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A finalist in the Hermès Foundation Missulsang prize for Korean contemporary art in 2009, Rho Jae Oon (b. 1971) works in situ at the Atelier Hermès, with a solo exhibition revisiting the adventures of Mulian – a disciple of Buddha – as he struggles to free his mother from the torments of Hell.
Widely interpreted as a model of filial virtue and piety (Hyo), Mulian’s story is a treatise on the human spirit, explored in a new work by Rho Jae Oon, exploring his close identification as an artist with the fate of Mulian, culminating in a visual and cinematic interface. Rho Jae Oon’s Hell – a far cry from traditional representations – is a vision of the contemporary world-in-the-making, in transition to reality.
In the Atelier Hermès – associated here with the kingdom of Hell – the visitor is invited to identify with Mulian and to journey with her/him to realm of the damned, discovering paintings evoking the past lives of Buddha, both literally and conceptually, and a mirrored structure. Suggesting a cinema screen, the interface is none other than the gateway to Hell, a crossing-point for reflections of our contemporary and past lives.
Cinema is also evoked in the piece entitled Saminmunnyeon, a futuristic scenario that sees Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati sent to Hell, where they make a vow to save its victims, and refuse to reach Nirvana until they have attained their goal. The piece confronts the viewer with the impossibility of measuring eternity. Chilean Capsule, the final work in the exhibition, draws on recent events – the accident that left a group of Chilean mineworkers trapped in 2010 – to evoke the wild hopes prompted by despair, and our ceaseless questioning in the face of a possible miracle.