Resistant and Therapeutic Small Civilizations by sangjunRoh

Sang-Yong Sim (Ph.D., Art History, Art Critic)

What should we do when the awareness strikes us that the present world is undesirable to dwell in? As this has been the question of many artists and poets, so it is the question for sangjunRoh. To him this civilization is surplus and foam. It is a torrent difficult to follow, excessively dynamic, pursuing height to the extent of discouraging the climb. Without exception, the cities he has lived in instigate intense activism. Falling back in the competition is not allowed; many things including career, health and people must be well-established in one's management list; one must always be diligent, must not give up courage and faith, and all achievements must be proved as visible results.

But for what must we become so fierce? The more ardent we are the less clear the motive becomes, and of course not even the slightest result is guaranteed. Nevertheless, people "repeat the same behavior and continue to pursue, as if they were being led by a certain force." Obsessed with following the same track, same goals, burying themselves in empty comparisons and competitions, people mobilize education, norms and institutions to persuade, inject and impose such thoughts and behaviors on each other―parents to their children, teachers to students, and friends to friends.

As they experience this process, people go into a state of mental blankness. Every moment they alienate themselves from thought, and are intoxicated by the isolation from consciousness. "People who live with a slower rhythm"―one of these people is sangjunRoh―feel intuitive discomfort with the process of increasing intoxication, and they dream of deviation. I believe this dream of deviation is the passage that leads to the civilization newly built by Roh.

sangjunRoh feels that a certain wall exists between the world and him. For him the world is maintained according to a speed he does not want to attain. That speed is a goal that cannot be supported or reached by things he has or things he can do, such as writing poetry, imagining or dreaming, taking slow walks, and listening to the birds' songs. Ultimately, by making a less-dangerous world, which produces much less isolation and fosters less alienation, Roh has chosen to resist the fast and rapid world he belongs to.

The worlds given birth by sangjunRoh's civilization are small, shabby and cheap. First of all, the material forming this civilization is nothing but old corrugated cardboard extracted from wrapping-boxes and a little bit of color pigment. The boxes are memories of the cold world he has faced; they are pieces of flesh from his beloved hometown when he was living as a stranger in England, isolated from home. They are like a skin that has covered the things from home. Of course they are by no means an appropriate choice as material for fine art in the usual sense. Lowly and flimsy, not at all elegant, they are far from the expensive professional materials manufactured or allocated especially for the sake of "art, longer than life." Furthermore, the only measure taken to elevate this world of poor material was to add painterly reality on its surface with a little bit of pigment.

Let us make it clear that this is a definite attitude. It is a reactionary position trying boldly to counter an era on a twisted axis, which has reached a point where one uses even diamonds for material. This attitude comes from accurately seeing through the delusions and sophisms of an era that believes that a greater empire is needed to cure the empire, and that things decorated with diamonds are required to deal with issues of life. It is an attitude of introspection and a reflection of the times, in which even art has (nearly) become a prop for the enticing message that expensive things are more valid in life.

Roh's attitude becomes clear not by his declarations, but by the genetics of the works themselves. If so, are they perhaps the cousin of Arte Povera, or Poor Art? They are not. While Arte Povera recurs as an art discourse, the Povera here is bounced off to an alternative life and civilization. Look: the art of sangjunRoh comes not from the material, but from the memories and experiences of life. This world, which embraces painful experiences, is constructed only with things that are trifling but warm, and inexpensive but valuable, things charged with the touch of his family. This is why a dimension of healing is added to his world, going beyond the boundary of art discourse. Megalopolises like Seoul or London ultimately drive people into their narrow rooms. The large enterprises and their products make people into meager consumers. Big things, monumental values, blown-up desires ultimately drive the subject towards alienation and total isolation. The empire, global reputation and great art only stir up desires to possess and seek revenge.

The alternative is in the small things. As the large things created isolation, the small things can restore dialogue and relations. If isolation and pain were fostered in a high-speed dash, happiness will come on a bicycle. The fact that sculpture in the true sense can come not from marble or archaic bronze, but from boxes that came over the date line is the art theory and aesthetics newly grasped by sangjunRoh, and the gateway to a new civilization.

People will look down on this small, inexpensive and unthreatening world and recover their lost sense of relief. Let us not suggest this as only an issue of viewpoint or direction of view. It is communication, the sharing of experience, and an issue of intuitive perception of the world itself. This world is not always familiar and friendly, but even the unfamiliarity approaches us not as alienation or fear, but as safe curiosity. In sangjunRoh's field on fire, no one is afraid of getting burned. The more ferocious his beasts pose to be, the tinier they seem. The rocket attached to a vertical launcher as if it were to blast off any moment is nothing but a useless object which cannot even stir up a lake reflecting the stars.

Monumental nature, permanence and fineness are values which are the most distant from this world. The world consisting of packaging boxes, a sweet night, an amusement park, a flume ride, fireworks, and an unlaunchable rocket is a proposal for a new type of civilization, which is small enough for all crises to be fully managed, always safe, and humbly allows one to look at the world without education or imposition.