Send to

[Korean Artists of Note] Choi Chan-sook unearths landownership

Sept. 1, 2022 - 13:22 By Park Yuna

Choi Chan-sook poses for a photo July 8 at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

The following is the fifth in a six-part series highlighting the next generation of Korean artists active in the international art scene. - Ed

An automatic reclining massage chair moves back and forth with music playing in the background. Former US President Donald Trump appears on the side issuing a warning against North Korea: “They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power.” Sounds of old ladies' laughter drifts out from the video, seemingly tickled by his remarks.

Korean-born artist Choi Chan-sook, who is based in Berlin and Seoul, recalled her stay in Yangji-ri, a small village near the Demilitarized Zone, in 2017, mingling with the mostly elderly residents. The South Korean government formed the town for propaganda purposes to show off the superior living standards of the country. The video work “60Ho” was created based on her memories of the town.

“One day, I was sitting in the massage chair at the senior citizens' center in the town and elderly women were gathered for a singing class. At the same time, Trump was threatening North Korea on TV. The old ladies started to chat about Trump's remarks, laughing,” Choi said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Choi is attracted to lives that wander without being able to settle in one place. Her works have evolved around the themes of migration and land ownership. “60Ho” questions where the old women belong, hinting at a patriarchal family registration system at the time called “hojuje.” The system was abolished in 2005.

An installation view of "60Ho" at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Seoul (MMCA)

Having grown up in an apartment, a short stay in the town near the border was an entirely new experience for the artist -- the first time for the artist to “actually live on the ground.”

Her interest in land went further afterward. She showed “qbit to adam,” a 33-minute video work that embodies Choi’s longtime exploration of land ownership, at a group exhibition held at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea last year for the Korea Artist Prize 2021. She was named the winner of the annual prize.

The video installation with three large screens tilted forward gives off a mysterious vibe, with the copper hue and images from the video reflected on the floor. The video work immerses the audience in the space; some people sit on the ground, feeling as if they were surrounded by land or sitting in the middle of a desert.

The video starts with the story of “Copper Man,” a mummy found in 1899 in the copper mines of Chuquicamata, one of the largest open pit copper mines in Chile. US investment company JP Morgan bought the body, which had been partially mineralized, provoking controversy over ownership of the body.

“I was into a thought about when humans started to own a land privately. I wanted to dig into the history of ownership over land,” Choi said.

An installation view of "qbit to adam" at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Seoul (MMCA)

Choi is reckless as an artist, visiting the world's biggest copper mine in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. From mining coal to mining cryptocurrency, different stories are told in “qbit to adam.”

“The overarching theme of Choi Chan-sook’s artistic journey is migration. Choi’s work is presented in the form of an autobiography featuring her family history and other people’s life stories using video, performance, installation and objects,” said Lee Eun-ju, a curator at MMCA, on Choi's works at the museum.

Choi has now turned her eyes to tumbleweed rolling across the desert. “It is a really interesting plant. It consists of a number of species, rolling across a desert. I am planning to leave for Arizona to film it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Choi has also unveiled a new media work at the “Port to the New Era” exhibition at Incheon Airport, which runs through Oct. 31, showcasing 22 works by 11 artists.

By Park Yuna (