Critics’ Picks

Jungki Beak, Yongso (detail), 2019, 3-D printed plastic, steel pipe, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Jungki Beak, Yongso (detail), 2019, 3-D printed plastic, steel pipe, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Jungki Beak

OCI Museum
45-14, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu
March 13–May 4, 2019

Extending upward from the museum’s ground floor through its mezzanine, a scaffold of steel pipes and 3-D-printed plastic joints shaped like dragon heads forms a puzzling temporary structure. Toward the rear of the gallery, an equally mystifying wooden altar draws one’s gaze to a hefty mass of raw iron ore surrounded by miniature cooling fans. Together, these works—Yongso and Chimhodu, both 2019—function as a pair to transform the room into a symbolic space, giving rise to the necessary conditions for an ancient rain ritual. This engagement of traditional East Asian beliefs, premised upon the five phases of matter that govern all phenomena, activates signifiers from the folk semiotics of shamanism—tigers and dragons, iron and wood, warmth and coolness—to connote water.

Jungki Beak’s exhibition here, “Contagious Magic,” reveals an implied critique of organized belief systems and mines the slippery relationship between substance and existence. His invocation of magical modalities offers an apt discursive framework for his conceptual approach, which synthesizes imagined causalities with actual instances of material correlation. By adopting water as a common denominator for examining pseudoscientific ideas, Beak transfers its life-sustaining ubiquity on Earth to a thesis of holism linking all organisms past, present, and future. In Natural History Museum: Placentals, 2019, and Materia Medica: Cinis, 2017—shelves lined with open bottles of water relating to various species and to pills made from the ashes of an accidental fire, respectively—the artist considers water and dilution in the context of homeopathic healing, another belief system that, like shamanism, lacks a scientific basis. Rather than encourage cynicism, however, these works dig into perceptions of the eternal and the infinitesimal to propose alternative ways of envisioning the universe and our place within it.