Exploring language, art and culture, The Book of Jests is a compilation of political jokes in 15 different languages – English, Italian, Hebrew, Hindi, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, German, Greek, French, Turkish and Czech – surrounded by illustrations from 16th century painter Albrecht Dürer.
These illustrations, which depict stories from the Bible, come from Dürer’s Marginal Drawings for the Prayer of Emperor Maximilian, created in 1515. Although these drawings were originally around prayers, artist Hyung-Min Yoon reframes Dürer’s work by replacing this text with political jokes.
“It’s like layering of an old image with a contemporary text,” says Yoon.
Yoon explains that prior to creating The Book of Jests she had an interest in the technology of printmaking as a form of media and had begun researching its history.
She says that because Dürer contributed significantly to the development of printmaking, she was in search of literary material that reflected his work. Then, when visiting an antique shop during a residency in Vienna, Yoon coincidentally found a book on Dürer’s marginal illustration.
“If I hadn’t gone there and found this book, nothing would’ve happened,” she says.
Yoon also explains that removing the original content of the text (prayers) and adding her view on today’s modern ideology (political jokes) was an inspiration in creating this artwork.
“Around the Renaissance time, religion was their ideology. I’m just taking it out and I thought of what would be the ideology in today’s world and that’s how I got interested in political jokes,” she says.
Yoon adds that in her work, she tries to match Dürer’s illustrations to the jokes she compiles. Although the religious drawings and political jokes may seem incompatible, Yoon says that the drawings in this piece are portrayed humorously and compliment her work.
“Dürer is an amazing artist who’s really playful with his drawing so it looks quite light and not that serious. It occurred to me that it’s would be a perfect match,” says Yoon.
Dissecting language and culture
Language has been a topic of interest for Yoon, as she often uses text in her art. With English being her second language, Yoon explores the challenges of translating and understanding a new expression.
Yoon left her home country of South Korea for London to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts, then moved to Vancouver five years ago. She says that her initial impression of this city as well as the cultural differences she experienced made her relearn and adapt to the new environment.
She adds that experiences such as simply speaking English on an everyday basis influence her thoughts on what she can explore and execute in her art.
“I’m definitely interested in cultural diversity partly because I live in one of the places that is culturally diverse,” says Yoon.
Yoon hopes that the audiences that experience Book of Jests will share the excitement she has about this project. She also hopes that by reading the jokes, as an English translation is provided for each, the audience might discover the humour and meaning behind the jokes and reflect on their own reaction to them.
“I want to be politically engaged and aware of what’s happening. At the same time, for my work I don’t want to represent anything,” she says.
Yoon also relates a Korean saying – “a joke has a backbone” – which suggests that humorous expressions are never empty in meaning.
“I’m just trying to show that there is a medium, which is a joke, that reveals a lot. There is a grain of truth in there whether you like it or not,” says Yoon.
The Book of Jests, an exhibition by South Korean artist Hyung-Min Yoon, will be held on September 11 to October 11 at the Grunt Gallery on East 2nd Avenue.