Lee Kang-So and Choi Byung-So in Conversation with Ines Min

Korean artists Choi Byung-So and Lee Kang-So are holding simultaneous solo exhibitions at the Musée d’art moderne de Saint-Étienne Métropole, on view through to 16 October 2016. Though their names are most commonly associated with Dansaekhwa, the artists maintain distinct styles that situate their practices outside of the monochromatic painting movement.

The two played instrumental roles in the burgeoning scene of experimental art in 1970s Korea, when the avant-garde was pitted against Park Chung-hee’s dictatorial regime. Choi and Lee helped establish the Daegu Contemporary Art Festival in 1974.

The festival was integral to the Korean avant garde art movement, and was the first large-scale event organised by a collaborating group of artists. Choi was an important member of the festival for years, and quickly established a signature aesthetic with his material explorations in pen and paper.

Choi is best known for using newspaper as his medium of choice, turning typically data-filled broadsheets into studies of patient repetition. Using pen and pencil to methodically ‘erase’ the contents of the page, the resulting papers are left fragile in their torn states but also heavy from the rich layers he applies. His tools, mass produced and cheap, recall an era of modern Korean history where resources were scarce and artists produced work pragmatically. But newspapers have a far deeper meaning for the artist, a life-long paper subscriber who revisits memories of a post-war childhood in his process.

Lee took inspiration from Dadaist happenings, executing poignant performances in the early seventies that would become some of his best-known work. At the 9th Paris Biennale he turned heads with Untitled-75031, in which he scattered chalk across the gallery floor and tied a chicken to a central post; it was left to leave its footprints across the space.

Since then, his investigations into the potential of images have journeyed from installation to video to paintings of acrylic on canvas. Many of his paintings feature recurring motifs of ducks, boats and deer. However in recent years those silhouettes have become pared down with minimal use of line. He is driven by Confucian and Buddhist principles, and a desire to capture fleeting moments of life.

In this interview, the artists discuss their relationship to Dansaekhwa, and the role of Daegu, their shared hometown, in the Seoul-centric world of contemporary Korean art.

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