NOH, who creates his photographs in North and South Korea, is interested in the ambivalences and breaks within and between the two societies: their mirror relationship, the military presence and ideological extremes on both sides, the relationship between the individual and the masses, or the situations - both subtle and openly violent – that pervade everyday life in the South and the North alike.
This ambivalence is reflected in NOH’s very individual aesthetic, that combines the documentary with the fictitious, the snapshot with stringent composition. The harsh contrasts amplify the drama of the mostly conflict-laden situations that he depicts – a drama that is, at the same time, countermanded by the sobriety and detachment of his gaze. As a result of being integrated in series, the perfection of the single picture must be seen in perspective. Far removed from the aesthetics and strategies of staged photography, they nevertheless appear posed. They remind us of film scenes or apply aesthetics of fashion photography as well as traditions of pathos-laden landscape photography. It is precisely this unclassifiable, contradictory aspect that distinguishes NOH’s photographs.
Works at the exhibition (selection)
State of Emergency, photo series, 2000 – 2007 State of Emergency shows demonstrations and riots in South Korea, triggered mainly by the US military presence and its occupation of land. The Korean government enforced the resulting displacement of the impoverished rural population with massive police operations. The radical nature and often violent escalation of these confrontations often bring back memories of the Japanese occupation and various waves of expropriation after the Korean War (1950-1953). Artistically, however, NOH is also concerned with another phenomenon; the military education of the entire male population of South Korea, based on the fantasy of a constant threat from the North, is reflected in the uniform appearance of both sides: the armoured officers and the civilian groups.
Patriotic Road, photo series, 2003 - 2004 The series of photos entitled Patriotic Road focuses on a line of conflict that also resulted from the history of Korea, particularly from the brutally waged Korean War, which caused the North – economically and militarily superior up to the 1960s – to emerge as a serious constant threat. The scenarios conjured up by this threat are used for ideological ends to this day. They lead to mass demonstrations of extreme nationalist groups who reject any rapprochement with North Korea. The vehemence with which this conflict is waged in public also reflects how deeply it divides society in the South – for example between pro-American and anti-American camps. The fact that the South Korean government has only recently begun to discuss abolishing the law that prohibits anyone from talking positively in any way about North Korea is further proof of this conflict.
Red House I – III, photo series, 2003 - 2007 The Red House I – III series comprises black-and-white photos that deal with the way North and South Koreans see each other. Taken during an official press trip to North Korea, they show in various constellations how North Koreans look at South Koreans and vice versa. The camera always plays the role of mediator: at once a filter and an “eye-catcher”. In addition, the series consists of colour photos that NOH took during an official act of state at the Pyongyang Stadium. They show the breathtaking tableaux vivants staged by crowds to pay tribute to the country’s landscape, economy, leisure time, and military power. NOH’s photographs focus on the tension between perfect choreography and its disintegration.
Forgetting Machine, photo series, 2006 – 2007 The Forgetting Machine series deals with cultures of mourning work, focusing, amongst other things, on portraits of deceased persons, which are displayed at a graveyard. The portraits represent the victims of demonstrations against the military government that took place in Gwangju (South Korea) in 1980, in the course of which hundreds of mostly young people were killed.
Black Hook Down, photo series, 2006 The Black Hook Down series shows photos of the sky over South Korea: a sky dotted with US military helicopters.
An exhibition by Institut de Cultura de Barcelona, La Virreina Centre de la Imatge In collaboration with Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Curated by Hans D. Christ i Iris Dressler In collaboration with Nathalie Boseul SHIN
only in german
NOH Suntag. State of Emergency
Kooperation: Institut de Cultura de Barcelona, La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart
Kuratoren: Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Nathalie Boseul SHIN