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By HG Masters

The word sculpture became harder to pronounce—but not really that much harder.

– Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field

I. ENIGMOLOGY

There is a modernist house on stilts, the size of a child’s bunk bed, complete with a ladder—it is a treehouse without a tree, or a miniature forest-fire station made of wood. Near it are five pieces of roughly carved styrofoam clustered together, each more than two meters in height. One of them is leaning against a white pedestal. That can’t possibly be a representation of a flower, can it? Another object in the room looks like a shipping crate, or an altar made from plywood, with a round lamp sitting on one corner. From a distance, it also looks like a tiny kiosk. There’s an ear attached to the large white expanse of a wall; it’s veiny and pointy on top, like that of a goblin’s. What is it doing there? 

For some viewers, entering the first-floor gallery at Seoul’s Art Sonje Center in late August 2016 to see the group exhibition “Connect 1: Still Acts” might have been an uncanny experience. Three of Chung Seoyoung’s artworks had been shown before, 16 years earlier, in the exact same positions, in her seminal 2000 exhibition “Lookout.” And here they were again: the miniaturized wooden fire-station, Lookout (1999), approximated from an image on a postcard; the bulky-looking but lightweight styrofoam petals of Flower (1999); and the boxy, plywood Gatehouse (2000), a piece of shrunken vernacular architecture. The ear on the wall, titled perhaps to preempt viewers’ responses, I Don’t Know About the Ear (2016), was the sole addition to the 2016 exhibition. On rare occasions, a performer would put it on and sit in the gallery, or on the stairs outside, making it temporarily disappear from its spot in the exhibition space. You could almost imagine that the three older artworks had become invisible during those intervening 16 years, and then had reappeared one day, like specters disturbed by the recent renovations at Art Sonje. Yet just as they were originally, Chung’s sculptures are resolutely enigmatic—which is exactly how she wants them to be...