Allegorical Impulse of Contemporary Korean Artists

By Chang-Hyun, Bang; Heon-Gook, Lee | Ceramics Art & Perception, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Allegorical Impulse of Contemporary Korean Artists


Chang-Hyun, Bang, Heon-Gook, Lee, Ceramics Art & Perception


It is interesting that the contemporary Korean artists' allegorical impulse that appeared sporadically in the 20th century has been receiving attention as an important phenomenon in the 21st century. Most importantly, it is a unique phenomenon that cannot be found in other countries with the works of contemporary Korean artists who have an allegorical impulse that is eventually converted into images of ancient ceramics. This phenomenon, when seen from the ceramics field, is an expansion of the boundary of ceramics and the pursuit of the diversity of materials as well as the pursuit of 'concept' rather than materials and process. It is because ceramic art had once been ostracised by modernists through the Arts and Crafts Movement (led by William Morris 1834-1896) a century before on the grounds that it was bourgeois and decadent. Afterwards it fell into the ideology of industrial ceramics--(historicity and mass production of ceramics) and was scarred from having been alienated from fine art for a long time. (1)

Allegory, one of the methodologies of rhetoric, originated from 'speak differently'. Allegory, which is to convey one's discourse effectively to the other party (hearer, audience), has the characteristic of not explaining one's discourse as it is but alluding to other things, such as the word's origin. Allegory secured a position more superior to those of other rhetorics in the process of disseminating doctrines in the Middle Ages. It fell behind 'symbol', however, after the Age of Enlightenment because of its 'arbitrariness', and its rhetoric value was not recognised. It was, however, through Walter Benjamin's books Ursprung des deutchen Trauerspiels and Baudelaire-Studien that allegory was reviewed in the history of art. Benjamin, who thought that "history is imprinted with ceaseless slippery slope (Vorgang) rather than being an eternal process of life," presented 'nature' as an emblem of meaninglessness--that is, 'allegory of history'--through images of the death of the main characters, the collapse of families and the ruined castles that appeared in literature and art, dealing with tragedies in the Baroque period. (2)

It was through Paul de Mann that allegory began to receive attention as one of the important rhetoric methodologies of Postmodernism. In his thesis, "The Rhetoric of Temporality", de Mann thought that the identity of the text and the meaning of symbols can be 'misleading' so only allegorical interpretation can have access to the essence of language.

Whereas the symbol postulated the possibility of an identity of identification, allegory designates primarily a distance in relation to its own origin and, renouncing the nostalgia and the desire to coincide, it establishes its language in the void of this temporal difference. In so doing, it prevents the self from an illusory identification with the non-self, which is now fully, though painfully, recognised as a non-self. (3)

The essence of language that de Mann thought of eventually refers to the allegorical properties of language. If symbols pursue organic and holistic oneness in the relationship between the text and the meaning, allegory has an arbitrary and dismantling nature in the relationship between text and meaning. Paul de Mann thus thought that it is abstruse and even impossible to interpret language that has allegorical properties. Here, the Postmodern nature of allegory is revealed. Postmodernism, as opposed to reason, order and the necessity of Modernism, has the characteristics of dissolution, chance and non-determinism. It was through Craig Owens' The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism published in 1980 that allegory came to the fore in art criticism. A conviction of the remoteness of the past and a desire to redeem it for the present--these are its two most fundamental impulses. (4)

As mentioned in the above sentence, Owens positively accepted and developed Walter Benjamin's allegory theory from the aesthetic point of view. …

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