Expat artists deconstruct a monk’s journey
(by Catherine Jun, Korea Herald, 2002)
Two expatriate artists are currently displaying their explorative creations in a duo exhibition titled, “The Clothes Don’t Make the Monk,” at the French Cultural Center in Seoul. The show features installations by French-born Claire Wastiaux and Korean-Belgian Mihee-Nathalie Lemoine.
“The name of the exhibit is a famous French proverb that means, ‘what you see is not what you get,'” said Wastiaux in an interview with The Korea Herald.
A resident in Korea for three years, Wastiaux portrays a monk’s mental journey through an installation of hanging monks’ coats inlaid with small paintings.
“In my mind, I imagined the spiritual journey that a monk goes through, the stories, the mental searching, the sadness, the joy, the troubles,” she said, explaining the inspiration for her piece.
Suspended from the ceiling, the coats hang in an eerie, phantom-like procession.
On the floor beneath lies an installation of abstract paintings, her adaptation of Buddhist mandalas. In Tibetan Buddhism, a mandala is a two dimensional representation of an imaginary palace displaying several deities, and is contemplated during meditation. “(The paintings) are my contemplations,” she said.
Wastiaux’s fascination with Buddhist practices began as a young girl. As an adult, she explored the religion as well as Eastern aesthetics through her art and her travels through Asia. But it was her own spiritual journey that brought her to Korea.
To Wastiaux, there is a similarity between the artist and the monk that is not often recognized. “They both meditate on the transformations in the world.” But while the monk observes, the artist represents, she added.
The exhibit’s title in French, “L’habit ne fait pas le moine,” includes a play on Lemoine’s name, which means “the monk” in French. This exhibit is also the sequel to her show last October, called “Why Buddy Lemon left to the East.”
Her current exhibit displays a series of installations made from the fabric of a monk’s vest and pants. Each piece is painted with Chinese characters in colors signifying the many emotions a monk feels during his studies – love, passion and humor.
Lemoine’s earlier exhibition was a take on the Korean film “Why Bodhi Darhma Left to the East?” including a photo series documenting her what she calls her “physical art” of going east.
“We always say ‘east’ is Asia. But what is really ‘east’ of Asia? The United States. The ‘east’ can be everywhere,” she said. In a symbolic artistic exploration, she traveled to the United States in monk’s attire, shorn head and all. The pieces in the current exhibit were made from the outfit she wore in her travels.
A Korean adoptee, Lemoine has used many mediums during her last nine years in Korea to express the disconnected feeling brought on by her dual identity – both Eastern and Western.
“It’s part of my search for where I belong, and my struggle with the sense that I don’t belong anywhere.”
A former filmmaker and activist for the rights of Korean adoptees, Lemoine raises awareness on issues surrounding hyphenated identities through her art as well through literature. In 2000, she published her book “55 percent Korean,” a collection of personal essays and critiques of Korea.
When asked about the possibility of negative reactions to the exhibit by Buddhist monks, especially to the torn vestments, she responded, “They cannot be materialistic, so they don’t have to care.” She continued, “I’m not trying to provoke a reaction. I just want to show people that there are different ways of looking at things.”
With the World Cup in full swing, both artists hope that visitors to Korea will find the exhibit a worthwhile viewing alternative.
“If people get tired of the little ball rolling on the ground, they should come here.” said Lemoine.
The exhibit will run through June 22 at the French Cultural Center in the Woori Building (“SeAH” building) across from the Namdaemun main gate. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Sundays. For more information, call 02-317-8500.