Interview: Jong Yugyong

19 Jun - 9 Sep 2020
  • Jong YuGyong's (b.1991, Kobe, Japan) practice stems from his explorations of the Korean Peninsula and Japan to find where he stands amidst their differentiated yet conjoined histories. In Ota Fine Arts Shanghai's exhibition "When many pass one way…", Jong presents three paintings from his "For One and Only Country" series. Through this exhibition, we had a conversation with Jong about his creative process and experience.



  • O: The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be a difficult time for many people around the globe, including artists. Has this affected the process of your art production? With new laws and regulations being passed to cope with the pandemic, do you have plans for new ideas or projects?

    J: It is undeniable that Covid-19 has changed many things, however, I was conscious in maintaining my attitude towards my art production. I am now participating in a group exhibition at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, for which I had made a video work for the first time. The work features a scene at a bus terminal, which I shot between January and February – a sensitive period compared to now. I had to change my plans as certain locations which I had initially planned to shoot at were inaccessible due to Covid-19. Eventually, the exhibition was postponed, thus giving me more time to work on the piece. Rather than generating new ideas, I want to focus on developing the concept and artistic style which I was already working on

  • Installation view: "2020 Asia Project — Looking for Another Family", National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. Image courtesy of MMCA.

  • O: Propaganda posters are a significant element in your work. What was your immediate reaction when you encountered them?

    J: I found the posters amusing when I first saw them, in terms of how the images were depicted, their functions, etc. I am not sure if those posters function as propaganda but I was surprised with the fact that these methodologies still exist. When I read the slogans, I did not get agitated, instead, some questions came to mind. At the same time, I thought about what advertisement meant essentially. I had observed the propaganda posters that were made recently and noticed that the human figures were enhanced. They resembled a marriage between photographs and photorealism paintings. The idea that these photorealism painting processes in itself is a propaganda for production techniques interested me as well. 


    O: On the 'nkgram' page of your website, we saw an interesting project where your works were merged into the real world. Could you tell us more about that project?

    J: I think the internet plays a role in the formation of self-identity. Of course it can also incite hate speech, hence we cannot say that is all positive but the internet has a ‘landscape’ that one cannot learn at school. The ‘landscape’ of the mother country which I cannot visit freely, has become a photograph that is cropped from a third person’s perspective. If you search #dprk on Instagram, etc., you can find them easily and they can be saved too. On one hand, it is my ‘motherland’. Yet at the same time, I was able to borrow a third person’s perspective to develop my own sense of identity, I found such distance interesting. This was the beginning of the nkgram project. By placing an image of my work atop a photograph of the ‘motherland’ that was taken by a stranger, and to then upload it onto the internet. This process of circulation, the inconsistency derived from having a part of the original image covered with halftone dots and the wonderfully strange feeling of having my artworks displayed within the city, made it an interesting series. Initially, I uploaded them on Instagram and later, I thought that it would be better if they were placed together, hence I made the website.
  • nkgram project, © Jong YuGyong

    nkgram project, © Jong YuGyong

  • O: It can be said that you have transformed those found materials into your own expression, by infusing pop art style and strong bright colors. What are some of your considerations and intentions behind this technique?
    J: I always felt that there is a sense of distance between myself and my ‘mother country’ or ‘nation’. I think that depicting this sense of distance is a good way to question the relationship between an individual and a nation. Just like I have mentioned above, I tend to view propaganda posters as something very superficial, hence it does not work if I draw it as it is repeatedly (as a form of self-expression). Therefore, I thought about using Photoshop to create a superficial and flat image. By seeing propaganda posters as “images”, and deconstructing them freely best reflects my attitude.
    J: In my process of painting, I convert propaganda posters into halftone dots on printed materials. The use of larger dots is used to highlight and express distance. In regards to the use of colors, my creation is based on propaganda posters, hence the use of red is inevitable. When adjusting the colors, I intentionally reproduced the colors of the RGB color model. This way, the reproduced image will leave an impression that is similar to images on a computer screen. In my paintings, I hope that I am able to make minimal decisions. Perhaps it could be said that I am trying to exclude my self-consciousness. This is another way of expressing distance.
    J: Additionally when I started this series, I was particularly interested in a type of visual illusion called “subjective contours”. To put it simply, these are illusions that cause our brain to consider the existence of lines that do not actually exist in reality. When I encountered this explanation, I thought about whether the concept of “mother country” is similar. That it does not exist, and it is in fact people who want to see it in existence: to bring into existence something that wasnon-existent. I felt that this phenomenon has connections with the sense of distance that I mentioned earlier, hence I decided to use it in my paintings.
  • Left: Jong YuGyong‘s Studio, © Jong YuGyong , Right: Jong YuGyong in his Studio, © Jong YuGyong

  • O: As an emerging artist from the new generation, are there any pioneer artists that have inspired you?

    J: Andy Warhol and Robert Smithson. The way Warhol presents his artist persona to the art world, and his artworks that reflect his attitude towards capitalism (which has received both acclaim and criticism) may appear “superficial”. However, the depth of his thoughts was interesting to me. Of course, I think he denied it himself too. I was fond of the fact that Warhol’s background as an immigrant who moved from a communist country to a capitalist one, helps the audience understand his works.

    J: Robert Smithson’s concept of “sites/ non-sites” gave me a sense of courage. Although I am open about my identity as a “Zainichi” in my art practice, “Zainichi” people are alienated (and “suburbanized”) in the Japanese society. I was inspired by Smithson’s concept of “sites/ non sites” and felt that it would be effective to apply this concept to “Zainichi” in presenting the presence of “Zainichi” to the art world.  

  • nkgram project, © Jong YuGyong

  • OYou grew up as part of a minority group in Japan. Has this consciousness of identity motivate you to pursue ways of expressing yourself? What was the initial motivation for you to make art?

    J: Rather than a consciousness, I think it was more like an “insistence”. As ironic as it may sound, I felt both a sense of distance and insistence simultaneously. I found it rather amusing to place these two contradicting words side by side but it is also this contradiction itself that has motivated me to create.


    O: After your move from Japan to Seoul, Korea, a few years ago, did you experience positive changes and/or were you faced with new challenges? 

    J: I think that moving to another place physically has made me process my thoughts more quickly. Obviously, the street signs in Seoul are written in Korean. Conversations that I hear are also in Korean. Such changes have influenced my work in several ways, and also led me to approach my work with different styles. It also became an opportunity for me to relook at my own identity. While I refer to myself as a “Zainichi-Kankoku-jin” (ethnic Korean residing in Japan), my identity as a South Korean is actually not that strong (that being said, neither is my identity as a Japanese or North Korean). I have had to explain what “Zainichi” means, more than I did when I was in Japan, which makes me feel burdened, but it has certainly become a motivation for my art-making.


    * YuGyong generally refers to 'Zainichi' as Korean with the status of special permanent residents of Japan.

  • Visit Jong YuGyong's online viewing room here for more information.