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Cho Duck Hyun Solo Exhibition

Cho Duck-hyun explores Old Shanghai with alter ego
By Kwon Mee-yoo

Artist Cho Duck-hyun is a man of details. His latest works, on view at the PKM Gallery in Seoul for his solo exhibit "Epic Shanghai," showcase narratives with hidden meanings.

His "1935" is a six-by-four-meter large-scale drawing, capturing a glamorous and bustling scene of Old Shanghai set in 1935. However, when closely examined, there are some out-of-place elements in the drawing such as a family of three in modern clothing taking a picture with a smartphone.

This graphite drawing is Cho's interpretation of Asia's rocky modern history, reflecting the present. Back then, Shanghai was a place where the East and the West, the pre-modern and modern, and colonialism and post-colonialism clashed.

The artist explores the unique time and space with Cho Duk-hyun, an imaginary person with the same name. The fictitious Cho first appeared in 2015 during the artist's solo exhibition "Dream" at the Ilmin Museum of Art.

"I wanted to make the story of imaginary Cho to be present progressive. I was interested in different lives of people with the same name and created my homonym Cho, who was born in 1914 and died in 1995. In the 2015 work, I portrayed Cho's latter days -- how he remembers his life and how he dies lonely, relating to social issues," the artist explained. "I decided to dig into Cho's past and found him in Old Shanghai in the 1930s."

According to the artist, the other Cho immigrated to Manchuria in the 1920s. He lost his entire family during events such as the Hunchun Incident and arrives in Shanghai as a war refugee in his late teens. While pulling a rickshaw, Cho encounters a Korean actor in Shanghai and enters the strange and exotic city.

To add more narrative to his project, Cho collaborated with Chinese writer Mian Mian, who was born and grew up in Shanghai.

"My collaborator and I sent our stand-in to the 1930s Shanghai to make the story. My representative is Cho Duck-hyun in his 20s and Mian's deputy is a novelist named Hong. Cho and Hong meet in Old Shanghai and understand the city while interacting with one another," the artist said. "But no, they don't fall in love with each other."

Cho and Mian came up with the basic outline together. Cho added his visual imagination and the result came out as graphite drawings, photographs and a video installation.

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