brilliant 30: Jongjun Son
Photography as an Empowering Tool for Social Conditions
Jongjun Son, Reflecting on Individuals and Collective Society
Art reflects on society; Jongjun Son’s work embodies this statement. The “Defensive Measure” series is a reflection on socially disadvantaged people. This series speaks of the desire for digital technology which has cultivated a nation dependent on high-tech devices and networks. Son emphasizes the causes and effects of a cultural lag arising from this phenomenon – the increase of materialism and consumption, and the loss of humanity. In an effort to cope with rising anxiety in the midst of a rapidly-changing society, individuals have developed defensive mechanisms which may distort or deny reality in order to maintain one’s stability. Son’s “Defensive Measure” works address the mental by-products of technical capital by creating a “spiritual armor” out of aluminum: cyborg figures clad in armor experience anxiety from the absence of communication and isolation.
Son’s work is a manifestation of the irony behind technology's negative effects - the very thing on which people have come to depend in an effort to maintain social order. The hopeless faces inside Son’s “spiritual armor” speak to the bleak reality of a society that is constantly plugged in.
Art can act as a catalyst for social change when the artist speaks within their contemporary social context. In light of this, Jongjun Son defines the artist’s role in terms of being able to engage individuals in meaningful conversations and reflect on critical issues. Son calls out the starry-eyed ideologies dominating contemporary art, shedding light on the aspects of reality that society really needs to observe and reflect upon.
Q. Tell us about your work.
In order to understand the meaning of my work, it’s important first to understand the process of fabrication. First, as models for “Defensive Measure,” I look for people who consider themselves socially disadvantaged. I spend time with these individuals to come to know their inferiority complexes, and I design customized “spiritual armor” that may camouflage or act as a crutch to overcome these worries. These designs are then hand-crafted in my studio and mounted on the models. The final product is photographing and filming the armor-clad models. Ultimately, my intention in creating “spiritual armor” for the socially disadvantaged is to provide a way for them to defend themselves.
Discrimination against foreigners is a lot less now in Japan; but during my stay in Tokyo between 2008 and 2011, I experienced strong prejudice against non-citizens. This was a time when I grew aware of the woes of minorities and the socially underprivileged and disadvantaged. - Jongjun Son -
Q. How do you go about selecting your models?
Initially, my models came from what I considered to be socially oppressed or disadvantaged groups; for example, those who are physically or mentally disabled, the chronically depressed, social outcasts and people who are bullied. After a certain period of time, I began to ask myself, “Who are the socially oppressed? As an artist working with this subject, what is my status in relation to the others?” Then I realized that I had unspoken issues myself. It was then that I decided to extend my interest to the wider public. I came to realize that, regardless of wealth and power, every individual suffers from their own personal baggage and has certain inferiority complexes.
Q. Your work seems to have an intricate relationship with contemporary social issues. How did you come to be interested in this subject?
I am not an activist, and my work is not a criticism of society. Through my work, I merely dig up social issues and raise awareness of what we may be passing by. In my observation of the individuals struggling to survive in this seemingly heartless, competitive society, I wanted to empower them not only with ideals and encouragement, but also with symbolic defense. Discrimination against foreigners is a lot less now in Japan; but during my stay in Tokyo between 2008 and 2011, I experienced strong prejudice against non-citizens. This was a time when I grew aware of the woes of minorities and the socially underprivileged and disadvantaged.
Q. Could you explain the meaning behind the ‘Defensive Measure’ series?
The title ‘Defensive Measure’is actually derived from a chain of commands commonly used in the US military. I borrowed this military term and applied it to my body of work. We live in a strange world with a twisted system where the socially disadvantaged are least defended and spoken for; there’s almost a sense of urgency to provide a defensive mechanism for these people groups. My “spiritual armor” is customized to protect areas in which individuals feel they feel are the most vulnerable. The integration of gadgets and the human body begets a cyborg-like character strong enough to overcome hostile social systems and isolation.
Q. What is the role of the artist in contemporary society?
The role of every artist is to empower individuals to become creative and critical thinkers; because the fundamental role of art is to function as a medium to recognize and reflect upon underlying social agendas, and to discuss their socio-cultural implications.
Defensive Measure 0010. 2006. Digital print. 110 x 73cm
Nomadic Navajo 0002. 2013. Digital print. 110 x 73cm
Defensive Measure 0058. 2008. digital print. 110 x 73cm
Defensive Measure 0063. 2009. Digital print. 110 x 73cm
Nomadic Navajo 0003. 2013. Digital print. 110 x 73cm
Defensive Measure 0073. 2014. Digital print. 110 x 73cm
Defensive Measure 0075. 2014. Digital print. 110 x 73cm
Jongjun Son acquired his B.F.A. in Sculpture at Hong-ik University. Son acquired his M.F.A. and Ph.D. in Fine Art at Tama Art University, Tokyo, Japan. The artist focuses on the social function of art, reflecting on individualism and the standardization of humanity. The artist offers a new perspective on today’s social issues and invests technical capital with an opportunity to reflect on materialism, consumption, humanism and value. Jongjun Son has had numerous solo exhibits including and not limited to “Nomadic Navajo,” at Hong-eun Art Center, Seoul in 2013, “Defensive Measure” at Kunst Doc, Seoul in 2013 and at gallery Zero Hachi, Tokyo in 2009. Group shows include “59.15%/yr” and “INTRO” at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, “Old & New” at Gujung Art Center, Asan in 2014, “Emerging Artist” at Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul in 2013, “Hero” at Nanji Art Studio, Seoul in 2012, and more.