2015.4.8 ~ 4.21
On April 16, 2014, the MV Sewol capsized and sank, trapping and drowning 304 victims, most of which were high school students of Danwon High who were on a school trip. While much discussion has occurred about the political ramifications, many forget the people involved. Both those culpable due to neglect, but also those heroes and victims who leave behind only their name.
To remind us of the actual people involved and to show solidarity to the surviving parents, Martyn Thompson has dedicated his 5th solo show to re-present the heroes and villains of that incident.
The Ribbon – One stamp for each of the victims
After death, a tiger’s skin remains; a man leaves only his name is a collection of work created with custom made stamps (dojang), printing ink (inju) and paper. This method was chosen, in part, because official dojangs are often presented as a present to a child as he comes of age. Each painting uses a stamp either with a Korean word spelled in hangeul or hanja, or with some other symbol. None of the pieces, save the artist’s self portrait, use the name of the hero or victim. They are all remembered by the public impressions of their actions even as the public at large forgets their names and faces.
While the core process is consistent, the execution varies considerably. Here I will take a quick look at two pieces.
The Captain – 蟲 (bug)
Captain Lee Joon-Seok was the first off the floundering ship, leaving an unexperienced crew to deal with the disaster. The Hanja used for the captain’s stamp is 蟲 (벌레 충) or ‘bug’. The face is red, from running for his life in the cold or out of embarrassment? The black hood is reminiscent of the ‘bringer of death’, yet this death is not the kind that seeks you out. It is a flat, shallow death that kills not out of duty, but out of indifference to others. The yellow in the background is a reminder both of his cowardice, but in this case it can also be a reminder of the victims who press upon and surround the man. The cloak then becomes shelter from their judgement. Needless to say Captain Lee quickly became the go-to scape goat for the country.
However, it might be worth noting that the captain’s face is also one of the more nuanced of the show. I see this in one of two ways. One the one hand the scandal revolving around his shocking flight and criminal neglect means he received much more media attention, thus we have a more detailed picture of the man. On the other hand it might be more detailed because the viewer might see themselves in that picture. The cowardice of Captain Lee becomes our own.
The Student – 용기 (courage)
But while the country had many fingers to point, there were also people who sacrificed to help others. One of these heroes was Jung Cha-Woong. In contrast to the captain, Cha-Woong’s portrait is pixilated with intense colors. The green is the dark green of pines, potentially reflecting the spirit of undying courage. The memories of the boy are now vague as the stories of his bravery represent him to all but close friends and family.
I like that the word bravery was written in the vernacular script (hangeul) rather than in the borrowed Chinese characters (Hanja). This suggests that perhaps the deepest courage, the courage born not of duty but of caring for others, is honest and and never pretentiousness.
There are plenty of other pieces to observe and reflect on, so go check out the exhibit yourself! If you don’t live nearby or the exhibit has expired, you can also find the artwork and artist statements in the brochure.
After Death, a Tiger’s Skin Remains; a Man Leaves Only His Name
The exhibit is up through April 21st, 2015 at
서울시 종로구 낙원동 283-13