Classifying and Objectifying

JeongMee Yoon and Her Photographic Look to the World

JeongMee Yoon is a South Korean photographer whose shots are mainly focused on objects’ classification and on living beings’ objectification.

One of her most recent work, Circulation of objects, is precisely about the value of things we possess.
In this case, JeongMee hasn’t just taken shots, but she showed some objects creating a sort of shop inside an art gallery.

This work’s idea was born when, due to health problems, her mother moved to a nursing hospital and her belongings were divided among her sons and daughters. The artist took all the things her siblings didn’t want even though she hadn’t enough space to keep everything. She says indeed: “I’m not good at throwing things“.

After, she decided to sell or donate those objects and she then organized a two-days show where visitors could participate buying them.
She matched to each object a label with the history and the memories she had about them. For example, she remembers when her mom cleaned mother-of-pearl furniture or those days when herself didn’t want to play the piano and hid it inside the same furniture.
These labels underline how the affective and subjective value can differ from the economic one.

Once sold, the artist asked the buyers to send her a photo where she could see objects’ new places to trace their path.
About this she says: “It was hard to separate from these things because they all keep memories of my family; anyway, thanks to the photos sent me from the new owners, sadness lessened because I know that someone is using them“.

JeongMee is fascinated by accumulation, so, in Space-Man-Space photo series, she pictured the shopkeepers of some areas of Seoul inside their working spaces.

When I asked her if this series wanted to focus more on dealers or on the way they arranged goods in their shops, the artist told me: “They are both portraits and photos of the environments where humans work and live. That’s why, in the title, the word ‘Man’ lies in the middle between ‘Space’ and ‘Space’. It means that people live in spaces all the time”.

Because of the huge amount of shown goods, people often seem so overwhelmed by them that they blend in as they are on sale too. Thus, shopkeepers lose their individuality becoming unmarkable parts of a wider scene.

Such a situation can also be found in The Pink and Blue Project, but in this series the artist herself arranged the objects to shoot in a precise order.

This series, started in 2005 and still in progress, shows indeed toys, clothes, and books of children arranged in a sort of chromatic-dimensional catalogue where human presence is secondary.
This project’s aim is to underline how precise colours are used all over the world to divide in two different categories feminine and masculine genres during childhood.

The artist started portraying her daughter Seowoo at the age of five, when she was obsessed by pink and she only wanted things coloured that way.
JeongMee noticed how such a passion for that specific hue was widespread among many girls both in South Korea and in the USA, so she asked to other parents to take pictures of their daughters and of their pink belongings.

While The Pink Project was ongoing, she noticed that boys had their favourite colour too, blue. She then also started The Blue Project.

From those projects, big differences between the two genres have raised: girls’ possessions were all linked to the household chores or to beauty, while boys’ ones were about science, technology, or sport.
Moreover, if they were dressed up, girls always wanted old fashioned ball dresses to look like princesses, while boys wore avant-garde and fully accessorized suits as the ones of superheroes.

The coupling of pink and blue respectively to feminine and masculine genre it is not, as we could believe, an old remaining because it has been proved that in the beginning of XX century there was the opposite choose.
This information allows to understand how, for the society, it is not important which colour identifies a genre or another, but that there is always a distinction between them. Thus, human being’s tendency of classifying everything is fully shown.

In Red face the artist always deals with genre’s identity issue, but she doesn’t focus anymore on a dual contrast, rather on the roles assigned to women in the society.

During the period when she lived in the USA, JeongMee started questioning herself about her being a woman and about the meaning this had in her life.
She then wrote on her face with a red lipstick the words Korean, Woman, Mother, Daughter, Wife, Daughter-in-law, Endure, and Survive. She repeated these writings till she completely covered her face in red.
After, she erased those words cleaning herself but she couldn’t wash away everything. In this way she showed how each stereotype people have about us bears sacrifices, sorrows, and duties which leave trace on us.

The feeling of constraint in roles or situations we have not necessarily chosen, was already shown by the artist in the end of 90s in the series Zoo.
She says about this: “There are times when human beings self-impose rules and roles. I wanted to show this behaviour. We are like the animals caged in the zoos“.

That’s why, in these pictures, the focus in not on animals whose presence is barely visible. Cages’ emptiness and the choice of black and white underline how human being reasonless tries to control everything classifying things without realizing that, among the objects and animals he divides, organizes, and shows, he included himself too.

Useful links: JeongMee Yoon’s website
JeongMee Yoon’s Instagram page

Photo courtesy of the artist

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