Korea became one of the most exuberant and productive centers in the world art scene.
A number of artists actively participate in the well-known international art fairs and many Korean cities host world-wide art biennales.
Artfacts.net, an international online museum guide, announced top 1,000 ratings of the most influential artists living or dead, five Korean women artists are included; Sooja Kim,Lee Bul, Jeong-a Koo, Haegue Yang, and Nikki Lee. While Sooja Kim and Lee Bul took their themes from Korean women’s culture for their early works, Jeong-a Koo, Haegue Yang and Nikki Lee, who started out later, have shown somewhat different ways of expression and themes.
Working at France, Jeong-a Koo is well known for her new media and installation pieces.
In her most well-known exhibition <Espace 315> of Centre Pompidou, the whole space is filled with geometric structures scattered on a huge space, suggesting connection to minimalism. However, she tackles some unexpected subject matters, such as a heap of sugar cubes. By repetitively displaying or accumulating small and trivial items, Koo’s works are opposed to the gigantism of minimalism in 1960s.
Haegue Yang deals domestic utilities that stimulate the senses such as perfume injector,thermal heater, light bulbs, electric fan, air conditioner and humidifier. ‘Space’ is the biggest concern to her, and ‘blind’ becomes the most important subject matter. The artist said that she explores the relationship between space and people through the changeable boundary.
Nikki Lee works on the variability and meaninglessness of social boundaries ― groups,races, nation, sex, culture ― by pretending to change into members of various different groups. Her works have a deconstructive nature because she chooses visible characteristics in positing a group and rejects a one-sided relationship between the whole and the parts.
As the true nature of identity is ambiguous, a few apparent characteristics or socially recognized features are changeable and open.
To discuss these women artists, Homi Bhabha's theory on mimicry, hybridity, and ambivalence is helpful. Bhabha considered the phenomenons of ambivalence and hybridity generated by the activities in the colonies to be the origins of significance, and thought that cultural negotiation, not the power of absolute or unilateral authority, was the result of desires and natural practices. According to Bhabha, art in Asia, including Korea, is always ambivalent, and it continuously breaks up among the appearances of authoritative Western art, repetition and fragments as difference. The structural contradiction of theories developed in the West and signs sometimes enervates the existence of signs that present 'Korean' images or even uproot their basis.
For example, Haegue Yang’s <Yearning Melancholy Red>, Western critics often mentioned the understanding of senses and space, or related it to the Abstract Expressionism or Op art.
However, there is ‘ambiguity’, which innately involves invalidation of boundaries that can't be easily defined under the Western perspectives. Through the screen(bal) that integrates as well as divides space and paper that blocks and passes light, winds, air and sounds, Koreans have experienced the trans-boundary condition that is open to external factors.
There is an ambi-existing quality in Korean culture, which is distinguished from the ambivalence of the West. While the ambivalence signifies the coexistence of different things under the premise of contradiction, Korean ambi-existing quality refers to the duplicity of tolerance that enables the coexistence of contrary things without contradiction.
Contemporary Korean artists exercise trans-boundariness that can transcend the epistemological premise of the West on ‘undefinable’ categories, and achieve positive simultaneity of elements that look contradictory to one another through hybridity. As a traditional Korean house does, Korean culture doubts the existence of clear boundaries,categories and division between things external and oneself. Stimulation from outside always exists, and it ceaselessly comes inside and out. Works of Jeong-a Koo, Haegue Yang and Nikki Lee all attempted to transgress the boundary. They created works that transgressed categorization and boundaries through different experiences that enabled them to break away from the framework of Western epistemology, and the evaluation of their works should be delivered through non-Western criticism and writing.