Photographs by Yeondoo Jung, Text by Julian Ott
In Evergreen Tower, the name of an apartment tower in eastern Seoul, Jung takes us into the living rooms of families living here for a series of portraits by the same name. They tell a story about the people who live in eerily similar living spaces and how individual lives have turned them into homes. These self-posed photographs share only a moment of their narratives, but unique characteristics give us clues about their entire lives. The camera does not come in too close, as if the families are not aware of how much of their home is revealed.
These block-like structures are the ideal homes for many of the people who are born or come here to Seoul to live out their dreams. In shelters that appear almost like mass-produced stages, how we play out our lives becomes part of our self understanding. We do this by decorating our home and lifestyle with props––instruments, clothes, TVs and chairs that we choose––that then turn around and tell us something again about ourselves. Everyone has their own standard of what is normal. As viewers, we wonder if we might be seeing things they do not see in themselves.
Nuclear-family apartment towers may not be unusual in all corners of the world, but in Seoul it is the ideal paradise for many. When the series was photographed in 2001, not only these homes but the families themselves represented a common dream. Today one might still find generations of family living under one roof, but in Evergreen Tower there is one mother, one father, and several children. The parents of the parents in these photos may have had six or seven siblings, but these families will only see several grandchildren as the birthrate in Korea has fallen to the lowest among developed countries.
Progress has not slowed in Korea, and while these kinds of apartment towers have not become any less common, more and more people are living alone amongst smaller stacks of apartments called “one-rooms” and “two rooms”. The ideal paradise is as much a question as it is an idea.
Evergreen Tower might seem like a document or even a social experiment using space as a controlled variable, but Jung’s work brings the viewer in touch with others’ lives through a process of empathy he himself experiences. Each of his artworks––diptychs, videos, installations or virtual realities––is a process of building a pathway into peoples’ lives. As participators play out a role and their actions start to form an image, we begin to see a relationship between the subject and the society they are a part of. The narrative and/or fantasy exists to help us empathize with and understand others’ way of living.
Jung has said that his work is a reflection of himself through others. A similar invitation seems to await us in Evergreen Tower where private space becomes a way to get to know people. Not too uncommonly, we do the same to know ourselves.