Photo exhibits designed to trick the mind

[From Korea JoongAng Daily, where the story includes additional images; more information is available here]

[Image: Duplication¡± (2010) by Han Sung-pil is part of his solo show ¡°Dual Realities¡± at Arario Gallery Seoul]

Exhibits designed to trick the mind

“I’ve always been interested in the relationship between reality and illusion.” -Han Sung-pil

April 21, 2011
By Moon So-young 

Last week, there was news that the U.S. Postal Service had made a big mistake on a stamp featuring the Statue of Liberty. It turned out that the stamp was not based on a photo of the real statue in New York Harbor but on that of a replica at a Las Vegas casino.

How did officials make such a ridiculous mistake? It was reported that they had selected the wrong image from a stock photo service. This is significant. If they had seen the replica in person – rather than in a photo – they would never have mistaken it for the original.

Photography, which we tend to regard as a faithful representation of reality, frequently deceives us, by blurring the boundary between the original and a replica.

Two exhibitions attempt to address this conundrum by showing that deceptive qualities of photos are sublimated in art.

One exhibition is Han Sung-pil’s solo show, “Dual Realities,” at Arario Gallery Seoul in the art zone east of Gyeongbok Palace. Among the works on display is a photo called “Duplication” that shows an odd street view with twin alleys. In fact, the left alley is a trompe l’oeil mural on a building.

“I’ve always been interested in the relationship between reality and illusion and the original and reproductions,” Han said. “And photography itself is the most real and most illusionary medium at the same time.”

The 39-year-old artist has long been interested in these ideas. He is well known for photos of the screens used to cover buildings under construction or repair that are decorated with the images of the completed buildings. He makes such elaborate photos of the screens and of trompe l’oeil murals that it is hard to tell the real thing from the reproduction.

Han also took photos of Statue of Liberty replicas that decorate cheap hotels and wedding halls in various parts of Korea. Through the photos, he showed that the world is abundant with representations and that they sometimes overwhelm the original.

The Arario show consists of Han’s photos of trompe l’oeil murals and the artist’s latest works, including a video piece and an installation.

The video shows the processes of relocation that the famous statues of Marx and Engels in Berlin went through last summer. The statues had escaped the rush to remove statues of communist heros after the unification of Germany but were finally relocated due to subway construction.

“It was very ironic to see workers working together to move the statues of figures who had said ‘Workers of all lands unite!’” Han said. The installation is a replica of the statue in a dazzling white space.

Meanwhile, in “Remediation: An Introduction to Modelism Photography” at Art Lounge Dibang in Pyeongchang-dong, northern Seoul, viewers will see illusions of photos that paradoxically imply reality.”

All of the photos on display are not real but models built by each of the four participating artists. For example, Kim Jung-ju’s photos look like construction sites for skyscrapers but are actually models made of staples of stationary. Yet they show the desolate aspects of metropolitan cities more impressively than real photos of the city.

And Ha Tae-bum’s photos of white buildings, streets and ruins are actually photos of models he made of places where serious events occurred. One such image shows the Yongsan tragedy, in which five people who were protesting a disputed redevelopment project and a SWAT officer were killed in a fire.

“Dual Realities” runs to May 8 at Arario Gallery Seoul. Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays. Go to Anguk Station, line No. 3, exit 1, and walk for seven minutes. Call (02) 723-6190 or visit

“Remediation” starts tomorrow and runs to May 22. Admission is free. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays. Take bus No. 110, 153, 1020, 1711 or 7211. Call (02) 379-3085~6 or visit

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