Lee Wan came to my mind first as an artist who can offer a fitting and timely perspective on the global issue of imbalance through the Counterbalance exhibition. Lee Wan spent five years traveling to ten different Asian countries, where he toiled similarly to local producers in order to harvest rice, make sugar, craft wooden chopsticks, and so forth in an effort to truly grasp the amount of labor and time required to produce a breakfast meal. His five long years of unflagging hard work are far from the spectacular performances that draw large crowds to the atriums of internationally renowned museums and turn artists into megastars. Rather, Lee Wan’s efforts present an unglamorous and humbling image of the artist as a toiling craftsman and meticulous excavator of truth. The art his travails ultimately yield is, of course, a banal meal but one with serious implications as an exposé of power relations. I thought Lee Wan’s analysis of contemporaneity was powerful precisely because it concentrated its gaze on Asia’s reality alone, thereby avoiding futile comparisons with other parts of the world, such as the simplistic East vs. West dichotomy perpetuated by so much art. Lee Wan examines the modernization of Asia (and its tribulations) not through abstract theories but through an almost sociological approach to economic systems and communities in Asian countries. This is also in line with the curatorial agenda of Christine Macel, who intends to revisit and reexamine the history of Asia. The Made In series encourages viewers to look at the world not just through the artist’s work but also through the individuals that the artist met in the process of creating his art. The collection of these perspectives not only fosters an empathetic response but also constructs a complex portrait of Asia’s present.
Cody Choi, on the other hand, experienced Korea’s modernization in person, immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s, and fought against biases toward Asians and Asian culture. Choi is an artist who appropriates the methodologies of Western art and thereby offers a satire of Western culture’s traditional value system. I met Cody Choi for the first time in 1993, when he gave a special lecture at the university I was attending at the time. The lecture was refreshing, even shocking, and left a lasting impression on me. In the process of selecting him as the artist to join the Korean Pavilion’s exhibition, I noticed something very interesting. I realized that Korean curators and artists see Cody Choi very differently from foreign curators and artists. Cody Choi, who rose to prominence in the U.S. during the 1990s, is highly esteemed by Nancy Spector, Gregor Jansen, John Welchman and Philippe Vergne. However, I was surprised to discover that his work is not well known, underappreciated and even a taboo subject in his mother country. This disparity reinforced my decision to display his art at the Korean Pavilion this year.