koNa Portfolio Contest Winner

Words: Larry Lytle

In the age of growing economies, when building the new upon ground formerly occupied by the old, a hoarding fence of wood or chain link and fabric will invariably hide the ongoing construction. From the point of view of the developer, the screen protects the materials while blocking the view of passersby, eliciting in them a feeling of anticipation and excitement about what is to come. From the perspective of those who live close to the demolition, noise and dust of a venerable edifice, the curtain becomes a sad reminder of what was lost. From the sensibilities of an artist who looks at the various elements of the site, something different arises: a way to think about what a construction wall means; as a visual metaphor for the curtains hiding a theatrical stage, before the play begins, when the audience members contemplate the story about to unfold.

The South Korean artist Injoon Na, who goes by the pseudonym koNa, takes this approach in his photographic series The Stage, where the construction fence is less a barrier and more of a screen to project one’s contemplative state of being.

For koNa this series was a revelation. His day job for the past 18 years, as a successful director of television and web commercials for some of the largest international and Korean industries, has given him a life behind the small screen, watching monitors as the camera records the action. Photography led koNa to a realization that “…everything was an empty shell and fabrication.” He adds, “I really wanted to create something that I could call my own. There was no script or staged character. My subjects could be found close by and I could naturally capture them. I decided to call that place The Stage.”

This body of work, while straightforward in its visual representation, is complex in its accomplished goals. As koNa further explains, “I am inviting you to a place that for you, might just be a street, construction site or haughty wall. You will be vacantly standing in front of ‘the stage.’ It does not force you to do something, nor does it give you something to look at. Neither a dramatic view nor a story will occur.

“Instead, you will project things you have seen onto the untidy screen. The stage will put you among things with which you do not seem to have a connection, as if to suggest meditation while facing a wall. The screen fences become the stage through which we experience feelings of moving through time where we can think about what has been lost, constructed and completed through the division of time, which is embodied by the front and backside of the screens.”

The Stage # 7 shows us this concept beautifully, as we see the front as well as the back of the surrounding fence; the contents revealed, the background still partially hidden. With The Stage # 8 the screen is more makeshift—gently resting on a bicycle, it reads like a set piece in this urban mise-en-scéne. When we look at The Stage # 6 the scene or idea we might project onto the screen, at least as viewed through Western eyes, is a reminder of the psychological and physical wasteland brought about by the many walls and barriers that divide countries and cultures.

What is hidden in these images is as important as the screen itself. Though we may project our own thoughts and emotions onto the blank canvas of the fence, we still must contend with its function as a device to block our view of the background. Both the fence and the hidden buildings contain equal importance as curtain and as potential stage stetting.

The sidewalks and streets become the auditorium where, daily, the perambulating audiences can glimpse the progression of the plot, until the curtain finally disappears, signifying the end of that particular story, the activities formerly blocked finally revealed.

koNa sees The Stage as merely the first act in a possible three-act play, which will include actors and audiences. When his master plan is completed, we may take our seat, contemplate the intricate curtain before us and wait for it to rise.

Fact File
Seoul, Korea

Prints are available at 16 × 20 inches for $500 and 32 × 40 inches for $1,200.

Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4
The Stage #1, Seoul, Korea, 2016