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Copyright all right reserved 2008 Cho Duck Hyun

  A moral proposal _ Patrick T. Murphy 2008/08/31

A moral  proposal

Patrick T. Murphy


Royal Hibernian  Academy Gallery,


Cho Duck-Hyun is quickly becoming one of Korea’s  internationally best known artists. His work has a sophisticated understanding  of the formal nature of art and he has shrewd comprehension of art history and  cultural hegemony. Metaphors of location abound in his art and for the purposes  of this essay I would like to confine myself to touching on some of the moral  issues located in his works of the past six years.

For me, as a European, Cho Duck-Hyun’s work can best be  cast within the gener of history painting.   Few artists in the post-Second World War era have made that tradition  their field of endeavor. One of the most ambitious projects has been Anselm  Kiefer’s attempt to rehabilitate German Romanticism after its debasement by the  Nazi regime. Through the incorporation of Jewish mysticism, German mythology,  cultural figures and sites pertinent to the war. Kiefer has strived to return  spiritual possibility to a culture scarred by atrocity. This healing of history  also forms the intentions of Cho Duck-Hyun but for a very different set of  circumstances.

Cho began his major series A Memory of the 20th Century in 1990. The work of the  late eighties dealt with the artist’s difficulties with his relationship to the  European art tradition.  In the series  entitled Multivision, Michelangelo’s  figures clash with Korean contemporary dress. A Renaissance head shares the  same ground as a Korean face. Classical ballet dancers pirouette beside a slain  peasant. Incongruity and deracination reign.

It is not a coincidence that the first truly historical  work was undertaken following a trip to Germany in 1990. The Site – Gate of Brandenburg developed  the visual vocabulary for the subsequent Memory series. Using nine panels in a square configuration, Cho covered eight with  topographical maps of South    Korea. The center panel holds a drawing of a  massacre. Attached to and leaning on the work are a magnifying glass, a candle  in a wooden and glass holder, and a pair of wire cutters – objects useful for  escape across frontiers. The image and the frame belong to Korea. The  tools for freedom belong to everyone. The work reminds us that ideological  division that once spanned the world has crumbled, now finding its only and  last existence in the DMZ between North and South Korea.

Cho has created more than thirty works in these series in  the last five years. For him, the twentieth century’s history is not a dry  academic pursuit but a palpable living memory. These works insist on the  immedicacy of the events they portray. They are critical of some trends in Korea that  attempt to refuse to acknowledge or try to suppress painful incidents of the  past century. The proposed demolition of the National Museum  building, the official silence about the Kwang-Ju massacre (now this has been  broken). Cho sees these activities as detrimental to the health of the nation.  The semantics of the series is telling. He sites the story of these events  within individual experience. No matter how officials may wish to create the  “history”, too many of these events remain with the “memory” of individuals and  families. The social rift caused by the economic revolution of the past two  decades in Korea  may herald a new materialism but Cho Duck-Hyun’s suggests that the cost of that  gain cannot be paid for by a cultural amnesia masking the pain and suffering of  previous generations.

This point is further amplified in the parallel series The History of Korean Women. Here the  semantic emphasis is on the official – the status of women and their  contribution to the survival and growth of Korea. Their efforts have gone  uncelebrated due to their relegated status within a five hundred year old  social system. Cho proposes, in the manner of new historicism, that the events  associated with the past, and indeed with the future of Korea, are  inextricably bound with the fates of these women and that official and social  recognition of their important contributions must occur.

Cho’s willingness to assume responsibility towards major  issues in his country must be appreciated for imaginative and symbolic gesture  that it is. Within the highly coded arena of social interchange in Korea, polemics  of any nature would not receive a hearing. Cho uses indirection to challenge  the existing power structure and its associated assumptions. And like the  artist Joseph Beuys, he seeks by a sympathetic act to redress societal  imbalance through an art of beauty and composure.


23   From History to Memory_ Jiyoon Lee  
22   Butterfly Dreams, Mirrors and Mountains / Notes for Duck Hyun Cho: re-collection _ Pontus Kyander  
21   나비 꿈, 거울과 산 / 조 덕현을 위한 기록 : 리-컬렉션 _ 폰투스 키안더  
20   조덕현의 전시: 리콜렉션 re-colllection _ 신지영  
19   역사에서 기억까지 _ 이지윤  
18   The Scattered Puzzle Pieces _ Dae-Beom Lee  
17   흩어진 퍼즐 조각 _ 이대범  
16   Re-collection : Walking down two women's paths _ Jiyoung Shin  
15   Cho Duck–Hyun _ Ann Landi  
14   조덕현 _ Ann Landi  
13   Ontmoeting: (Trans) fusion of Landscape Portraiture and History Painting by Use of a Symbolical Device in Cho Duck Hyun's Digital Photo-Images _ Inhee Iris Moon  
  A moral proposal _ Patrick T. Murphy  
11   Two Mysteries Colliding _ Chtistopher French  
10   Leaning forward, Looking back – Jeff Kelly  
9   Restoration of Civilization _ Yongwoo Lee  
8   Reversing the Historical Imagination _ Young June Lee  
7   Entering Yiseoguk _ Choi Won Oh  
6   Cho Duck-Hyun – biographer of illusions _ Jan Donia  
5   From an Alien Past _ Hyunok Jung  
4   이중성의 전략과 경계의 미학 위에서 _ 김홍희  
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