dumb project: vol. 01: solo exhibition

by Nathalie Boseul Shin


Calling someone ‘dumb’ could be either serious contempt or a plain joke depending on the subject. If one makes fun of ‘dumb’ outright, the ‘dumb’, pretending unconcerned, will be deeply hurt. 

From the word ‘dumb’ in color-blindness test painting dumb, Hyungmin Moon entitled his fourth solo exhibition <dumb Project: vol. 01>. Seeing the word ‘dumb’ painted with rainbow colors that Tritanopia (a defect of vision in which the retina fails to respond to blue and yellow) person perceives, audience have hard time finding who the dumb is that the artist is referring to. Is it the artist who made this work or the audience seeking to read it? Hyungmin Moon, without hesitation, answers that the ‘dumb’ is the artist himself who does idiotic things in the name of art. Even with his nonchalant answer, however, it doesn’t take long to figure out what he did is not so much of dumb work.

Before listen to his story, it is necessary to take a look at a series of ‘dumb’ things that he did. To begin with, what it seems to be the biggest mistake he made is putting works in all genres ranging from painting, sculpture, to photography in one solo exhibition. Given that general audience are accustomed to a solo exhibition that usually displays works that are only slightly different from the previous ones or the new ones from the same series, Hyungmin Moon’s <dumb Project: vol. 01> appears more like a curated show. When it is hard to continue along the same line of series, Hyungmin Moon made a new genre works and asks in return.

“Why? Does every solo exhibition have to be of one series?”

And this question, in the form of a solo exhibition, is directed towards so called generally accepted ideas prevalent in the art world and society. It does not look like a childish rebel by no means given all those time and effort that he put into for this ‘dumb’ exhibition.

The works in this “‘dumb Project” are, as his previous works were, very sleek and polished in terms of their external look. More interesting aspect of these works, other than their looks, is the fact that each work contains stories of their own from the artist’s experiences in everyday life or his memories of youth. Take A doghouse built out of an artwork damaged due to storage and sales problems after spending 4 million won of production cost and shipping expense of 7 million won for the onetime exhibition in London for example. It is one of the works from the series Project Recycle whose title illustrates the whole process of the work apparently. As it is stated in the title, the doghouse is made out of somehow damaged artwork originally produced for the gallery exhibition in London 2003, had great success there, and brought back to Korea costing 7 million won. Is it the absurdity of art that he wanted to say through this work, putting all that money and time only to make a doghouse after all? That bittersweet art! Furthermore, there also are eight paintings called by numbers series: art magazine A: 2001-2008, filled with 10 selected bright colors that correspond to the 10 most frequently appeared words in art magazines. And in highway star and like hell series, he drew a memory of youth dictating a pop song lyric in Korean as it sounds so as to sing it along easily. He asked a Korean student to write down 80s pop song lyrics as it sounds in Korean, read it to a foreigner who does not know Korean at all, and asked the foreigner to write it in English as he hears. The series are of those lyrics carefully transcribed on 200 x 150cm canvas.

One of the characteristics of Hyungmin Moon’s “dumb Project” is that every work on display has their own episodes. Audience may need these stories beforehand in order to fully appreciate his works, but would it really help? Here, once again Hyungmin Moon questions if it is really necessary.

Maybe he is right. So many contemporary arts are supported by too many stories, not the ones like personal memories in “dumb Project” but more of philosophy and psychology though. Whatever the story is, the fact is that today’s visual art relies heavily upon theoretical and linguistic methodologies leading to alienation of the audience from contemporary art. As it is revealed in highway star, however, a written language is imperfect by itself.

One may well say that “dumb Project” is no more than a complaint to current art world but there is more than that. Made of sugar and beeswax, the melting Mickey Mouse love me two times, immediately calls to mind not only America but also the situations of the world around it. Like this, many works in “dumb Project” do not remain as a mere visual image but as something that provokes many layers of thoughts. Another example would be 道不拾遺紀念, 1989, a variation of a badge that he found at the market in China originally produced in commemoration of Korean War with the face of 1951 Mao Zedong. In Hyungmin Moon’s version, the face of Mao Zedong is replaced by Um, Junghaw (famous Korean singer) and the year of her debut 1989, the same year that when a Korean version of Karl Marx’s Capital by Prof. Sooheang Kim was published and widely read across many campuses, is inscribed at the bottom. The first four Chinese letters, 道不拾遺, written above literally translates as ‘people do not take things that are even on the ground’, meaning the country is in time of utter peace. (Last two letters 紀念 means commemoration) Comprised of extraneous ideas like Communism, pop song, and the Capital, 道不拾遺紀念, 1989 makes audience think and reflect upon in different level.

Then he says,
“I am so international”
“You’re my sunshine, my only sunshine”

Now take a close look at the color-blindness test painting dumb once more.
Hyungmin Moon says that the very act of what he did in the name of art is dumb but it seems as though he is blaming the circumstances of the world for letting it all happen. Or maybe it is you the audience who is the real dumb taking that situation for granted. This thought provoking inner structure of the work is the reason why one cannot just laugh away his works. The notion of ‘dumb’ in Hyungmin Moon’s language is, after all, not of stupidity but of being speechless as he is overwhelmed by the world that is dumb enough to make a cat laugh.

The world is changing rapidly and there are lots of entertainments besides art. But the fact that the art is still around us might be the evidence testifying that there is something special in art that we can get from it. Though Hyungmin Moon asserts art is dumb, it is likely that he believes in what it has to offer as a means to help people break away from the stupidity of the world by showing it a bit twisted angle. As he stated, <dumb Project: vol. 01> is an exhibition showcasing the whole concept of “dumb Project” and no one has a clue how many discourses or stories will come out of it. Compared to his previous works, the ones of in recent times are much lighter for sure but lightness does not necessarily mean it is not serious. Hopefully those serious but light stories make known more genuine world in diverse colors.

If he still insists on calling all these ‘dumb’, I demand him to be the MAGNIFICIENT DUMB possible and speak out nondumb stories to our dumb world.


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