017-ongoing), consisted of three videos installed in a container box, the artwork presented here forms an archipelago. They portray minimal units of relationship and the existential condition of “togetherness” through metaphor and observation, through personal experiences and social phenomena, and through cultural translation as it examines the underside of our illusions about harmonious relationships.

The Project Space on the first floor presents a total of eight video works, including Xu Tan’s Social Plants and Thoughts Spasm and Who Talked to My Mother When She Was in the Forest. The interviews discuss the uses of plants, conversations with plant life, and the soul within the forest. Juxtaposing natural life with life within human society, Xu Tan’s Social Botany raises an awareness of the way the capitalist societies of today consider only relationships of exchange, while losing sight of respect for different entities. 

The exhibition title The Island of the Colorblind was taken from a book by the neurologist and naturalist Oliver Sacks, who wrote about his travel to an island to discover how individuals and communities responded to rare endemic conditions. The author paid a visit to Pingelap, a small island of 700 people—over 5% of whom were completely color blind due to genetic factors. There, he learned of a world where objects are distinguished and perceived through differences in brightness rather than color, where different things can be grouped together or separated by the brightness standard. In addition to the island’s culture, history, flora, fauna, and geology, his record includes a description of the residents’ world, where the depth of darkness can be clearly seen underneath the moonlight:

“We don’t just go by color. We look, we feel, we smell, we know—we take everything into consideration, and you just take color!”[1]

The island was not only home to color-blind people; it was a society where a color-blind minority lived in the midst of a majority with normal color vision. Yet they shared a prompt understanding of each other. Yet it leads us to imagine not islands as symbols of separation, but an archipelago where some degree of sympathy and critical distance is maintained.

[1] Oliver Sacks, The Island of the Colorblind, 1996, Vintage Books: New York, p. 33.


Curated by Haeju Kim (Deputy Director, Art Sonje Center)
Production Management by Hyo Gyoung Jeon (Curator, Art Sonje Center)
Organized by Art Sonje Center
Supported by Arts Council Korea

Art Sonje Center
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