Gazing anew at subject-object relations

By Shim Woo-hyun

Jeong Geum-hyung offers unique perspective in ‘Spa & Beauty Seoul’ show at SongEun ArtSpace

Published : Apr 8, 2018 - 15:05
Updated : Apr 10, 2018 - 15:11

Human bodies are often the users, or namely the subjects. Objects, on the other hand, are used by the subjects. “Spa & Beauty Seoul” by artist Jeong Geum-hyung, explores the relationship between subject and object, as well as the gap between the two opposites.

Over the weekend, Jeong held three local performances that were first introduced under the title “Tate Live: Geumhyung Jeong” at Tate Modern in London last year.

Jeong’s performance Saturday was held on the fourth floor of the SongEun ArtSpace, where her four personified beauty products are installed -- mannequins decorated with brushes and shower balls. 

An installation view of the “Spa & Beauty Seoul” by artist Jeong Geum-hyung at SongEun ArtSpace in Seoul (An installation view of the “Spa & Beauty Seoul” by artist Jeong Geum-hyung at SongEun ArtSpace in Seoul (SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation and the Artist)


Jeong entered the room and walked through the audience of about 30 people. She stood next to one of her sculptures -- or “products” as she calls them -- and held a microphone. She greeted the audience and began product demonstrations as if she were a home shopping channel host.

Jeong started with a mannequin used for hand and nail care products before moving on to others, all the while maintaining a pleasant and friendly tone. The artist‘s relationship to the object appeared to be that between a seller and her wares. 

An installation view of the “Spa & Beauty Seoul” by artist Jeong Geum-hyung at SongEun ArtSpace in Seoul (SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation and the Artist)


However, there were moments in the performance when the relationship became distorted, particularly when she made physical contact with the mannequins decorated with bristles of body brushes and shower balls.

As the artist trained in acting and dancing presents the hand and nail care mannequin, her hands delicately touch the brushes attached to its chest and chin. Her fingers tremble as they move back and forth and around the brushes. She gives an air of intimately exploring a partner’s chest hair.

Removing her bathrobe to reveal a bikini, the artist climbs on a swing made of a floatation device under which lay another mannequin, also covered with brushes. As the swing moves, her body slides along the mannequin.

With a bathtub work featuring a mannequin head attached to the end, Jeong presents foot care, scrubbing her feet on a chest hair-like foot brush attached to it, just below the mannequin’s head. Her movements evoke an image of her sharing a warm bath with the male mannequin. As she finishes, she approaches the mannequin, washes the soap off and deliberately leans as if resting on a real person’s chest.

All of her product demonstration scenes evoke eroticism. Jeong‘s movements toward the “products” break what is commonly perceived as the user-product relationship. Beauty and body care products are objects used to nourish and care for human bodies. But they also need to be well maintained. The beauty products are the caretaker of the human body, but then human bodies later take up the caretaker role after using them. The change in roles is present throughout the performance. 

Artist Jeong Geum-hyung (SongEun ArtSpace)


Jeong renders the dynamics between subjects and objects in an unexpected way; at one point she makes erotic contact with the mannequins, then stops and keeps her distance. Jeong is meticulous about keeping emotional distance. One could notice her muscles trembling in the endeavor. Her deadpan expression remains composed.

Which is the subject that uses and which is the object being used remains ambiguous. The audience is left asking themselves about Jeong’s relationship with the beauty products, as well as their own with the objects they possess. 

An installation view of the “Spa & Beauty Seoul” by artist Jeong Geum-hyung at SongEun ArtSpace in Seoul (SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation and the Artist)


In addition to the weekend performances, beauty and spa props are on display at SongEun Artspace through May 26. Exhibited on the second floor are brushes of different colors, sizes and textures, neatly organized by the artist, as well as a video clip of people testing the products on their bodies. On the third floor, products for facial hair care are displayed, as well as videos showing how different brushes are manufactured. Juxtaposed hand-cut and pasted images of artists featuring the products can also be found throughout the space.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)


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