The Stranger is an exhibition that consists of various works by foreign artists who live in South Korea. Even in these days when we have become more accustomed than ever to the concept and experience of globalization, foreigners are still aliens by definition, the beings around whom we cannot help feeling uneasy. Irreconcilable distance, mental and cultural, is supposed to exist between a native and a foreigner due to the difference in their mother tongues, and the disparate traditions and ways of thinking that have constituted the fundamental part of their personalities. When these two subjects of different identities happen to share one living environment, such feeling of unfamiliarity would get stronger and constant, unlike in the situation of sporadic and contingent encounters. Foreign artists who lived or are living in South Korea would have gone through the time saturated with certain sense of being aliens. Under the theme of the stranger, this exhibition flashes out these strange times experienced by each artist living among us.
The inner side of a stranger is unfathomable. Dramatic images typically attributed to the status of being away from home are not much helpful in reading the inside of strangers. On the one hand, they remind us of dreadful and mysterious beings, such as an unacquainted neighbor, an uninvited guest, or an aggressive invader. On the other hand, it also is often the case, in our imaginations, that they are associated with idealized characteristics, for instance, a captivating woman of irresistible beauty or a sage with extraordinary wisdom and abilities. These ideas about aliens, however, are far removed from reality. As supported by our own experiences of staying abroad, the majority of ordinary foreigners are not extrovert. If anything, they tend to withdraw into themselves, from the immaterial yet burdensome labor of socializing with others.
The withdrawal from the world would allow strangers to indulge the freedom of thought so as to erase or blur, at least, a fine line circumscribing the notion of reality. A pattern of habit easily witnessed among foreigners to turn their thoughts inwards should not be misunderstood as a mere escapism or total retreat from the world. Like or not, people who have to make their living in unfamiliar places cannot slack up the effort to build nests by weaving new relationships. Immersed in thought quite often only in order to make sense of strange surroundings, they tend to be. Deep confusion is to be in their mind, which is a mixture of past experiences, memories, and pathos. Through persistent interference by such regurgitation of ideas, the perception of reality ended up in a grey area, where the social norms dividing reality and fiction, meaning and absurdity are compromised. Moreover, the emotional status of familiarity and strangeness would be reversed. In such topsy-turvydom proposed by aliens, we, insiders, become the objects rather than the subjects of intense gaze that we used to throw to them.
In the eyes of an alien, I myself too am a stranger. By the aid of this relative filter of identities, we are able to look at sceneries and phenomena of a wonderland, which in fact couldn’t be more familiar to us. Such role-play between “us” and “them” has strong appeal for both parties, providing refreshment and captivation even. It is the appreciation of gazes drawn over menial things and trivial events and raising novel meanings from asimple passage of our ordinary life. The artworks of strangers harbor those gazes wandering around corners of our neighborhood and represent what they saw in the form of snapshot of our reality. Though not a radical change it may bring, the encounter with strangers leaves small yet memorable traces in our mind so that we can walk out step by step, following them, from the fixated recognition of reality.
Not surprising at all is the fact that foreign artists have inhabited in our land. Ironically enough, in the age of institutionalized international exchanges and widely accepted multiculturalism, the practices of foreign artists are often unrecognized, overlooked, or quickly forgotten into silence. Their works, nonetheless, are valuable enough to deserve close attention because of the traces of strangers in South Korea they store. In other words, these fragile documentations of the seasons living away from home shed light not only on the inner side of creators themselves, but also, and more importantly, on the kernel of our very own self. The five participants in The Stranger present works that embody strange spectacles the artists have come across in this society. Each piece is highly charged with rare moments when the given boundary between inside and outside becomes ambiguous.
Daewon Hwang, Curator