Yoo Ah In Vogue Korea December 2016 Interview Part 1: Concrete Phenomenon
Previously reported here, Vogue brings back Yoo Ah In again to grace the two cover versions of the Collector’s Edition, December 2016.
Now this is a special interview with Yoo Ah In and Studio Concrete artist group by Vogue Korea. The interview was conducted by Vogue Editor In Chief during the Aerospace episode 1 “Fragile” filming in October, and he wrote it in the end of November. Since this is a very very long interview, we divide it into four parts.
Here’s part 1, translated by our dear translator in the Yoo Ah In International Fans Community
Over the course of two years, Studio concrete, established by Yoo Ah In and friends, became a creative group representing Seoul creative community. They bring art into the realm of everyday life, they allow us to ask questions and cheer for the arts, for the things outside of art, for the humanity and the world, for the friendship and talent. I looked at the present of Studio Concrete through Yoo Ah In, who strives to explore “the relationship between art and us’, putting Studio Concrete’s essence and phenomenon on the same line.
There’s no art without Yoo Ah In. As a person who doesn’t feel like he fits in [certain social group] because of his ‘strong and straightforward personality’, where love and hate are distinguished, he doesn’t accept to be branded as the “star” by the media. He calls himself a pop artist (public artist). He embraces his consciousness that acting is an art performance. He embraces his self-consciousness to be called an artwork, and his willingness to become a work of art himself. Yoo Ah In’s power/motivation (vitality would be more appropriate) was very diverse, but the key is passion. Even in a relaxed conversation, he often uses this word. He wants to see through the contradictions of the world around him, which is the source of his passion. A self-proclaimed existentialist [note: existentialism is a philosophy and a mindset that emphasizes human freedom and responsibility. It’s the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. It’s the same as humanism. Existentialists posit that life has no predetermined meaning, so it’s up to individuals to create their own meaning], he soon evolved into a person with a sword of thought that sharply pointed out of his nature. The world had to admit that Yoo Ah In is an unprecedented and unique human being. The question why he’s so special (or “pretends” to be special) must come from those who admit that they’re just a bunch of stereotypical.
To this day, he achieved a string of brilliant success in a very unique way. Perhaps, his success is just like that of Milan Kundera and Malcolm Lowry‘s arrogant idea of success, that “success is like a horrible disaster, worse than a fire in one’s home. Fame consumes the home of the soul”. However, Yoo Ah In doesn’t seem to think so. With the accumulation of his huge success and reputation, he builds, rebuilds, reconstructs, and expands the home of the soul. The home of the soul that will never have a day with lights off. Everyday he invites appropriate, talented, good and respectful friends in his spacious home. The process of discussion, asking and answering questions on various topics continues days and nights.
He was not content just with buying works of promising artist-friends at good prices for the entire home of the soul’s living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. He and his friends transformed the house into a laboratory that explores the relationship between art and the whole world, including us. Beyond exploring the impact of artworks on their lives, he devotes himself to change his artistic spirit, his vision, perspective and attitude. Sometimes he dresses to the nine for sophisticated parties where he becomes a head-turner. The other days he’s a shut-in, he doesn’t shave for days and sticks to one style. The result is out in the form of exhibition or fashion, which repeatedly comes and goes. Sold well or sold less, he’s not pursuing the final answer but identifying the problems through questions and the proper methods of action. The premise of many questions may be useless and less important in this age and time. But borrowing John Lennon’s words, “my role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all”, in this way, Yoo Ah In became the ‘toxic hope’ in this home of the soul called Studio Concrete.
Some people say that material desire is worse than sexual desire, and the world’s desire (or exercising influence) is even the worst. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s hard to be pure. As soon as our own or others’ desires become ambitions, good faith evaporates or obscures. At the same time, they’re the social indicators to differentiate the level of human being. Before Yoo Ah In built the home of the soul, he has put his ideas at his Twitter and Line. For example, he wrote, “rather than asking ‘how to escape the everyday reality?’, I would ask ‘does the everyday reality firmly exist?”. The quotes from Žižek that he wrote at Twitter a few years ago, isn’t this the question that you’re thinking unconsciously when you read the recent news? His attitude that he maintained since ten years ago is a framework that breaks other (common) frameworks, and now it’s no longer a mere controversial debate but a general discussion.
I don’t know whether that’s the case, but it seems Yoo Ah In has ‘halted’ his attempt to get caught up with the work. For example, watching the opening of the Jean Jullien exhibition in early autumn, and seeing such a scene in the city of Seoul; a bunch of excited people packed themselves in one place without jarring but with joyful and cool ambience, I thought he was the only person who can create a such atmosphere. The Studio Concrete window located in a narrow back road of Hannam-dong, became a sort of canvas and screen. He’s a very skilled host and has done his best as an entertainer and the gallery’s CEO. The scene was filled with a mixed of people whom I didn’t know whether they came to see the exhibition or to see Yoo Ah In, because the distinction has become more meaningless as Yoo Ah In created an important phenomenon close to us. Now the [Studio Concrete] nature and phenomenon are synonymous.
“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life. That Life in fact is the mirror, and Art the reality. The basis of Life, the energy of Life, is simply the desire for expression, and Art is always presenting various forms through which this expression can be attained.” Oscar Wilde’s sentences which spanned over 100 years ago are meant for Yoo Ah In, but at the same time somewhat lacking. He goes beyond expressing himself, assigning himself roles, duties, and mission to himself. Because in the process, he’s not only in pursuit of beauty but also of ugliness.
From the past two years when Yoo Ah In started his career in the world of art to this moment, he’s been pondering on how to properly combine his actor’s role with Studio Concrete, and to make this mutation (not only the art performances) sensibly placed in the art world as a main force. But now, he began to think more than that. For example, instead of thinking about how to succeed, he’s thinking about the success and failure itself. Rather than thinking about how to make better use of SNS, he thinks about how to accept and deal with the violence of SNS [e.g: keyboard warriors]. The closer to the essence of it, the greater the footfall. As he moves toward the center, gravity becomes stronger and his weight/pressure becomes several times heavier, but he knows his own things and he does his best to serve in his role. As director Lee Jun Ik said, “character decides fate”, we have to admit that this is our way of life and destiny, that we reflect the time, we respond, awake, and care for our generation. The etymology of art is technology. After the Industrial Revolution, as the absolute power of the church and the royal family weakens, artists were reborn as artisans [note: artisan is a craftsperson or a person/company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small qualities, usually by hand or using traditional methods], not just ‘technical artists’. So, the reason that art can be called ‘art’ as it is now is when the artist starts to have his own purpose or self-fulfillment. Nowadays, the art being treated as a reformed art is one that is closer to its essence. Not only through the conceptual artists, Yoo Ah In said he also found hope in the unrefined artists. This is not only about art, but to prove the multifaceted world.
This special feature was planned in conjunction with Studio Concrete “Ccrt Aerospace: The Other Side” exhibition, scheduled from Dec 3. A slightly ripped consciousness and rebellion would work, and that’s enough reason to value and cheer for them. To support an artist means to resist. But their attitudes and postures are always changing. When I began the first interview session, he was so nervous that he strangely got caught up in his troublesome thoughts. After several meetings, I was forced to accept that “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”. [Note: Vogue quotes Oscar Wilde again in positive context in regards to Yoo Ah In. Consistency reflects lack of imagination because you’re used to a certain routine. You limit and bind yourself with certain protocols that don’t allow you to think out of the box, you don’t take risks and try to achieve things the same way. Vogue implies that Yoo Ah In is not consistent in a good way; he makes mistakes and learn, he develops different notions to work things out, he’s creative.] The universe of Yoo Ah In is on the verge of an ultra-density explosion, so this is a record of the dangerous, irritability, impunity and willingness of the young artist’s essence and phenomenon.
# Departure control
A man standing in a line of immigration checkpoints past security checkpoints. People in suits lining up. Cut To. We stand on the waiting line just before the immigration control unit. When the staff receives a boarding pass and passport, the man’s face and name ‘Uhm Hongsik’ appears in a transparent glass-clad screen. One of Concrete’s staff takes his passport. “Destination: Earth” is clearly written on it. Director: Yoon Sung Hyun. Producer: Son Moon Sung. Photography: Cho Chan Min. Art: Bae Jae Wan.
Looking at the way you’re filming, I’m curious whether this person is “Yoo Ah In” or “Uhm Hong Sik” now.
“Hahaha. There are people who call me ‘Hongsik’ in their mental state, and there are some who call me ‘Ah In’ in their mental state too. My assistant, Nikolai, uses several titles at the same time to me. When it relates to Studio Concrete, he calls me ‘Uhm Depyo-nim‘ (Director Uhm), when I work here (as an actor) he calls me ‘Actor Yoo’, and after work he just calls me ‘Hongsikie hyung‘. So, it depends on the person and the place. In the past I really liked to distinguish these titles, because it brought me a great convenience and I was able to express my own will. The name ‘Uhm Hong Sik’ in Studio Concrete means to say ‘I will reduce Yoo Ah In’s halo’, and ‘I’m willing to do this individually’. But nowadays, it has become completely unclear. When I need to write ‘Studio Concrete Uhm Hong Sik’ down, sometimes I think I should just write ‘Yoo Ah In Cafe’ (laugh). [Note: Studio Concrete consists of a gallery, a café and outdoor/indoor hangout spots. Since the studio is identical with Yoo Ah In, many people call it ‘Yoo Ah In Cafe’]. The title only expresses my will. But it’s good to be called with several names, anyway.”
It feels good, right?
“It’s fun. I have passed the meaningless stage. I told myself, ‘Hongsik-ah, don’t cling to it/don’t be too obsessed with it’, and to my friends I told them, ‘it’s not a big deal, call me whatever you want to call me’. I don’t know. I used to set up something and tried very hard to push or inject it into others to coöperate with it. This is a very interesting story. When I hold exhibition, some people like to see it as ‘Yoo Ah In café’, and some come to feed/enrich their artistic soul. I wonder if this space is interpreted in various ways, and projected by various desires. Facing the reaction of different purposes, I’m thinking how to be a little flexible to deal with their own point. Strategy is important, but don’t be obsessive.”
All spaces evolve organically. It’s not the person who made it, but the heart of the person who made it. However, I think maybe the idea of ‘this is Yoo Ah In cafe anyway’ would be Studio Concrete limitation.
“It’s not easy, but I’m trying to reduce the purpose of people who come to this space for ‘Yoo Ah In’. There are people who come to the space [Studio Concrete] to shop or to feel the self-satisfaction of suppressing/ignoring the consumption, or they just coincidentally come. Of course, my fans can look at me in a positive way, such as encounter a writer through me, or see some cultural opportunities. But in some ways, is it really positive that 80% of the space is filled with my fans? But then, is it a good thing to block these people from my work space or adjust my ‘customer composition’ behavior? It’s my concern. If you create a full-scale exhibition space [pure gallery without a café and hangout spot], you might think that this problem will be solved. But I don’t want to add more abominable things to show the sincerity of what I do. In fact, I don’t know what is right or wrong (laugh).”
Do you want to bear this burden by yourself?
“It’s not just about artistic things, it’s the same as life. I used to hang my neck like that before I realized there was a bigger meaning in life, which reminded me how trivial that thing is. [Note: He used to be obsessed with trivial things, but now he has more profound understanding of things]. Once you solve some tasks, there’ll be a higher level of assignment waiting for you. But if I don’t carry new heavier burden, it just gets lighter, then I’ll only become a shabby arrogant person. It’s not that I’m wrestling with everything I’ve given myself, such as names, titles, and elements of space, but there’s something far more important than these to me.”
I met you last August, and I feel the atmosphere has changed a lot since then (laugh)
“I’ll be even different tomorrow compare to I’m today. I’m really a different person everyday (laugh).”
Is there a deeper part of the idea about the Studio Concrete essence or identity?
“Definitely yes. At first, it was like the same as the playground concept. ‘I like this, I will reveal and introduce my taste in this way, let’s pretend we’re cool, playing hipster, and so on’. Now that I’m really playing, I think, ‘What am I playing for? Oh, I’ve been playing around with this.’ That, itself is terrifying. I’m very afraid of establishing something, I’m talking about how to grasp the artist’s art that I’m not familiar with. There are many things I want to see through this, like what I want to do, and how I want to live.”
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