Considering Do-Ho Suh’s Installation Art within the Context of Asian Democracy

By Haeyoung Youn.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

After adopting democracy as a part of Western modernization, East Asian countries have shown a contradictory position between human rights and Asian values, which emphasize the cultural originality of the East Asian Confucius society. In contrast to the respect of the individualistic ideal in Western democracy, East Asian countries, in spite of the democratic principles, have emphasized national sovereignty and community's precedence over individuals for the social and economic stability. Thus, Asian democracy has been identified as a dictatorial system of Asian development, which is the mixture of the Confucian tradition of Patriarchal system and community spirit with Capitalism. Experiencing the same paradigm, South Korea has formed “new totalitarianism” by the alliance between “Jaeber”(a group of monopolistic enterprises) and Korean government, which caused an economic crisis in 1997.

Critically representing a space between individuality and collectivity, Do-ho Suh's works show fragile human rights in Asian (or Korean) democracy. For instance, “Some/One,” displayed at the 49th Venice Biennale, shows a nine-foot tall, long, flowing armor of a general. The armor is made up of approximately 100,000 military dog tags. In contrast to regular dog tags that identify the wearer through name, birth date, and blood type, Suh’s fabricated tags are engraved with randomly assorted letters and numbers. They remind us of the demanded sacrifice of anonymous individuals for the sake of the public good. Viewers can walk inside of the armor and see their own distorted images reflected in the mirrors that are hung on inner walls of the armor. The artist awakes the viewer to the violated human rights by totalitarianism or authoritarianism, which has been done in the name of national development.

This paper will look at contradictory aspects between Asian (Korean) society, emphasizing the traditional Confucius value, and human rights with Do-ho Suh's works. As a methodology, Slavoj Zizek's notions of rigid designator, the desire of the Other, a social fantasy, the Real, and the subject, will be applied to understand the relationship between the Asian style of democracy and the public in East Asia (Korea).

Keywords: Do-ho Suh's Works, An Asian Model of Democracy/ Asian Values, Slavoj Zizek's Notions of Rigid Designator, the Desire of the Other, a Social Fantasy, the Real, and the Subject

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 6, pp.97-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.522MB).

Dr. Haeyoung Youn

Ohio University, USA


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