The problem of JoSeub - Flight, escape and Ssitgim-gut*
Once I've heard that the last part of the mobile attack training in the army is the flight and escape course, during which the privates, imprisoned first, are supposed to escape. When, however, they get caught by the pursuing party of instructors, they have to be beaten on the sole of the feet to death, and disciplined.
Strangely enough, the works of Jo Seub evoke the story. He, in his works, wants to escape, flight and go far away from this world. But, as we know, he can't. He get caught, beaten, water-tortured, trampled, sexually tortured, dead and is reborn. And after the rebirth, the process repeats itself.
What is more important in his theatrical and masochistic works seems to be the process than the result. For him the loose representation and the documentary photo images may be less enjoyable than the process in which he makes them. (Needless to say, he, too, has an intense desire of achieving clean-cut photos though.) To put it more precisely, his works have strong masochistic taste. While working, he is eager to get cured of a certain obsessive-compulsive neurosis originated from a historical trauma, or what looks like trauma. But he cannot be cured completely, that is, the symptom is inescapable. The wound and trauma recur to him endlessly, and the healing effect cannot last long. He has to repeat similar attempts again and again, only in different versions.
Here lies the tragedy of artists. Like the heroes and heroins of ancient Greek tragedies, artists are destined to keep defying against irresistible fate and reality. Naturally, names of Sisyphus and Tantalus come to our mind, with the ever falling rock and the undrinkable water.
Works of Jo Seub are a sort of Ssitgim-gut. Of course the exorcism here is not by a shaman, but performed by the artist through borrowing from the abnormal, lumpen taste. To be honest, the artist, who could never be an abnormal nor a lumpen, appropriates its behavioral pattern or life style only. And the mode has here something to do less with the form of work than with the action, the location and the attitude appeared in it.
It may be the lumpenness what makes the colleague artists and the critics willingly participate in the performances of Jo Seub. Since they, already intellectuals themselves, can never be a lumpen too, the experience of pretending it is enjoyable for them. Besides they all seem to try a collective cure of their traumas by taking part in the works. So were they cured a bit? Maybe not. But then, what we need might be rather a gesture than a real cure. In this sense, the works of art are a kind of defence mechanism in the mode of gesture.
Works of Jo Seub as a defence mechanism have a complex inner structure. Irrevocable historical facts, crimes, affairs occur to him. He tries to sublimate them in pretending to represent them loosely. (What is important in his representation of a certain event is not the exactness nor the verisimilitude but the specificity of the affair: being dipped in the water by head, lying on a street as a corpse. In the course, the performer may feel redeemed and experience the identification with the other.) The lumpen way of act, as well as the famous masterpieces in the art history being parodied and borrowed, become various modes of psychological defence mechanism: self-identification, rationalization, repression, isolation, etc.
Jo Seub is good at making himself a caricature, and it is where his strength lies. Like every joke or humor ought to be, the real satire must be done on oneself, too. That is, there mustn't be an alibi for the one who satirizes. In his works, Jo Seub is always there. He satirizes and laughs at not only the other objects, but also himself. And it extends into the system of art world, the discourses and the consumptions. Here he goes beyond the history or events, and deals with the entire art which refers to something it already realized never going to happen. Thereupon the works of Jo Seub are the scorn and the joke on you (and me and everyone).
*Ssitgim-gut: Korean traditional shaman exorcism.