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Copyright all right reserved 2008 Cho Duck Hyun

  From History to Memory_ Jiyoon Lee 2009/02/14
From History to Memory _ Jiyoon Lee

"For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably."  (Walter Benjamin)

Duck-Hyun Cho has been often easily described as a historical artist who uses photo-realistic drawing and installation as his main methods of creative results, meditating on the nature of history as well as, according to Young Na Kim, to ‘reflect on the grief and joy found in the traces of these various lives’[1]. His ‘Memory of the 20th Century’ series, Genealogy series, and his excavation works[2] all apparently show his engagement with history and archaeology. His method of reproducing old black and white photographs in a large scale photo-realistic ‘drawing-on-canvas’, and using them as main components for his installation works, all seem to support this.

However, although this description may be apt, and this may have been the case during the earlier part of his career as an artist, I believe that in recent years his works have developed another dimension, more fundamental and basic to the post-modern human condition, that of memory and stamp of time.

“History is only accessible to us in narrative form". (Frederic Jameson)

The term history is defined in dictionary as an account of past events. It is also defined as a branch of knowledge that records and interprets past events. Although simple enough definition, even with basic analysis of this description shows how problematic it can be.

Each past event, each happening, each occurrence in them is isolated in time and space. To weave them into a historical narrative in order to make it accessible to us as suggested by Jameson,  there has to be an inclusion of context, be it social, economic, political or causal, and imbue it with a sense of, not exactly a purpose or meaning, but that it is part of a whole.

It is this process of this making of knitting events together that allows narrative to form. However, is this valid? In the current post-modern world, there has been in an increasing scepticism and distrust towards large scale, sweeping and over-arching historical meta-narrative that attempts to provide a master framework. And rightly so, since, as Walter Benjamin pointed out, traditional historicism tends to be written by victors, or those who can write or leave behind historical narratives, and hence would always be biased[3]. These master narratives would ignore the local, the minority, and what were considered as small, unimportant events, working under the assumptions that these would be inconsequential, with little impact on the master historical narrative.

However, with the increasing understanding that even small occurrences can impact large events (e.g. Butterfly effect – a flutter caused by butterfly wings can cause hurricane in a different continent), these ‘inconsequential’, the ‘local’, and the minority have gained increasing attention and importance. Thus, there has been a shift from universal histories, from the long durée to local and explicitly contingent histories. And Duck-Hyun Cho’s past works seems to fall in line with this trend, with personal history, minority, particularly with including woman in East Asia and local events.  However, this shift has its own issues.

According to Walsh[4], this post-modern denial of the legitimacy of the modern historical narrative, combined with Neo-conservative emphasis on tradition, promoted an emphasis on certain traditional institution on styles. An important aspect of this is that these styles have been severed from their actual historical contexts.  Thus, we now have a world which is dominated by pastiche, best defined as parody without humour, or as Jameson puts it, ‘an imitation that mocks the original’[5]. In this context, use and re-use of images, without the thoughts on where they came from or what their original purpose was, would become a dominating visual factor within the society. In this context, then, could Duck-Hyun Cho’s works be considered as mere pastiche of past images, or something more?

Reflection and Study of Memory

Duck-Hyun Cho’s works may have started as a study on various aspects of history and historical images, but in recent years they have developed into more into study and complex reflection in nature of memory i.e. meaning and substance of memory, be it personal, racial, recorded and unrecorded.

His recent Sir Peter Wakefield Collection (2006) shows the narrative process he creates. Based on Sir Wakefield various memories and talks though meeting him and visiting his residence, who had spent more than 20 years as a British ambassodor in East Asian countries, as well as on researching on his personal photographs provided, artist presented a Sir Peter Wakefield Collection. This work does not show images from various times of his life. Instead they show various selected images chosen by artists, sometimes seemingly related and sometimes not. For instance, Sir Peter’s portrait together with that of Korea’s first diplomat, Mr. Youngwha Min is one of example. With whom he might have shared similar patriarchic spirit as a common connection, artists put together different period lived two characters into one canvas.  Even some of images were used together with his own son’s image. This work can be read as being as result from reflection of Sir Peter’s personal memory, juxtaposed with artist’s personal memory and his own artistic interpretation. There are even a two frames where one is completely black, whilst the other is completely white. What does this mean? To me, they represent the most basic of memories, that of dark and light, that of comfort and fear, that of womb and birth.

His excavation projects can also be read in this vein. Although both Yiseoguk and Eureka are archaeological excavation projects based on imaginary countries, there are also local memory elements to them which makes it difficult to just dismiss them as pure fiction, providing more impact than they should. Sometimes his intentional device such as collaborating a real archaeology research team can enhance these possibilities. You can almost say that they tap into memory which has left little of no scientific material trace or record, replacing his creative restoration.

Duck-Hyun Cho’s work has now stepped over the boundary of mere history paintings, or study of history, in the time when the meaning and usage, as well as the importance of the word, are in constant flux.  By delving further into the more basic elements of human condition, his works have gained more abstract characteristics even as they contain strongly figurative elements. In the era when the idea of history is thought to be over, and that all we should do now is exploit the styles and images of the past, Duck-Hyun Cho provides an important direction to the way images and memory of the past are represented in contemporary art with his own irony imaginary creativities. That’s where his new fantasy world would start.


[1] Young Na Kim (2005) Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea, Seoul, Hollym
[2] Entering Yiseoguk (2002) Excavation project at Gyung–Ju and Cheong-Do, Eureka (2003) Excavation project at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
[3] Benjamin, W (1940) On the Concept of History
[4] Walsh K (1992) The Representation of the Past, London:Routeledge
[5] Jameson, F (1983) ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’, in H. Foster (ed.) Postmodern Culture, London:Pluto


  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  
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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