Sung Eun Chang

I Swallow the Description

Sung Eun Chang

Sung Eun Chang’s photographs primarily feature people. Even when a person does not appear, her photos show something that can be equated with a person. Upon returning to Korea from her long study in France, she held an exhibition introducing her Space Measurement series. One of the photos from that series is Rue Visconti, which shows nineteen people standing in a tightly packed line, blocking the eponymous road. In this strange performance, people’s bodies are located somewhere between objects and signs. They could even be replaced by phrases such as “to block the road,” or “obstruction blocking the road,” or maybe even “something going through the wall from right to left.” Then what exactly is a photograph?

This question unveils many fascinating characteristics of Chang’s photography, which records exceptional scenes in which bodies, objects, and language intersect. In Space Hamilton, inflated plastic bags are stacked on the back of someone who is bending over in a large empty room. Hence, the bags seem to be pressing down on the person, or using the person as support to reach towards the ceiling. This exceptional scene epitomizes photography as a cross-section of time, capturing the precise moment in which countless past and future possibilities intersect. Caught between these possibilities, photography reveals the unknown cross-section of a world filled with infinite meaning. As such, it raises the fundamental question, “What does this cross-section point to?”

Because Sung Eun Chang chooses to present staged photos, the photographic cross-section can encompass anything: objects, signs, sentences, etc. In her recent exhibition In the Still Is a Fierce Creature No One Sees (2019), “the still” refers to both a photographic cross-section and photography as an unprecedented object or situation. Titles have great importance in Chang’s works. For example, the singularity of an image of a person wearing a straw hat and standing in a greenhouse only emerges through the photo’s title, Underwater Swimming. Hence, the realm just beneath the surface of water becomes impossibly interconnected with this place filled with blue light and smoke. The scene is thus presented as the intersection of signs, like “greenhouse-water” or “blue light of the world seen from the water.” In her various photo series of “arranged” figures (e.g., Bubble, PomPom, and Empty Room), people covered with objects occupy the purgatorial space between “body-object-title” due to their standing posture and straightforward reification.

For Sung Eun Chang, photography is the process of visualizing this very space. Devoid of people, the works in her series Unrealizable Scenery may be categorized as “landscape photography,” but they are elaborately edited or arranged landscapes. For example, the present exhibition includes a work from that series in which a group of trees are gathered in the foreground around a narrow space, just like people. The somewhat impious aura emitted by the photos in this series may in fact be illusory (except for the series title). The title of the present exhibition—I Swallow the Description—recalls idioms like “swallow your tears” or “swallow the words I want to say.” Photography represses representation or description, while at the same time expressing something else. What we are left to stare at is how “la chose” (the thing) becomes a photo.

Artistic Director Jinsang Yoo

Chang explains that while her works “inquire about things that are abstract, they don’t try to completely deconstruct abstraction; rather, it’s a way of approaching it in a more clear way.” This means that her work does not interpret and explain each abstract sentiment stirred up by concrete life, but that it reinterprets the abstract as yet another abstraction by detouring it through a symbolic or metaphorical poetic language. This makes me question: How can abstraction be captured through the photographic medium, which is essentially figurative because it captures the subject rather than creating something that doesn’t exist? Chang’s answer is, through staged photographs.

from “Position of Loneliness” (2019) by Hye Jin Mun (art critic)

Sung Eun Chang
b.1978
Solo Exhibitions
2019

In the Still Is a Fierce Creature No One Sees, Space Willing N Dealing, Seoul

2018

I Swallow the Description, BMW Photo Space, Busan

2016

Writing Play, Amado Art Space, Seoul

2013

Lost Form, Daelim Museum Project Space, Seoul

2012

Force-Form, Space Willing N Dealing, Seoul

2010

Inhabit, Trunk Gallery, Seoul

2007

Virtualité, Au Centre Culturel Corée, Paris

Selected Group Exhibitions
2020

We, Yeoksam Cultural Center, Seoul

The Material of the Audience, Blume Museum of Contemporary Art, Paju
2019

The Phenomenon of the Mind: Facing Yourself, Museum of Contemporary Art Busan, Busan

2017

Light Construction, Gallery Kiche, Seoul

Seongbuk Documenta 4, Seongbuk Dong Young Art, Seoul

2016

In the Flâneur’s Eyes, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan

Korea Tomorrow: Out+Standing, Sungkok Art Museum, Seoul
SeMA Collection Showcase, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul
2015

Hoe-Dong Discourse, Art District P, Busan 

2014

Follow Me, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul

Super Romantics, Daegu Art Factory, Daegu
Fragile: Temporal Decision, Cyan Museum, Daegu
2013

Emerging of the Space, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan

Contemporary Korea Photo Exhibition, Guardian Garden, Tokyo
Fascination, and Unseen, Gallery Zandari, Seoul
Correlation, LIG Artspace, Seoul
Maden Pictures 13, Arario Gallery, Seoul
2012

10 Young Creators, Daelim Museum Project Space, Seoul

Outskirt, Gallery Factory, Seoul
Tagging Art Works, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan
Explore: Ex-change, Cubic House in Clayarch Gimhae Museum, Gimhae
2011

Space Study, PLATEAU, Seoul

Closer to Contemporary Art, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan
2010

Daegu Photo Biennale Asia Spectrum: Multicentralism, Daegu Arts Center, Daegu

The Penguin That Goes to the Mountain, Nam June Paik Art Center, Yongin
Out of Line, Space Hamilton, Seoul
2009

Light On, Johyun Gallery, Seoul

The Five Spaces: Open Studio, MMCA Residency Changdong, Seoul
Songeun Art Award, INSA Art Center, Seoul
Against Interpretation, Interalia Art Company, Seoul
Photo Korea: Shooting Image, COEX, Seoul
Exposition of Mythology: Electronic Technology, Nam June Paik Art Center, Yongin
Seogyo Sixty the Game for Respect, KT&G SangsangMadang, Seoul
Body, Gesture, Performance, Trunk Gallery, Seoul
2008

Still Life, Gallery Crous Beaux Arts, Paris

Contemporary Korean Art in the World 2: Contemporary Korean Artists in Paris, Hangaram Art Museum of Seoul Arts Center, Seoul
Sans Titre, LDA-La Deuxième Aile, Paris
Toujours Aujourd’hui, Gallery Kashyahildedrand, Zürich
2007

Courant D’R, held in apartment at 11 rue Saint Florentin 75008, Paris

Re :Re :Re : inter… elarénég, La Générale des Arts, Paris
The Harmony of Sense & Sensibility, Galerie Droite, ENSBA, Paris
Award
2016

The Amado Photography Award, Amado Art Space

Residencies
2013

SeMA Nanji Residency, Seoul

2009

MMCA Residency Chandong, Seoul

2008

Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris

Collections

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art

MMCA Art Bank

Seoul Museum of Art

Koo House Museum