Son, Bong Choi

Son Bong Chae Dream Growing Tree


Landscape_of_the_present_beyond_a_gap_of_ time

by_Yang Ock-geum_Curator at Gallery Ssamzie

A series of Son Bong-chae’s new works showing the landscape produced by accumulating black-and-white photograph images on transparent acryl of

several layers remind us of a black-and-white photograph shown at the first page of photocopies by John Berger.

The black-and-white photograph which is assumed to be taken with pinhole camera focuses on black plum on the background rather than on two

people standing at the center of the picture and dim image which the whole picture seems to be moved shows a gap between the past and the present

of the subject which existed before the camera for some minutes that the shutter is pressed slowly without any technical operation.

Berger recognized that the mind has another time to be distinguished from the time of body. Son Bong-chae recalls the memory of history accumulated

at the time of mind through the present appearance of a specific place through the time of body – physical time. He traveled the places of special

events and accidents at the southern regions of Korea from the period of Japanese imperialism and Korean war to the modern times, photographed

the historical places and spots with the present appearance, transcribed the photographed images on several sheets of transparent acryl and

produced another images by piling several layers of acryl. Son Bong-chae’s 3-D landscapes produced by this method are varied depending on a viewpoint,

vision and quantity and direction of light as if we look at the oriental painting expressed with concentration of ink and perspective.

It can be also considered as the combination of plastic beauty of the west and the east that he has tried through mechanical installations and shadow works.

The present appearance of historical places at the southern regions of Korea expressed on black-and-white photographs is crude as much as a gap

of time between ‘the past’ and ‘the present’. He showed a path at a small village in Yeonggwang where slaughter of its residents was committed

at the time of Korean war, bamboo forest of Damyang where the residents were killed by bamboo sword at the time of Korean war, the Mt. Jiri

where the base of partisan, way to Christian hospital in Gwangju where innocent citizens and students were killed by the military at the time of

May 18 Democratic Uprising.

Paul Auster said an event of the past exists the aggregate of image and memory. Son Bong-chae’s landscapes fabricated on the basis of common

landscape photographs like snapshots show a third landscape attracting viewers outside the landscape into the screen.



Migration, Portraits of Modern People

Yoon, Jin Sup / Art Critic, Professor of Honam univercity


Son, Bong Chae was invited to the 2nd Gwangju Biennale with his installation work called, Invisible Sight and was plucked to instant stardom at the age of 30. The 207 bicycles hung upside down from the ceiling of the exhibition room caught the viewer’s attention with their squeaky sound and simultaneously moving scenes, which was quite impressive. Son’s kinetic art was covered not only by domestic mass media but also by world’s leading media channels such as CNN, BBC, NHK, etc.

Unfortunately he could not continue because of financial problems to support his copious work; however, his work triggered an explosion of interests and received lots of praises from critics. Although he put all his efforts to complete the work, there was no one who wanted to sponsor or collect them. One curator from LA Contemporary art Museum, who came to see the Biennale, offered him an internationally circulating exhibition if Son could send his work to the museum. Nevertheless, he did not have any financial ability to ship his work, so the offer never happened. This became a painful memory to the artist even until now.

It may be the same to nobody sho works in different fields; however, opportunity does not come that often especially for arists. If there was someone who could sponsor him, Son would have become an internationally renowned artists by now. One episode that I cleary remember about him happened at Gallery Shinsegae, of Shinsegae department store in Gwangju about a year after the Biennale. In this Exhibition at the Gallery Shinsegae, Son placed a pig inside the exhibition space for a performance, and for the unpleasant odor of the excrement of the pig violated the department store, which is a place filled with luxury products, and the artist had to get rid of the pig. As a matter of fact, this episode of the pig performance became one of the episode that reveal the characteristics if Son Bong Chae as Avant Grade Artist.


Since then, I still had some interests in his work and I even wrote some positive reviews of his work to Wolgan Musul magazine. However, somehow it became difficult to find news about his work, According to some rumors, he was running a snack stall in downtown Gwangju. What kind of news is this? I was very curious, but if was just very hard to meet or find him.

“At that time Kinetic art was new, but such a massive work, I Know it is the same till now, has a very low possibility to become a collection. But I didn’t care about the reality and just concentrated on making the work. As a result, I was left with a debt of tens of millions won, so I had to go through a lot in order to clear the debt. There was nothing I didn’t do from a coolie, chore man of dock, shipyard and snack stall to pay my debts.” says Son.

Indeed, these consequences of the production of Invisible sight in the authority section at the Biennale made him stronger at the end. Through psychological struggle and search for several years, Son began making three-demensional paintings from around 2000.

His works in 1990s mostly contain satires of social critiques and authority. started from the 2nd Gwangju Biennale in 2004, 2006 and 2010. And those participating works such as Invisible sight, There is No More Dinosaurs, Who is Next?, Where Are You Going? were good enough to make him a star artist. Boundary Substance Is Not Seen was produced around this time and came the first of 3D painting. Introduced at the Gwangju Biennale in 2006 for th fist time, this massive installation work used images of the jeollanamdo Provincial Office building, which is which historical site and the living witness of the modern history of the region, he segmented the images into several sections and displayed them, so that the viewers can view the works while walking through the paths. His ‘Boundary’ series lasted for a while.


Around the time when he was making this ‘Boundary’ series, the artist, who was searching for historic sites in Gwangju and the region, encountered a scene. It was a landscape plant in a big truck that looked awfully wretched since it was there as revealing its roots without knowing where it was being sold, “At that moment, I gad a hollow feeling in my heart. So many landscape trees in cities are, as a matter of fact, decorating a corner of the cities after it wat pulled out of its soil and being sold. then it was New York, which came up in my heart. New York is indeed a place where all different ethnics gathered around for their dreams from all around the world, If they had a great life in their homeland, why would they move to the strange foreign land? Moreover, most immigrants actually are placed in the bottom of the society, “says the artist.

Son’s empathy for the landscape trees has a strong relation to his youth in New York. Actually he had a dream of becoming a cook when he was young. His professor Shin Hyun joong consistently suggested him to go to New York and study, which he eventually did. His experience as a foreigner in New York for 4 years influenced his empathy for the uprooted trees. Even after he came back from New York was the life of a wanderer itself, just like that of an uprooted person.

Son, Bong Chae’s <Migrants> series began from his strong affection for these uprooted people. As Victims of industrialized society, the lives of these people are wandered around from here to there as if that of floating weeds; his empathy and sympathy for them created the series. with very fine brushes and oil paints, of the series, he used photo images to make the work, but he paints everything by himself from 4 years ago. In this way, his 3D painting finally get settled down its style. The base of this 3D painting is a rough sketch. He first makes a rough sketch of the painting, and paints the tree images on 5 different polycarbonete plates. And here each plate shou이 not get overlap, for this he numbers plates while painting them. therefore, the final image that viewers see is a complete image of those 5 different polycarbonate plate paintings. The scenery illuminated by the lucid white LED light reveals a dreamlike feature as if we look at a beautiful landscape painting if not given any advanced information about the work. As a matter of fact, I myself also found a new aesthetic possibility of Asian landscape painting when looking at this series of works. When the traditional landscape paintings only used the Chinese ink’s light and shade to express senses of distance and space, Son’s ‘Migration’ series use 5 different paintings of tree and clouds on polycarbonate plates to make the viewers fe디 the subtle changes of the represented scenery while they move. Indeed, a new form brings a new content. His 3D painting painted with fine brushes and oil paintings create dreamlike atmosphere and stereoscopic vision, which is different from traditional landscape painting. In this way, his work suggests a new phase of land space paintings. Through the artist’s hand, the traditional and oriental aesthetics in landscape paintings are reborn here as new modernistic painting.

We can find the foundation of the theme of migration in the earlier works of his ‘Migration; series. In the paintings of the uprooted trees standing on clouds or the shadows of a tree on lake, the names of migrants are written in English: there is a tree standing on clouds and through the clouds, there is the White House and under the White House, Endless ocean is represented. And on the surface of the waves a lot of names of migrants are written. It is rare to find a work that contains the meaning of the ‘Migration’ series this much clear. In order words, the ‘Migration’ series that we see these days are eliminated with the names of migrants. By eliminating the names of migrants, and for a definite fact for the theme, he tries to express the meaning of the theme in more connotative and abstract ways; and indirectly leads the viewer to feel through aesthetic experiences. In this way, the appreciation of this work is left unclosed. Whether the viewers interpret it as modernistic landscape paintings or find the souls of the uprooted migrants or not, everything is up to the viewers ability to appreciate the work and aesthetic tastes. The important thing is that Son Bong Chae’s 3D paintings create opportunities to experience new aesthetic experimental, unlike the existing landscape paintings, But can we call it as landscape painting?

Maybe we should rather try to interpret the meaning of the ‘Migration’ series first. All the trees that he paints are uprooted. It is very symbolic that the artist represents these uprooted. It is very symbolic that the artist represents these uprooted trees on top of the clouds, departed from the earth, its original home. the trees in his paintings do not reveal their roots in the paintings, but they are mostly hidden in clouds that always move without definite objective, which is very different from the trees in traditional landscape paintings that are represented on the ground. As we all know, clouds or fogs do not have its ground; therefore, the artist’s representation of the trees that root on clouds that are just phenomenon, not having the ground shows that these trees also do not have their ground here and there: they are not settlers. When his trees signify the migration, nomad and wander of urbanites, who wander around because of urban developments in industrial era, the denotation of the reading of his work is enormous. Through the neat looking landscape paintings, he is creating the portrait of modern people who wander around in authentic 3D painting styles. It is indeed my greatest interests that this artist, whose stride is unimaginably big, will do next.


By the artist:

The Migrants

A few years ago, when I saw that pine trees were plucked out and loaded in a truck, I was shocked.

The pine trees were seemed to be like people who were forced to leave their own land and compelled to be moved from place to somewhere in the process of industrialization. It is just like people’s self-portrait in modern society.

The beauty of the garden trees is just total of their agony and efforts to survive in a strange place. How many trees might survive or not? Can we say the trees are beautiful?

How many people who wander on the outskirts of cities strive to settle down?

I hope to hear their whisper and hope to soothe and glorify their agony. It is a kind of an anthem for those outsiders who are abandoned by the process of industrialization.


Son Bong_Chae


B.F.A. The Dept. of Fine Arts, Chosun University, Gwangju, Korea

M.F.A. Pratt Institute, New York, NY


2013 Light + Nature, Galerie Georg Peithner – Lichtenfels, Wien / Austria

2013 ‘Dream of Diaspora’, Posco Art Museum, Seoul, Korea

2012 ‘Migrants’, Gallery Max Weber Six Friedrich, Munich, Germany

2012 ‘Migrats’, MlCHAEL SCHULTZ Gallery, Berlin, Germany

2011 ‘Dream of Diaspora’, Savina Museum of art, Seoul, Korea

2010 ‘Sound of Water and Wind’, Gallery Beacon, Seoul, Korea

2010 ‘Transparent, Opaque’, Gallery Andy’s, Seoul, Korea

2010 ‘The Invitational Exhibition have selected a Young Artist of this year’, Gwangju museum of art, Gwangju, Korea

2008 ‘Light +Building 2008’, Messe Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany

2007 ‘The Invitational Exhibition in Commemoration of Opening Korean Cultural Center’, Shanghai, China

2006 ‘Lost Time, Border’, Duolun Museum of art, Shanghai, China

2006 ‘Lost Time, Border’, Gallery Ssamzie, Seoul, Korea

2005 ’ Invited Exhibition by Shinsegae Gallery’,Gwangju, Korea

1998’ Invited Exhibition of the 1st Shinsegae Department Art Festival Awardees’, Incheon/Gwangju, Korea

1996 Gallery Johyung, Seoul, Korea

1995 Higgins Hall, New York, United States

1994 New Gallery, New York, United States

‘The Earth and the Wind’, Culture &Art Promotion Center, Seoul, Korea


2012 ‘Jin(to Advance)Tong(to Communicate)’, Gwangju City Museum, Gwangju, Korea

‘Mudeung Tales’, Today Art Museum, Bejing, China

‘Mudeung Tales’, 河南省,Hénán Shěng Museum, Zhangzhou,China

2011 ‘Bamboo Grove and Wind’, Daedam Museum of Art, Damyang, Korea

Group Movement ‘Lets do it’, Kumho Gallery, Gwangju, Korea

‘Landscape of illusion’, Shinsegae Centum-City Gallery, Busan, Korea

2010 ‘NEOSENSE-From Illusion to Three Dimension(3D’),Savina Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea

‘Light-EXPO’, Sang-mu public garden, Gwangju, Korea

‘DIGI-FESTA’, Gwangju Biennale Exbition Hall, Gwangju, Korea

‘2010 Ceramic Art &Technology’, AT Center, Seoul, Korea

2009 ‘Mind Topology_The Phases of 2009 Korea’, National Taiwan Museum of ART, Taijung, Taiwan

‘Project Part2’, Gallery Strenger, Tokyo, Japan

‘Mudeung Mnt. Youth Declaration’, Gallery D, Gwangju, Korea

So on, have participated many exhibitions from both inside and outside the country

2008 ‘Sanglok Museum Opening Exhibition’, Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea

‘Gwangju City Museum Opening Exhibition’, Gallery Light, Seoul, Korea

‘Imagination Power-House’, Hyundai Art Center, Ulsan, Korea

2007 ‘Invited Exhibition by Korean Embassy’, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, United States

‘Art& Play_Funsters’, Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul, Korea Participated in other 70 exhibitions home and abroad

2005 ‘Guangzhou Contemporary Art Exhibition’, Guangzhou Museum, Guangzhou, China

‘Flight Night Exhibition’, Opening Exhibition of Kimhae Culture Center, Kimhae, Korea

2004 ’10Years Later’, Gana Art Center, Seoul, Korea

2003 ‘Meeting of Aesthetics and Pureness’, Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea

2000 ‘Sculpture Amusement Park’, Sunggok Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea

1999 ‘City &Video’, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea

‘Open Studio’, Ssamzie Studio, Seoul, Korea

‘The Earth and the Wind’, Culture &Art Promotion Center, Seoul, Korea

1998 ‘Eight Artists Exhibition from Korea and Britain selected as Artists of This Year’, Total Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea


2010 ‘And_Writers’, The 1st Nanjing International Contemporary Art Biennale, Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum, Nanjing, China

‘10000+LIVES’, Director of the 8th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea

‘Busan Biennale’, Busan, Korea

2008 ‘YOUNIVERSE’, The 3rd Savilla Biennale, The Andalusian Centre of Contemporary Art /The Alhambra, Savilla/Granada, Spain

2006 ‘First Stage’, The Main Exhibition of the Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea

2004 ‘Theme 1’, Project 1 for the 5th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea

1997 ‘Power Exhibition’ the 2nd Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju, Korea


2010 ‘Songjang Culture &Arts Festival’, Songjang Special Art Zone, Beijing, China

2007 ‘Yeosu International Sculpture Festival’, ‘Odong’-Island, Yeosu, Korea

2006 ‘Shanghai E-Art Festival’, Shanghai Museum of Art, Shanghai, China


2012 ‘Art Singapore’, Singapore

‘Arco Art Fair’, Madrid, Spain

‘Art Paris’, Grand Palais Paris, France

‘Art 42 Basel’, Messe Basel Basel, Switzerland

‘Art Karlsru he’, Karlsruhe, Germany

2011 ‘Arco Art Fair’, Madrid, Spain

2010 ‘Seoul Open Art FairSOAF’ COEX, Seoul, Korea

‘Asia Top Gallery Art Fair’, Shilla Hotel, Seoul, Korea

‘Korean International Art Fair KIAF’, COEX, Seoul, Korea

‘Art Gwangju’, Gwangju, Korea

‘Art Cologne’, Cologne, Germany

2009 ‘Korean International Art Fair’, COEX, Seoul, Korea

2008 ‘Asia Top Gallery Hotel Art-FairNew Otani Hotel’, Tokyo, Japan

‘Singapore International Art-Fair’, Singapore

2007 ‘Arco Art Fair’, Madrid Contemporary Art Museum, Madrid, Spain

‘Korean International Art Fair’, COEX, Seoul, Korea

‘Daegu International Art-Fair’, Daegu EXCO, Daegu, Korea

Awards/Residency/Selected Bibliography

2010 K-ART artist, Korean government promote project, Seoul, Korea

2010 Artist Award, Gwangju Artist of 2010, Gwangju, Korea

2009 Middle School Artbook, Seoul, Korea

2006 Duolun Art Museum Residency, Shanghai, China

2004 The 1st Yangsandong Art Studio Residency, Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea

1999 High School Artbook, Seoul, Korea

1998 The 1st Ssamzie Space Residency, Ssamzie gallery, Seoul, Korea

1997 Grand Prix at the 1st Shinsegae Art Festival, Shinsegae Gallery, Gwangju, Korea


National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea, Gwacheon, Korea,

Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Gwangju, Korea

Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea

Korean Cultural Center in Shanghai, Shanghi, China


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