Past Exhibition

2018 Art Sonje Project #4: Michael Joo – Verfremdungseffekt

September 8 – October 14, 2018

2018 Art Sonje Project #4: Michael Joo – Verfremdungseffekt

Art Sonje Center proudly presents Michael Joo’s solo exhibition 2018 Art Sonje Project #4: Verfremdungseffekt, on view from September 8 to October 14, 2018.

Michael Joo’s Verfremdungseffekt is a multi-part installation linked to a new public sculpture Absentialis he has installed in the Peace and Culture Plaza in Cheorwon. Placed in the Civilian Control Zone, a patrolled area that directly borders the Demilitarized zone, Joo’s site driven project there revolves around the collection and displacement of seven natural volcanic boulders surrounding a monumental cast cement sculpture that is itself made up of digitally scanned and enlarged fragments from small samples of volcanic rock collected along the Hantan River. Absentialis was commissioned by the Real DMZ Project, and produced through extensive collaboration with TechCapsule, a robotic craft workshop and lab that experiments with various technologies, and University of Seoul Sewoon Campus.

Joo’s installation was inspired by Seung-il Bridge, a bridge with a historically contested origin that spans the Hantan River in Cheorwon, Gangwon-do. Popular belief has that it was built in part by North Korea with Soviet architecture in 1948, and finished by the South in 1952. Spanning the Hantan River, which runs through North and South Korea, Seung-il Bridge thus provides a peculiar directness in its relationship with North Korea; particularly as a site bordering the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Further flanked by subsequently built bridges, each signifying the obsolescence of its predecessor, the shifting identity of Seung-il Bridge provides a physical and symbolic background as site that seeded Michael Joo’s installation at Art Sonje Center in Seoul.

The centerpiece of the exhibition at the Art Sonje Center, Absentials, features a sculptural installation that is composed of materials from extensive tests and experiments generated throughout the making of the plaza sculpture. Consisting of digitally milled and printed mold forms, material studies, still lives and artworks in and of themselves, they are gathered to form a sculpted mass that reflects the negative space of the cast boulder installed at the edge of the DMZ; an isolated object with restricted accessibility, guarded by military forces.

In the second major component of the show, Joo’s video work, Saltation, Traction, Precipitate, documents the process of the creation of the permanent site specific monumental work, from the action of seven local children collecting the volcanic rock, to playing “Ttang-tta-meok-gi” (a traditional Korean game) with these stones, to vignettes from the production engineering process at TechCapsule’s material research labs in Sewoon Sangga, and to the movement and displacement of the natural rocks to the plaza site. It was Joo’s intention that the children have direct involvement with the work–as the volcanic stones they collected under and played with atop Seung-il Bridge were 3D scanned, enlarged, and cast to form the final composited stone at the installation’s core. Additionally, the patterns drawn by the children as a result of their documented play, essentially a game about defining space and territory, becomes the map and template for the actual patterns inscribed on the plaza in the work. Stemming from the simple act of collecting and playing with the stone, and exponentially but organically developing through time and scale from there, the work is driven by a certain agency of the children, whose actions have significantly contributed to the making of the final public artwork itself.

Juxtaposing location imagery of the scenery and actions in Cheorwon with the technological production conducted at Tech Capsule, the film draws upon the dialectics of the natural and artificial–not only in its materiality, but also of its site and displacement. Given that the Korean Demilitarized Zone is an artificial strip of land created by conflict, its areas also heavily embedded with a history of forced migration–the movement of the volcanic boulders from one place to another mirrors the displacement of people and disturbances in scales of time.

Also featured in the exhibition, Proximal Removes, are a series of floor-based geometric paintings on patterned brickwork. In exhibiting work that is simultaneously archive and sculpture, composited from the materials from the process of creation as well as directly reconstructing the brick surfaces of the Peace and Culture Plaza–the installation at Art Sonje Center allows for a closer examination of the unpinnable and staged contradictions of the site. As displaced fragments or “quotations of place”, these paintings will also serve as stages for further collaborative performance action and interaction during the course of the exhibition that relates to the extended content of the show, and highlighting its collaborative aspects.

The title exhibition, Verfremdungseffekt (distancing effect), is a Brechtian term that refers to the idea of preventing the viewer from losing oneself completely in the narrative–and instead allowing them to become a “conscious, critical observer.” The idea of distance operates in several different ways through the exhibition. For one, by revealing the production process of the installation work, the artist interrupts the smooth facade of the effortless-installation-myth that erases labor from its objecthood. Working closely with and highlighting the creative input of the individual members of the TechCapsule and UOS Sewoon Campus teams, and other collaborators, Joo acknowledges the external forces that shape and inform the visual and haptic within the exhibition. On another note, the very “distance” of the exhibition space away from Cheorwon’s installation site itself allows for the plaza to become palpably stranger. As the DMZ leans heavily on these ideas of distance and distancing, their meanings in this context refer not only to psychological estrangement but also physical alienation.

Within this ‘liminal space’–a heavily guarded strip of land that borders the actual border that is the DMZ, the “Peace and Culture Plaza” is a vast, artificial park and buffer zone. For the most part inaccessible unless taking part in a military sanctioned “security tour,” and at the frontier of what is arguably the planet’s most heavily guarded eco-preserve, the plaza contradicts the idea of its raison d’être as “public space”: instead revealing an identity still in formation, and on the brink of possible multiple futures.

About the Artist
Michael Joo (born 1966, United States) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His work has been exhibited in numerous institutions, including the Menil Collection, Serpentine Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art, and MoMA PS1. Joo has also had solo shows at Rodin Gallery (Samsung Foundation), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, New Art Gallery Walsall, MIT List Visual Arts Center, and the Freer•Sackler (Smithsonian Institution), among others. In 2001 Joo and Doho Suh represented Korea at the Venice Biennale, and Joo was a co-recipient of the grand prize at the 2006 Gwangju Biennial. His works are held in public collections around the world, including MoMA, the Brooklyn Museum, Denver Art Museum, Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Guggenheim Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Savannah College of Art and Design, Israel Museum, Moderna Museet, UCLA Hammer Museum, and Walker Art Center. Awards include a United States Artists Fellowship in 2006, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1998. Joo currently teaches at Columbia University School of the Arts, New York, and Yale School of Art, Connecticut.

TechCapsule Talk
Date: 6 October 2018, Sat, 4pm
Venue: Art Sonje Center Hanok
Speaker: Dongwook Hwang(Lead, TechCapsule), Jie-Eun Hwang(Professor, University of Seoul)


TechCapsule is an architecture, art, and design project group that utilizes robotic craft and digital fabrication technology(
It is based in the urban manufacturing center Sewoon Sangga as part of the Maker’s Cube residency. TechCapsule is led by Dongwook Hwang, and Hyun Parke, JongulrimKim, Seong Kwang Choi participated in this project.

University of Seoul Sewoon Campus

University of Seoul Sewoon Campus is a field lab that explores creativity through extensive collaborations, live education and active research. ( Centrally located within a community of various tech-generations, Sewoon Campus aims to provoke and connect local issues to a global network . The director Sewoon Campus, Prof. Jie-Eun Hwang contributed to this project with Taxu Lee, Jongmin Ahn, Minjae Cho, Myunghyun (Kelly) Lee.

September 8 – October 14, 2018
Michael Joo
Organized by
Art Sonje Center
Supported by
Kukje Gallery, REAL DMZ PROJECT, TechCapsule, University of Seoul Sewoon Campus