A cheerful adult, JOSeub's Mnemonics of History

Like the famous and often-quoted saying by Marx there is the time of upheaval when ˘®ˇĆall that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned." If we experience that time while we live it is like we are born with a fortune from heaven. At that moment ˘®ˇĆall that is solid melts into air", many truths that have been concealed are revealed to the world. But unfortunately, the truths disappear right away after revealing themselves like the blossoms of a windflower wither right away after blooming for only a moment. Because the moment while the flower blossoms is very short like an instance, the ability to transfer that moment, which solid things melt, into the space of enlightenment depends on our memory.

Everybody goes through a childhood once in life. A child realizes that most of the facts told by the adults are not true only when he becomes an adult himself. On some occasions he even finds out that there are secrets deeply hidden by the adults so that the children will not find out. At that moment when he realizes that the things he has believed to be true turn out as not, he cannot avoid to undergo the sufferings caused from feeling both the betrayal and the despondency. And that is the growing pain. It is an inevitable course, but how one faces the growing pain affects the result of the moment when ˘®ˇĆall that is solid-which adults have created- melts into air."

Peter Pan, who is afraid of the growing pain, cannot experience the blossoming moment of a windflower. A dementia patient, who has become another adult even after he himself experienced the intense growing pain and tells other lies to children, cannot remember the windflower either. The moment which the windflower blossomed comes as the reminiscence by the artist who is neither Peter Pan nor a dementia patient but was once a child and now is an adult. The once a child is the artist JoSeub, and the method he has chosen in order to deliver the reminiscence to us is photograph. However, his photos are not either black and white or usual color ones but they are in strange colors mixed with cheeriness and whimsicalities.


Everything told by the adults as true remains in our memory. The adults told children that the Communists are bad, the former president Park Chung-hee was great, the family is precious, a marriage is sacred, and the household is happy. When most people become adults, they remember their childhood romantically. The usual and common way to describe childhood is to state it as the pure and beautiful times. However an unordinary person does not just recall his childhood romantically when he becomes an adult. One with a remarkable mnemonics can recall not only himself as a child but also the happiness the adults promised to him when he was young, the truths the adults whispered to him as the way to reach that happiness as well as even the shock when he realized that the told truths were lies.

All the promises and also the shock from when the promises were broken are recalled by the artist and captured in the photographs directed by JOSeub. The memories repeatedly told as the truths by the adults are recalled and presented as the images in his photos, then all the memories become ridiculous. This ridiculousness, created when the memories are directed onto his photos, is the origin for the cheeriness and the kitschness in JOSeub's photos. Therefore, when the things promised by the adults and the things recalled and presented collide, the moment, which we had forgotten, of a windflower blossoming comes to us once more.

A person who was a child in the times of the Revitalizing Reform cannot remember his childhood without also remembering 'a child named Lee Seung-bok' who cried out ˘®ˇĆI hate the Communists." 'Lee Seung-bok' is a historical figure which has dominated the self-consciousness in every child in that time and also the solemn, sacred, and even moral historic fact which the adults repeatedly indoctrinated the children as. While most people do not remember the story about 'Lee Seung-bok' heard in childhood, JOSeub recalls and represents the moment from the childhood, when the story about 'Lee Seung-bok' was repeatedly told, in his works <I hate red peanut>(1999) and <Do not Question>(2005). In <I hate red peanut>, the moral and the right which the adults suggested return as a ridiculous figure by mnemonics of the adult JOSeub. This method of the artist makes the moment as ridiculous as it was solemn. The adults from the memory of <I hate red peanut> always recalled the past as a normative and moral time and told children about it as so. Therefore when the grown-up JOSeub directs the story told by the adults who can only remember the past as normative, the solemn in the norm becomes the object of mockery.

When one becomes an adult it is easy to parody the adults from the past. To mock and sneer at the adults from the past as 'old farts,' just a bit of outrageousness is required. However it is not easy to become an adult who is not an 'old fart.' Nobody has a choice but to become an adult unless you are Peter Pan. Therefore, sneering at the adults is just a mere starting point. So, now the issue remaining here is to find out how to become another adult that is not an old fart.

In his work <Old boy>(2004) JOSeub puts on again the military uniform he wore in the series of photos for his work <I hate red peanut>. The JOSeub who put on the clothes from 1999 in 2004 once again is his image from the future. The image of freshly grown-up JOSeub who used to cheerfully sneer at the truth of the adults completely disappeared, and now we are facing JOSeub from the future in <Old boy>. JOSeub of the future seems to ask JOSeub of the present; "Are you confident that you will not live like me?" The cheerful JOSeub who only used to make a mockery of the adults, sets off on a journey through his work <Old boy> to find the ways to be the another adult and to remember the affairs in our times without turning into an 'old fart'.

An adult is a person who preaches a homily on the morality. The adult usually interprets the past under the normative frame. Whether or not the children raised by those adults become ˘®˘çthe another adult' depends on their ability to break away from the moral homilies while looking back at their past. Through this ability, the emotion of 'cheeriness' which was the method of sneering at the adults is upgraded to the key to get out of the Oedipus complex without killing one's father. It is this moment that JOSeub's parody which seemed like level B aim toward the intention of being level A. This moment glitters in his work <Do bring Seub back>(2002).


The persistent confrontation with the past is the power penetrating through all the working process of JOSeub. The stubborn behavior of JOSeub which represents the result from the constant confrontation with the past in his photos is like the artist's DNA which has not changed from his first artwork to now. But while the early stage of JOSeub chose the tactics to break down the ideology of the facts being drilled in by the adults through his directed photos; JOSeub now looking for the way to be the another adult reminisces the past in a way of unwrapping some moment from the past as an eternity instead of resisting the normative past which was repeated constantly as the momentary shock. This the way that JOSeub remembers the candlelight vigil in the work <Container Series-Candlelight>(2009) and 1990's as the end of 1980'3 in <The Last Night in October>(2011).

If the way in which the adults told the history to children is repeated, the time of 1980's and the end of 1980's documented in <The Last Night in October> must be the time of a struggle controlled by Heroes. However the time represented by JOSeub's mnemonics in <The Last Night in October> is not a time of a heroic struggle but a time which the time of the struggle slides down. <The Last Night in October> documents the story that is impossible to record if the history is narrated normatively. <The Last Night in October>, by using the mnemonics that is completely different from the ways which the generation of the Korean War remembers and represents the War, the generation of 4˘®˘´19 does so about the 4˘®˘´19 revolution and that 386 generation about 1980's, escapes from the obsolete customs of the adults to remember the past as a normative collectivization.

Of course, this finding-the-way is only possible when it avoids the trap of the vulgarized narration which the phrase ˘®ˇĆthe personal is political˘®ˇľ can easily fall into. Everything from the past has become the object of nostalgia and retrospect or the degraded reminiscences which make us indulge in the past and used as the exclusive property of talk shows. In the period where these vulgarized memories are overflowing, the device to prevent from falling into a vulgarized personal story can be the starting point to create a distinctive narrating rule of this generation and this is only possible when this personal story breaks away from the father's rule to interpret the past as heroic and normative.

Even the times the adult JOSeub lives in, the things to remember happen constantly. Would we allow the Yongsan Tragedy and the ROKS Cheonan sinking incident to be remembered as a shocking parody by yet another JOSeub? Or has a new rule of remembering the current affairs been made that the adults we have known so far completely escaped from the old customs of remembering the past? This new rule will not be made easily. Then, is this new rule impossible to make? If so, there is no reason for the art to exist, and therefore JOSeub is looking for ways to create this rule. Would we have to wait until he becomes a real ˘®˘çOld boy' not the directed <Old boy> to see the emergence of the new rule? The sooner this new rule is created the better it will be. We find it difficult to wait.

Nho, Myung-woo (Sociologist)