Taking on the age-old question of what is art has paid off well for Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho, both 43.
With their project "News from Nowhere," they were invited to this year's dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany and received the Noon Award from the 2012 Gwangju Biennale and the 2012 Korea Artist Prize from the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea.
Often mistaken for husband and wife, Moon and Jeon are only artistic partners. They first met in 2007 on a plane, sitting next to each other, on their way to the Asian Art Biennale in Taiwan.
"Artists don't usually talk about each other's works, just using glib phrases. However, we critiqued each other's works in depth and then moved on to discuss the utility of art in modern society," Jeon said at an interview at the duo's atelier in Jongno, Seoul.
From there, they thought of making a video capturing a debate between two artists, which was later developed to "El Fin del Mundo," a fictional documentary exploring the role of art in the apocalypse, screened at dOCUMENTA (13).
A scene from Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho's "AVYAKTA," an artistic duo that won the 2012 Korea Artist Prize. / Courtesy of National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea
"We wondered what art could do in creating a new world after the end of the world and pondered over the attitude of artists," Moon said.
They define the project as "a platform for the future and introspection of the present." Moon and Jeon asked for advice from contemporary artists from Netherlands-based architecture practice MVRDV and fashion designers Issey Miyake and Kosuke Tsumura to poet Ko Un and movie director Lee Chang-dong.
It took more than a year and a half for the pair to contact their co-workers and advisers and conduct research. "Some people told us to work on our pieces instead of research but we tried to create a bigger discourse, surpassing an individual level," Moon said.
The two picked Lee as one of the most memorable advisers. "Lee maintains an objective point of view on his works and we realized that artists need such an attitude," Moon said.
Casting top actors Lee Jung-jae and Lim Soo-jung for their video came by chance. "Designer Jung Ku-ho introduced Lim and Lee as art connoisseurs who gladly accepted our suggestion," Jeon said. "Lee even visited Kassel to see the contemporary art festival by himself."
For the 2012 Korea Artist Prize, they continued with their questioning of the essence of art by erasing text information from posters of art biennales and triennales and placed a moving mirror on the floor of the exhibition hall, a metaphor for contemporary art. "It might seem like a secret code but we thought defining and regulating art might be an error," Jeon said.
Since artists have strong world's of their own, it is often difficult to collaborate but Moon and Jeon said they have something in common in aesthetic taste.
"We are both artists of the same age but we are from a totally different environment. There are some things we have in common, while some things are poles apart. What we do is find an objective midpoint we both agree on," Moon said.
The result of Moon and Jeon's work so far is published in the form of a book called "News from Nowhere," available in English and Korean. "I was so excited to finally get the book and all kinds of thoughts went through my mind like a flash. We literally travelled around the world to receive manuscripts for the book," Jeon said.
The two will expand "News from Nowhere" next year as well as work on individual projects. However, content is more important in their work, not form. "The project has been in movie, book and installation form but it could be anything as long as it conveys our message," Jeon said.