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Copyright all right reserved 2008 Cho Duck Hyun

  Re-collection : Walking down two women's paths _ Jiyoung Shin 2008/09/01
Re-collection  Walking down two women’s paths

Dr. Jiyoung Shin

The use of language in relation to the speaker’s psychological needs should not be underestimated. Ritual and mythology are referred to as primitive forms of human language. The primitive tribe, lacking sophisticated scientific knowledge of the unpredictable nature and universe, first form ritual and mythology to explain the fierce phenomena of nature. Yet, the absence of language that enables us to understand the world is more fearsome than the unpredictable nature itself. As we travel an unknown world, we desperately need a language that gives logic to the unpredictable universe. So exist numerous gods in this world to satisfy human psychological need. The presence of gods puts logic in the unknowable universe, they are the cause of everything, and as long as there are explanations, the fear is manageable. As long as the cause is known, there is a solution and the psychological need is satisfied. The ancient rituals and mythology are forms of language which create logic in the universe.

History and memories

Cho Duck-Hyun’s exhibition shows two different ladies, histories and memories. It recounts the unheard stories of Korean women, Nora Noh and Joeong-shun Lee Harmsworth, the Viscountess Rothermere, who had extraordinary lives in the turbulent time of the modern Korea.

Nora Noh is the precursor of Korean fashion history. Born in 1928, in the middle of the Japanese Occupation and later living in the turbulent time of Korean War, she became the first fashion designer. Her parents were the forerunners of Korean cultural history. Chang-seoung Noh, the father of Nora, was the founder of the first Korean radio broadcasting channel, Kyungseoung, and Okyung Lee, the mother, was the first woman news presenter on the radio. Nora Noh’s fashion legacy started from a family environment which was open to modern influence. However, the real start of her professional life as fashion designer was in her painful personal experience of divorce. Rushed to marry to avoid drafting to the army at the end of Second World War, she divorced at age of 19. At that time, the Korean families with daughters were in a panic: there was a rumor that unmarried women would be summoned as comfort women for the Japanese soldiers. Two years after her divorce she left for America to learn about fashion. It is said that Korea would not have had bell-bottom trousers and miniskirts without Nora Noh. Many are wondering whether even the Korean film industry would be possible without Nora. She allowed the film industry to sprout in 20th century Korea, still suffering from the Korean War, when the terminology of fashion was still foreign to the population. The Korean film stars, Eun-hee Choi, Eng-lahn Um, Jimmy Kim would not have had such impressive modern images without Nora. Their look is remembered as a cultural icon among many Koreans.

The renowned Korean woman columnist, Myung-soo Chang, gave the fashion designer a broader cultural context. Nora is not just a mere designer. Rather, she was the cultural revolutionist fighting against the traditional femininity that enslaved Korean women. The designer’s weapon was fashion, which brought modern culture against the traditional Korean patriarchic Confucian culture. She named herself Nora after the famous heroin of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. As Nora in the play finds her own way by separating herself from the traditional bondage of family, this fashion designer, originally named Myung-ja Noh, starts her professional life with her willful break from marriage.

The first floor of the exhibition is filled with her personal memories. The room is full of portraits mostly drawn from her personal photo album. The walls display her childhood image, and Nora’s unbreakable spirit is shown in a portrait as a fashion student in America. On another wall hang the portraits of the actresses she elevated to cultural icons. Decorated with familiar chintz wallpaper, the room introduces the viewer to her private world.
The second floor of the exhibition shows another Korean woman living in the same era. Viscountess Rothermere, Joeong-shun Lee, was born in 1950 and brought up in Japan. She traveled to America in 1970s and met Harold Harmsworth, the Viscount Rothermere, and married in 1993. The second floor show room, titled “Lady Rothermere’s collection”, is as mysterious as the story of her life across the East and West. The first encounter in this room is the portrait of Yukio Mishima, the Japanese novelist well known for his nihilistic and beautiful story, “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion”. When he shockingly committed suicide by the Japanese Samurai tradition of disembowelment, he linked this unforgettable image of himself with his esthetic novel. At an age of 45, he died to awaken the spirit of nationalism in the Japanese, centered on the patriarchic concept of the emperor. Mishima calmly sits upright in the exhibition room, in dim light, as if he knows nothing about his sensational life and work.

In one deep corner of the exhibition, there is a mysterious black box. Big enough to look inside in a standing position, all inside surfaces are decorated with mirrors, which gives the illusion of a well full of water. A lotus flower is laid at the bottom of the mirrored box. To Lady Rothermere, the lotus is a symbol of personal memories. In 1998, there was a Buddhist funeral in the Korean temple, “Baekryunsa” when her husband passed away. Lord Rothermere was cremated and half of his ashes were left in England, while the other half was buried in Korea. The temple also has the tomb of the Lady’s mother, and so became an even more emotionally significant place when another beloved one was buried. The show room is indeed a private space full of objects containing her personal memories.

The modern Korea and women

Cho Duck-Hyun shows the lives of two Korean women living the same era. Despite the geographical distance between the East and West in which they lead their lives, they share the traumatic experience of the modern Korea. The fact that Lady Rothermere’s life seems to achieve a dramatic success does not exempt her from the dark history of this era. A Korean girl born and brought up in a foreign land, Japan, experienced a dramatic change when she met the Viscount. This fairytale-like story has gloomy sides. She is a Korean diaspora wandering around the world as a woman of a lost nation. As the Japanese nationalism of Yukio Mishima says, the Korean diasporas in Japan can only be outsiders, unable to assimilate into Japanese society.

Nora Noh takes the hard modern history of Korea as part of her life. The drafting of Korean girls as comfort women for Japanese soldiers rushed her to marry. As usual in the war situation, her husband returned to frontline within a few days after the marriage and she had a hard life as the daughter in law in the husband family. Two years of servitude as the daughter in law alerted her to the fate of traditional Korean woman. She chose instead the frightening and challenging future as a designer and bread-winner for her own family. The woman named herself Nora and fought against the traditional concept of femininity.

The exhibition is not merely about the unheard history of women. It concentrates more on the difficulties and trauma of women who survived the harsh reality of the modern Korea and traditional femininity. The exhibition attempts to relay the trauma of these women to the viewer at the emotional level. It starts with the dialogue between the two women. Their portraits are hung on opposite walls of a long hall, and the two women face each other as if they are sharing their memories and experiences. The fabric covering the lap of Lady Rothermere in the portrait becomes real as the boundary between picture and real space is crossed.  The same fabric also appears in the portrait of the Nora, hanging on her arm. As in the portrait of the Lady, the fabric extends out of the portrait and eventually takes the form of a dress to which she devoted her life. In this space, where reality and fantasy are mixed together, the connecting fabric gives the impression, as if these women are sharing their experiences and past suffering.

Despite the realistic nature of the photograph based portraits, there is a strange and uncanny atmosphere in Nora’s exhibition room. Each portrait has a double beside it, with the left and right sides reversed, as if they are reflected in a mirror. In the room decorated with flowery wall paper and a chandelier, the portraits of Nora lead the spectator into a well-known private world. However, this familiar world is juxtaposed with the eerie image of smiling portraits with its reflection. A sudden change occurs in the semiotic level, and the familiar snapshots become signs which are hard to understand.

Much fear comes from the human limits of intelligence which is unable to interpret the world in which we exist. Familiar meaning anchored in things and images that we know, accompanies peace of mind. The life of a forerunner is tough as they must stray from the traditional order of meaning sustaining the society. One who traveling the familiar path, does not have doubts about whether he or she is on right track. However one who is traveling in the land unknown is subject to doubts.

Cho’s exhibition tells two stories of Korean women. It is the women’s past and memories that is not registered as Korean History. As a country which suffered in its colonial past, Korean History captures the Korean past in a dichotomy of good and evil, in order to elevate Korean nationalism as the pseudo-religion of this country. There is no room for the women who brought about a cultural revolution in the traditional Korean society by introducing modern fashion. There is no room in Korean History to record the women living a life of a diaspora to make her way in the world. This exhibition aims to record the forgotten contribution of these women in history. Recalling the past is a ritual to give logic to the unknown, for other women who wish to stray down this unfamiliar path.


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  
  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  
12   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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