BYUN Soonchoel: Eternal Family
ARARIO GALLERY SEOUL | SAMCHEONG presents <나의 가족 Eternal Family>, a solo exhibition by photographer BYUN Soonchoel (b. 1969), on view from November 22nd to January 13th, 2019. Following series such as <뉴욕New York>, <키드 노스탤지어 Kid Nostalgia>, <짝-패Interracial Couple>, and <전국노래자랑National Song Contest>, this exhibition by BYUN Soonchoel, an artist who has spent a long time delving into portraiture, is especially significant in that through his recent series <나의 가족 Eternal Family> it presents his continuing artistic direction while simultaneously following his new explorations.
To BYUN, a photographer immersed in portraiture, the figures in front of his camera are more than just subjects. In the aspect that the people he has observed and handled represent both period and society, his method of shooting may be seen as typological, while the perspective and attitude within show roots in sociological methodology. Because typological portraiture most often objectively handles those within a certain group, it naturally captures the social culture and history of that time. BYUN’s works, through typological suggestion of repeating analogous language and sociological methodology searching for the theory behind social relations in the common denominator of represented images, offer amusement in a look into human psychology, not easily exposed at the surface, but lying beneath. The assembly of people silently captured by his lens reveals more than what is simply shown: his attitude toward society and worldview, as well as his particular issue awareness.
The <나의 가족 Eternal Family> series was a great step forward for the artist through trials with new technological language in the typological portraiture and sociological methodology that he has long since been in pursuit of. Its methods are still based in the documentary-like recording of typological portraiture, but surprisingly, virtual people lacking the ‘indexical’ nature characteristic of photography coexist within. The fact that its subject matter dealt directly with North Korea, a subject that is innately difficult or uncomfortable for Korean people, is especially interesting. <나의 가족 Eternal Family> is a series about displaced families, comprising portraits of people who fled North Korea to the South. Its subject of displaced families encompasses more than just the linguistic meaning of the term in Korea, the sole country in the world still suffering from the pain of a country divided. Through the medium of photography, the artist virtually reunites displaced families who can neither see nor meet one another.
This series is the result of the <Last Wish> project, which began as idea from Cheil Worldwide in 2015 that was backed by Samsung and the Chosun Ilbo. The production process is as follows. The <Last Wish> team found candidates who were still keeping their family portraits through the Red Cross. Though the number of possible candidates was drastically lower than expected, the team brought each one of them to the artist’s studio and shot them against a blank background. At the same time, through the Center for Imaging Media Research at Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the <Last Wish> team took the displaced families’ old photographs and converted them through ‘3D aging technology,’ so that the young parents or siblings in the resulting photographs, the years now added to their faces, could once again greet their aged displaced family members in the South side by side. As a result, the <나의 가족 Eternal Family> series enabled the simultaneous address of the material timeliness of handling the virtual and the real together with the issue awareness of the long-standing photography discourse on memory and record. By at once facing reality head-on and presenting it accordingly through photograph as an expression of humanity’s shared and repressed historical wounds, it may be seen as the artist’s own worldview and attitude of healing and discussion.
Born in 1969, artist BYUN Soonchoel received his BFA in photography from New York’s School of Visual Arts in 1999, and completed one year of graduate studies in photography at the same school in 2001. He has held solo exhibitions at Buk Seoul Museum of Art in 2014, Kumho Museum of Art in 2016, and most recently, GoEun Museum of Photography in 2018. Since 1998, his works have been introduced at numerous national institutions worldwide, including National Portrait Gallery, London, Somerset House, The Museum of Photography, Seoul, Seoul Museum of Art, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Daegu Art Museum, and more. Awards received include 2009 FGI’s Photographer of the Year, the International Center of Photography Via Wynroth Fellowship in 2000, as well as the John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award in 1999, as well as others. Currently, BYUN Soonchoel’s works may be found in the collections of Seoul Museum of Art, Daegu Art Museum, and more.