11th Gwangju Biennale
2. 9. – 6. 11. 2016



Joungmin Yi

San-Chaek, translated into English as stroll or walking, appears often in the titles of Joungmin Yi’s (b. 1971, Seoul) paintings. Lexically, it means “taking a rest or walking slowly for health’s sake.” The latest series of Yi’s paintings, Walking-Form (2015), was created as a reflection on her city walks in Seoul: walking unfamiliar paths, without a specified destination.

The paintings are not typical urban scenes, but rather close-ups of walls, pavements, piled-up stones, and trees. Forms are closer to disorder, as they seem to be unintentional compilations of indeterminate figures, but viewers may identify certain elements, making the work an intuitive interpretation of what is seen in passing. In All of a Sudden, a face and a hand may be recognized in the right corner, either building or tearing down a brick wall, but it is not possible to put this image within a determinative narrative—the image remains as a kind of thought-form rather than a narrative-image. Thus, for Yi, these paintings are contemplations on sensory perception itself. Her distinctive textures are produced by mixing Indian ink and acrylic paint, applied with harsh brush strokes and strong drawn lines reminiscent of the Shan shui (山水) style of Oriental painting, in which she is trained.

Yi is part of the Okin collective, initiated in 2009–10 by a series of interventions, events, and gatherings on the rooftop of an apartment complex in Jongno-gu, Seoul, whose residents face compulsory eviction. Her engagement with the rooftop continues in the exhibition “Rooftop Trilogy” (2010), where three rooftop scenes are revisited as sites of traumatic experience in the artist’s life: a reinterpretation of news photos from a tragedy in Yongsan, where resistance to a redevelopment project on the rooftop of an office building in Seoul left six dead; a score commissioned by the artist, based on an old record she found on the rooftop of the Okin apartment building’s demolition site; and a series of objects, drawings, texts, and photographs narrating the story of Yi’s mother’s rooftop garden after her brother's sudden death. AM


My mother used to say how much I pestered my parents to read me books when I was two or three years old. According to her, I liked to see the pictures and to memorize the stories and to fabricate them. After growing up a little, I was into making short plays with my younger brother and sisters. My best audience was my grandmother, and I received much love from her. The strong and optimistic parts in my characters are from the maternal tradition in my family. Actually I made up my mind to be an artist too early, but not fast enough for my father’s sickness. He taught me sensitiveness and vulnerability. Books, backpacking—including staying at a temple for a year—were unforgettable experiences in my life. My life was dynamic in its own way, which I think artists’ work is, too. I don’t understand entirely why I still like the riding on the waves.