Park Chan-Kyong
Citizen’s Forest

Park Chan-Kyong’s film Citizen’s Forest draws on two works for which the artist has a particular fondness: The Lemures, an incomplete painting by Korean artist Oh Yoon, and Colossal Roots, a poem by Korean poet Kim Soo-Young. The Lemures (1984) is a panoramic sketch depicting a procession of victims from major events in modern Korean history, including the Donghak Peasant Revolution, the Korean War, and the Gwangju Uprising. Colossal Roots (1974) is an intellectual text taking into account the multiple layers of unconditional acceptance of traditions while subverting the Orientalist perspective. Citizen’s Forest serves as a contemporary platform conjuring the interests shared by these works with regard to historical trauma and ‘Asian Gothic’ imagination. Formally derived from shan-shui (landscape) painting mounted on scrolls or from haunted houses in amusement parks, this work invites the audience to walk along a dark corridor while ghosts of the forest appear as video and sound. Without having the ghosts act out dramatic situations, the work testifies to a certain “ghostness” through the conventional actions performed by characters. The ghosts or citizens in Citizen’s Forest, whether a metaphorical allusion to history or tradition, act as if they are fully aware of the contemporary apathy to their existence.

Artist and filmmaker Park Chan-kyong was born in Seoul under the reign of Park Chung-hee, whose authoritarian rule transformed South Korea from an impoverished, war-torn country into what the artist describes as a ‘militaristic, repressive, modern state.’ The shadows of Japanese occupation and the Korean War loomed large over the period, driving the call for nationalism and productivity. Park Chan-Kyong's works quietly resist that drive—they recall the lives that modernization too often ignores. Most of Park Chan-Kyong's multimedia installations—which incorporate an array of found footage, photography, and vintage cinema—are slow and understated, almost abstract works. But a closer look reveals a shrewd take on Cold War politics and the formation of modern Korea. Rather than using the dramatic power of film to restage the past, Park finds meaning in voids and absences. With a sly use of text and montage, Park resuscitates stories that have been repressed or hidden from the official accounts, reminding us how present they still are.