Yun Suknam

Being Restricted I

1995

Not on display
Artist
Yun Suknam born 1939
Medium
Wood, paint, textile, steel and plastic
Dimensions
Displayed: 1820 x 2150 x 2000 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2016
Reference
T14383

Summary

Being Restricted I 1995 consists of a chair, a painted wooden panel and a piece of black rope. Both the chair and wooden panel are reclaimed objects that have been altered by the artist. Yun added metal nails to the chair’s upholstered seat and the bottom end of each leg. Punctured by spikes and standing precariously on talons, the otherwise ornate chair is rendered functionless and threatening. A female figure, painted on reclaimed wood, stands to the right of the chair. The figure is nearly two metres tall, with an arm suggested by another curved chair leg, a mannequin’s hand and two roughly triangular white shapes attached to the bottom edge so that she seems to be standing on tiptoe. A black rope laid on the ground demarcates a rectangular area; the chair sits within the space, while the female figure has one foot inside and one foot outside the rope. The three elements of the work can be installed in different configurations depending on the dimensions of the gallery space. For instance, the chair can be positioned on the left or right of the figure and the area defined by the rope reconfigured each time. The work’s title relates to both the physical confines created by the rope and the artist’s personal experience of feeling restricted as a woman in her native Korea. Yun made a second work with the same title, Being Restricted II 1996, which is a larger installation with a hanging figure.

Since her first solo exhibition in 1982 Yun has been interested in depicting ordinary women in her paintings and works on paper. The figure of the artist’s mother appeared in many of her works and became the most important subject of her work in the 1980s and early 1990s. Her mother’s personal history corresponded with the turbulent moments of Korea’s recent history. Her struggle as a working class widow resonated with – and stood in for in Yun’s work – many women’s experiences as mothers, daughters and wives in the period after the Korean War (1950–3). Marginalised by the patriarchal culture, her mother’s generation were expected to give birth to sons, raise children and remain as housewives without being recognised as equal partners in a household. Working class women like Yun’s mother often had to earn a living on top of full-time jobs as housewives and Yun often depicted such women as street market vendors holding small children, just as her mother did. Yun’s engagement with women’s issues in relation to class struggle led her to be active in the political Minjung art movement that emerged in South Korea in the 1980s, and she participated in a number of exhibitions addressing such issues, such as Women and Reality at Geurim Madang Min, Seoul (1992), and 15 Years of Minjung Misul, 1980–1994 at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (1994).

In the early 1990s Yun began to work with reclaimed wooden panels that she found on waste grounds or discarded on the street. After returning to Korea following a two-year stretch in the United States between 1988 and 1990, Yun began to carve and paint discarded pieces of wood, creating sculptural objects that depicted female figures. This sculptural exploration led her to experiment with the medium of installation, resulting in a series of room installations titled Pink Room in 1996. In parallel with this work she began to transform seemingly ordinary pieces of furniture, such as sofas and chairs, into subversive objects by inserting extremely pointed metal nails. These works, which were less representational than her earlier paintings, explored gender, desire and restrictions placed on women – issues that were not confined to the older generation or working class women and that responded to the changing role of women in the increasingly affluent yet still conservative society of South Korea.

Yun has confirmed that the figure in Being Restricted I is effectively a self-portrait (Yun Suknam in an email to Tate curator Sook-Kyung Lee, 30 March 2015). The use of a second-hand chair in this work is also typical of her practice at the time. The chair is mock-baroque, a style fashionable in Korea in the 1990s as a symbol of Western taste and affluence. In an interview with the poet Kim Hye-Soon in 2003, Yun explained:

I cannot but use everyday items in my work, because my works are about everyday stories. A chair is a good example. Where a woman spends most of her time at home is in the kitchen, where the dining table is. But do women enjoy a meal sitting down on a chair by the dining table? Women certainly hover about the kitchen, but they are actually absent there. I did the ‘chair’ works to tell the story about this absence and the precariousness of women’s place.
(Quoted in Beck Jee-Sook 2009, p.55.)

In Yun’s work the chair becomes even more of a precarious, or even dangerous, place as a result of the metal nails that spike up through the upholstered seat from underneath. These nails can also be read as indicative of feminine desire that is hidden and suppressed but nonetheless present and ready to emerge.

Further reading
Beck Jee-Sook (ed.), Pink Room, Blue Face – Yun Suknam, Seoul 2009.
Korean Contemporary Art Book 017: Yun Suknam, Seongnam-si, Gyeonggi-do 2013.

Sook-Kyung Lee
March 2015

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