An Uncomfortable Reality To Be Shared

by June Won Seo (Nimbuschair Integral Humanities)

Is absurdity a deceptive trick or a methodology to illuminate unprecedented realities? Many people would at first feel lost in the odds, and so expressing, of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godo or Peter Handke’s Offending the Audience and Other Spoken Plays, but gradually find the discrepancy between what happen in the dramas and the commonly accepted reality pleasantly intriguing. In their normal lives out of the theatre, they realise that the absurdities in the fictions exist as the undeniable reality and the dramas are no comedies as such. Everyone was born to live in an illusion different from others. That we cannot rule out the pervasive reality, say, shared by all people is because the commonalities have been brought about from the similar mechanism shared by the majority for producing imaginations and groundless beliefs. Although “absurdity” is not a term conventionally applied to artworks, people would experience similar abruptions at Rene Magritte’s or Salvador Dali’s, so to speak, surrealism works. People may become tired of the unchanging actualities like they are fed up with putting on the same clothes everyday, so may well be an artist. For artists, however, there are more desperate reasons to produce a work such as that than just they are bored. We enjoy characterizing artworks as “the mirror of society”, nevertheless the more central peculiarity of art lies in its exploration of unknown realities. Any discrepancy or perversion will be granted as long as it can expand or rectify our imaginations for reality. And therefore, artists are meant to be concerned with unprecedented perspectives and veiled realities, those not yet shared and not yet illuminated.

In this sense, sangjunRoh is an artist knocking on the center of art. The imagination embedded in his works diametrically reverses the common world that has been resulted from our view to reality. What is noteworthy is the fact that his works are more symbolic and expository than visually appealing to emotions. Roh seems to have envisaged a certain metaphysical skepticism about the commonly accepted identities of objects and examined the absoluteness of the prevalent demarcations conventionally set between the objects. The red carpet on the courtyard is a good example of such cases. Carpet, which used to be a minor object in a picture and thus easily neglected by viewers, appears as the main symbolic object in the scene and it expands the identity of the original space, the indoor, by spreading itself out in outdoor areas. On the other hand, In the Upset, the people, peacefully enjoying a riverside park, are surrounded by flames and they are conceived by the artist as enjoying an upset situation. As apparent in his most recent works, the objects he employs in his works are of minor visual significances. His concern is rather the way of objects to exist and the value system confined to the solidity of the convention agreed and observed by the mass. At least within the framework for reality that he seems to suggest, the discrepant combinations of objects and values are of no abrupt matches. What he signifies rather bounces up from the visual confinement of objects and the related imageries and Ro seems to position himself somewhere beyond the differences of the values to realize that the human passion seeking for the positives, if not happiness, is an absurd play.

Funfair is the most frequent motif noticed in Roh’s works, so has the artist entitled his latest oeuvre. Involuntarily viewers are invited to a funfair, which is the world inside which Roh attempts to candidly reveal the reality. Philosophers of the twentieth century explored the inability of human consciousness to discern fantasy from reality, so to speak ‘hyperreality.’ The theorists use Disneyland as an example, the same medium through which Roh unfolds a hyperreality of different trait. A funfair consists of many diverse devices to give pleasant and fantasitcal feelings to visitors. People are supposed to be greatly determined and agitated to enjoy themselves as well as to promote other people’s blissfulness through accepting the fantasy it offers as reality; however in Roh’s funfair the visitors are exposed to truer realities than the real, and thus suggested to view the solid actuality of life. His funfair is a festival immersed with sorrow, contrary to people’s expectations from a funfair, and working as a metaphor negatively illuminating the fantastic mirage in the real life outside the funfair that people have believed as reality.

Roh’s metaphor concentrates on the uncomfortable reality and the piteous bliss of people. People think they can travel far and have liberated feelings by driving a car, but in Drive, the cars are shackled and turn around the small same circle. The bikers are the same in Riders. In Holiday, people should be thinking that they have found a cozy and serene rest away from the bustle of the city, but, when viewed from the above, they are a crowded and packed whole. Other works show a boat which has lost its way in the cascade (Pirate), a four-wheeler which has no road to run on but only surrounded by cliffs and waters (voyage), and a hospital which patients will never be able to reach, even by a helicopter, as there is no entrance to the building from the roof (hospital). In Roh’s world, all vehicles; cars, bikes, boats, four-wheelers and helicopters, cannot transport people, but only make people immobile. The absurdity Roh uses in his works culminates in Lighthouse, where the boats, abandoning, or forgetting, their itinerary, sail to the light, in reality, unreachable by boat as the lighthouse is standing on the ground. People seek of bliss but they are entrapped in the disabled reality. The happiness they feel through owning the means of transportation and the freedom to travel are lamentably a piteous fantasies.

People live in a fantasy. Roh is an artist who is watching the bliss and the sorrow without having himself indulged in the same fantasy; but watching them in one of his own. To discern fantasy from reality may seem only to reveal the uncomfortable actualities that people do not want to accept as the reality. This is why his works keep serious viewers intrigued as much as the same people have been interested in the absurdity literature and surrealism artworks.