Choi Gene-uk

b. 1956. Lives and works in Seoul. Choi Gene-uk has had a number of solo exhibitions at a variety of institutions including the Seoul Arts Center, Arko Art Center, Art Space Pool (formerly Alternative Space Pool), Ilmin Museum of Art and Seoul Museum of Art. He also participated in numerous group exhibitions including the Gwangju Biennale 2002, “REAL-SCAPE Revisited” (National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, 2003), and “Hidden Track” (Seoul Museum of Art, 2012).

North Korea A, 2000
Acrylic on canvas, 97×130 cm
North Korea A is a painting created on the occasion of an exhibition titled “Seoul Moves towards Pyongyang” (2000). The year 2000 was a time when the relationship between South Korea and North Korea was at least in good shape thanks to the President Kim Dae-jung’s visit to the North. Around the time of the Inter-Korean Summit, the kinds of ‘art’ presented to the South Korean public were benign travel sketches by a few painters. The painters depicted the people or landscape of North Korea as “peaceful scenery of a foreign country” as if they were camels along the Silk Route. North Korea A and North Korea B also present peaceful scenery. But there is something “impure” in the paintings, different from other ideologically “pure” paintings produced by other artists around the time.
Choi’s paintings move beyond being peaceful scenery and construct a kind of utopia that is immediately laden with a burden of ideology (moreover, we know well that North Korea frequently uses “a socialist utopia” as its rhetoric). We surely know that it is far from a socialist utopia, and the dear leader and his people in the country would no longer believe that “the North” is a utopia. In this sense, the paintings are images of a distant dream that cannot be perceived as realistic. Hence, North Korea A acquires a complex system of meaning.
Although the North Korean painters are capable of producing highly manipulative propaganda images, they cannot paint “the genuine paradise?an authentic moment of pleasure by the people.” What the dreamlike beauty of Choi’s paintings expose is the fact that the North Korean painters cannot depict such a moment. This is because of the excess of ideology for a communist utopia excludes one’s interest in ‘blissful moments’ that would actually exist in different moments in reality. Yet at the same time, Choi’s paintings depict a dream of a beautiful paradise. The paintings are an equivalent of certain scenes of “the North Korea as a utopia,” which is not depicted or impossible to be depicted in both countries of the Korean peninsula. Or, they are certain scenes of a world that is (at least) lazy and unrestrained, which is completely relaxed in its ideology. In this sense, North Korea A and North Korea B appear to be an immense irony materialized in the form of painting, existing between the ideal and the reality, the virtue and the vice of the motivation and result, the rise of one’s will and its fall, and the momentary phenomenological pleasure and the ideological dogma. [Park Chan-kyong]