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Irony & Gesture: British Contemporary Art Exhibition

17 Jul – 14 Aug 2008
Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Korea


Irony & Gesture curated by jiyoon Lee suggests irony as a visual language by introducing works of eleven artists mainly from Korea and United Kingdom.

The understanding of irony has its origin in theatre and rhetoric. The earliest uses of the word ‘eironea’ can be found in works by Plato and Aristotle, with later Latin writers such as Cicero and Quintilian also providing definitions for this term. They saw irony as a special case, a decoration within an otherwise simple and literal language of representation.

All of this changed in the nineteenth century when the Romantics insisted that simple and representational world was only possible of the fluid and creative nature of language is ignored. Thus, if one accepts that language is not fixed, but is subject to change and creativity, the gap between word and the world itself, which they saw as irony, was unavoidable. Thus, to the Romantics, the truth of life did not lie in a single fixed, adequate representation, but more in the questioning and understanding the gap, the ironies coming from various representations.

It is ironic to find that visual art, whose gap between representation and the world is the most obvious compared to other art forms, was far behind the times in the exploration of irony compared to literature. This may have been due to dominance of Modern art where artists were searching for their own singular unique representation, or when they were actively searching for the break between their work and the world around them. It seems that it is only in this recent postmodern age where contextual understanding is becoming important that this exploration and understanding gap between representation and truth (or truths) seems to gaining ground in the understanding and practice of visual art.

And the practice of visual art is a multi-dimensional gesture, used to communicate this imperfect representation to those who sees it, and thus also makes them more aware of the gap and the world as they understand it. This maybe one of the reasons why contemporary art that explores and utilizes irony can be so fascinating, as it can trigger many different responses and understanding according to each viewer.