2. For ten years, I have worked with photographic imagery that is different from, but nevertheless sufficiently close to, its general meaning. I have photographed the spaces, houses, trees and objects that have gone now due to redevelopment or the Seoul metropolitan government’s New Town Project, and edited, printed and exhibited those pictures. I too never expected when I began to work that there would be any change in public opinion about redevelopment and real estate transactions. But even after years of my shooting, shooting and shooting, the issues relating to redevelopment and the project do not seem to be exhausted, the pre-existing tenants are losing their home and means of living, people are dying, and the chain of speculation, corruption and scandal is still too tight.
There is little hope that the situation will improve. If there was any positive sign, it would be a tendency to hold back redevelopment and the project for a moment since they do not yield much profit now, or to look back what has been done until now.
3. I saw the houses which were too good to have gone so unnoticed. I photographed the houses in Bulgwang Redevelopment District #2, #4, and #6 at the foot of Jokdori Peak of Mt. Bukhan, Osoi-ri, Eunpyeong New Town, and Jongchon-ri, Yeongi-gun, Chungcheongnam-do which has been bustling with Sejong City problem. All they have disappeared completely. Is there anyone who can remember them?
None of them were designed by architects. None of them were what is called “cultural properties,” neither. Their asset value was worth nothing. And because it was not long before the government began to photograph and record redevelopment areas, these houses left no pictures behind. So they suddenly vanished from public records and memories, as if they had not existed at all.But strange enough, they fascinated me more than any architect’s work or any cultural heritage building. The small dwellings under Jokdori Peak were the most impressive. Situated on the mountain slope, they all look different from one another. Different appearances under different conditions of location. The dwellers may have trouble in walking up and down steep slopes and stairs, but they must have enjoyed the fine view. The traces of their lives are visible in every corner and every space. This would be probably because the entire process of building and repairing these houses had been done by those who lived there themselves.It is unimaginable how laborious and painful to have constructed a house on this rocky mountain slope. They would had to level the uneven ground first, carry and put heavy materials in their proper place, make stairs by covering with cement … and above all, get money somehow and make a compromise with rocks. As a result of this compromise, the higher the houses were placed, the more rocks protruded from the ground of alleys and yards. In an astounding case, one side of a room was blocked with a huge rock.These houses told us how people use and are adapted to space environment and how brilliantly they can lead a life in it. The used materials were but a trifle: they are, after all, just the same as the construction materials for apartments, such as cement, tiles, timber, plastics and so on. But these humble structures maintained respect for each material’s astonishing individuality and singularity, revealing them much more vividly. Was it Valéry who said a man-made structure is always simpler than its materials?
4. After being vacated, a house is immediately under attack from people. Metal stair rails or copper underfloor heating pipes are ruthlessly taken off. Aluminum window frames or metal mains doors are also gone. On the other hand, those who leave their home leave behind so many different things: some abandon their photo albums, even family albums which contain the whole story from their wedding to the birth, babyhood, and childhood of their child; some desert their letter of declaration of marriage or old black and white photographs of ancestors. What happened to these people at all? In some sense, the vanished houses were just close to the archetype of architecture. They bore no traces that their inhabitants or builders had searched and applied something like theories of the relation between man and nature, aesthetics, and practicability. Neither time nor reason to do it these people had. Thus, these buildings are the architecture before what is generally called such, or more exactly speaking, the architecture of subsistence. In the very sense that architecture is a matter of substance for them, they are archetypal. Their spirit and attitude were primal, while their materials were modern. This also goes for their method of construction. Almost made by hand, the walls are uneven, the fences are tipped, and the stairs are irregular. To all appearance, these spaces are results of manual labor.
5. So isn’t there another way to show them without using commonly printed photographs? Photographs feel rather impudent and very official. Photographs make what is not true look true and accepted as true. They tend to hinder the expression of the personal memory or homage of the missing houses. Thus, I decided to put color to photographs.Coloring black and white printed photographs! These images are neither photograph nor painting, or between photograph and painting. Needless to say, they have no fundamental difference from the hand colored photography which was done by many photographers in the early days of this art. But I myself do not feel like making any difference between the both.After printing images through a printer, I try coloring them. It is not so easy to find proper pigments.Experiments continue with different color sources like oil colors, water mixable oil colors, acrylic colors, liquid acrylic colors, and so on. I fail one after another, having a failure rate higher than my expectation. The crucial point lies in the disparity of impression between ordinary color photographs and images made by coloring black and white printed photographs.When I finish coloring, I leave a kind of mark: a thin layer of white flowing on the surface. This is a mark like a stroke in Abstract Expressionism or calligraphy, or the final layer upon layers— just kidding, of course. In fact, these works are joke, kitsch, and simultaneously, very serious ones. It is not that surprising; for, as you know, art always begins with illusion and ends with disillusion.
6. Then, what meaning do these works have? What meaning does it have to remember again or try to remember the houses that disappeared from the official memory? Do they constitute a sort of counter-memory or not? I, however, also think if they are meaningless at all, that’s the end of it. As the houses themselves did, it is not that works of art exist because they are meaningful, but that they are meaningful because they exist.To tell the truth, there is nothing crueler than the moment when an awful reality— for example, empty houses, battlefields, and ruins— looks simply aesthetic. The houses I photographed and colored had been run-down and ramshackle originally but came to have the aesthetic quality through the process of being shot, printed, colored and etc. There is a deep crack and rupture between reality and aesthetics. If works of art have any meaning, it would be something coming out from the very crevice.
7. Korean modernization began with the renunciation of individual life. Not voluntary movement, but forcible eviction and removal, have drawn people toward cities. All they have to do is to hang in there, to hang on until they get an apartment or another property, whether small or big, and only after that, they are relieved of anxiety and form their social identity.For decades, the distorted and twisted desire of the successful ‘late-comer’ ‘pariah’ capitalism has erased our traces, past, and peculiarity and probably will go on doing this forever. This is exactly what the disappeared houses are showing to us: such a weird world that it finds happiness by wiping away its own face and body, by deforming itself, by disfiguring all things from its face and houses to its rivers and seas.