Art In Uncertain Times: Jang Koal Reports from Seoul, South Korea
"Korea had been preparing for a possible virus outbreak because of experience with previous situations, and as an because of that, the country handling the situation relatively well," Jang Koal is writing us for Art in Uncertain Times series as she settled back home after living abroad for the past few months. "Being back after my time spent in the Netherlands, I miss life without wearing a mask, even though I hear the masks will be obligatory in public transport there soon as well. I also miss the forests/nature and fresh air in Groningen." We've got in touch with the Korean artist just as she returned home back in April, checking-in with her for the first time since we've featured her work back in 2018. But things got significantly complicated, obviouslty, so it took a while to get this feature organized.
"The numbers of Corona infections are stable and are even decreasing," she is telling us about the current situation in South Korea. "So in light of this, I have my next exhibition on June 5th." Coming from an illustration background, Koal's painting are utilizing Eastern painting techniques such as using multiple layers of paint on traditional Korean paper, hanji, to create cartoon-like images dominated by daring female characters. Many of the characteristics of the Seoul-based artist's work is often challenging the traditional values and notions of Korea itself. Mixing the surreal, often uneasy, or mystic atmospheres with bright colors and harmonious lines and compositions, she is able to create a captivating tension in which her subjects seem to feel most comfortable.
"Before COVID-19 broke out, I had been working in the Netherlands on the new pieces for an upcoming show in Korea," Koal tell us. "When the date neared for my return to Korea because my visa was ending, Corona was still just a small news item. Actually, only a few days before my departure, I started to get nervous for the first time as my flight got canceled multiple times and my visa could actually expire while I'm still away. Only three days before the expiration of my visa they booked me a new flight that would get me home just in time from deserted Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, which normally is super crowded.
"After a 12-hour flight, I finally arrived at Incheon International Airport and went through a Corona inspection. I had to fill in a form, they measured if I had a fever, and so on. Finally, they found out I had a runny nose, something I actually have regularly, but in this case, it got my selected to continue into a second interview area/space. This was the place where multiple travelers that were suspected of being infected with the Coronavirus were gathered. The doctors there seemed very tired and overworked, as the virus was even more novel at that point. It felt chaotic, especially because I realized I was actually more at risk of getting infected than I ever had been before in this room. Because I didn't have a fever I was allowed to go home, but with a quarantine notice. There was one problem though - at that time I didn't have a home of myself and I had arrived in Korea with only a backpack and a suitcase.
"With the help of my gallery in Seoul, I was able to self-isolate in an artist's residence. During these days I made a couple of smaller drawings with the few basic materials I had in my backpack. After the obligatory self-quarantine, I was finally able to find a home and a studio to work in... At the moment I thoroughly enjoy decorating my own space with plants and furniture, it's a great feeling to arranging my studio's interior and being able to finalize works for my upcoming solo at Everyday Mooonday Gallery."
Text compiled by Sasha Bogojev