UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Objects, actions, and participation in the art of Korea, 1960-1980 Sung, Ji Eun


This dissertation examines the use of everyday objects and bodily actions in the art of Korea in the 1960s and the 1970s. Focusing on the artistic and discursive practices of Jung Kang-ja (1942-2017), the Fourth Group, Lee Yil (1932-97), and Lee Kun-yong (b. 1942), I analyze how they adopted, reconfigured, and materialized objects and actions in their works, reacting to their artistic, social, and political circumstances—the postcolonial conditions of postwar South Korea, the modernization of the country, and the government of Park Chung-hee (1962-79). The practitioners’ employment of objects and actions in art was inspired by the worldwide interest in using quotidian objects and bodily actions in art and also by economic, material, and intellectual developments of society. I argue that in Korea it was particularly generated from and gave form to a concept of ch'amyŏ, which can be translated into participation or engagement. The kinds of participation materialized in and through the practitioners’ works ranged widely: from the participation of audiences in art-making and avant-gardist ideals surrounding the artists’ participation in everyday life to artists’ critique of the fundamental conditions of art, society, and politics, and to an attempt to take part in larger artistic and intellectual currents of the world during the time of modernization of art and society of Korea. Through what I call “art of participation” based on objects and actions, the practitioners relentlessly proposed a new model for contemporary Korean art and attempted to transform and develop their own artistic and sociopolitical conditions through it. I contend that their various practices ultimately pursued to achieve their autonomous subjectivity, a unique kind of postcolonial subjectivity that is always in the process of constructing one’s own subjectivity by negotiating with and overcoming their postcolonial reality. My dissertation as such sheds light on the significance of objects and actions in the art of postcolonial Korea. It also provides a new way of comprehending Korean art within the contexts of the international art world, and furthermore, a new model for imagining global art history.

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