Gangbuk Style

David Elliott
Choi Jeong Hwa: Gangbuk Style

Question: Who refuses to use mobile phones, prefers to walk everywhere, likes “spectacularly trivial” things made of plastic, sees himself as an “intruder” and “meddler” with art (who, nonetheless, through his energy and ability to bring people and ideas together has animated a whole generation of creative people), and who, in the eccentrically fashionable way he presents himself, looks half way between a Buddhist monk and a pop star?

Answer: Choi Jeong Hwa, the Seoul-based artist, thinker, designer, facilitator and producer.

Taking all this into account, it is not surprising that Choi Jeong Hwa is seen in Korea as the pioneer of a completely new way of looking at art, as well as how it relates to life at large. Sometimes, in doing this, he has irritated people and has even been accused of “not being original” because, like Marcel Duchamp or Andy Warhol before him, he has transformed into art images or objects which have had another life in the everyday. In this, and many other respects, he has had a decisive impact on Korean culture.

Losing Art

Long before chubby PSY (Park Jae-sang) had, in his virally popular YouTube hit, satirized the dorky fashions and high life of Gangnam, the affluent, aspirational “downtown” of Seoul’s south bank where he was born, Choi had been working on a very different, opposite style. This is based on the cheap, dazzlingly colourful, everyday materials found in the street markets of the working-class neighbourhoods of Gangbuk on the north bank of the Han River that runs through the capital.

In deciding to do this, Choi was not making an overtly political point, although his sympathies undoubtedly lie with popular culture and the people who create it. He was more concerned to establish a kind of truth through art that reflected his own thoughts and experience. But he was unable to do this with the methods he was taught at Art School and had to shed previous learning so that he could take a different path.

The full article with the reference list is published in the catalogue of Kiasma’s collection exhibition.