Ambivalence in "Hy$\breve{o}$nsil kwa Par$\breve{o}$n"'s Relationsip to Industrial Society, Mass Culture, and the City

산업사회, 대중문화, 도시에 대한 '현실과 발언'의 양가적 태도

  • Received : 2013.09.16
  • Accepted : 2013.11.10
  • Published : 2013.12.31


The inauguration of the collective Reality and Utterance (Hy$\breve{o}$nsil kwa Par$\breve{o}$n) in 1979 and 1980 marked a watershed moment in Korean art. This is not only because the collective gave birth to the politically-engaged art movement that would come to be labeled "Minjung Art" by the middle of the 80s, but also because it enthusiastically embraced a wide range of images from the urban culture. With a special focus on the members' early work, my research explores an issue largely neglected in the dominant narrative of Minjung art as a form of activism against the authoritarian Korean government during the 80s. The issue is what was at stake in Reality and Utterance's exploration of contemporary urban visual culture. The aim of this essay is to recognize the engagement with the urban visual culture as central to the group's early project and to consider it at some distance from the anti-urban and anti-mass culture perspective which was endorsed by the Minjung narrative. Focusing on members' turn to urban visual culture, this essay instead argues that this turn was by no means merely a means to making art as social critique, but more importantly, it was an experiment with the shared image world, as opposed to the rarefied visual vocabularies of abstract modernism. Visual productions such as advertisements, billboards, posters, and kitsch paintings, which come from outside the narrow confines of fine art, were definitely ominous signs of the colonization of everyday life in the capitalist city, but at the same time they were anticipated to be a catalyst for redefining Korean art in a more communicative, accessible, and democratized way. In this regard, in the early 1980s-in particular 1980 and 1982-the members' gesture oscillated between critique and embrace, which allowed the group to occupy a unique domain in the realm of Korean art production.