Bernd Halbherr

I wonder how you feel about South Korea, which is significantly different from Germany in terms of ethnicity or traits.

Before I made my first visit in 1995, I had almost no information about South Korea. My first impression of South Korea was the enormous density of the population in Seoul and how dynamic and noisy it was. As you said, Germany could be compared to Japan in Asia whereas South Korea is as artistically talented and passionate as the countries in southern Europe, like Italy or Spain. They tend to be very straightforward and cannot hide their emotions very well. I think these traits are clearly reflected by the South Korean architecture. I learn a lot about Koreans through South Korean architecture, including the traditional architecture. The traditional Korean architecture reflects the beauty being pursued by the Koreans as well as the climate, natural conditions, culture, and history of Korea.

Which landscape of South Korea has been most memorable to you, and which color do you think best describes South Korea?

There are so many landscapes that struck me as beautiful. It is amazing that Mt. Halla and South Sea of Jeju as well as Mt. Seorak have different faces every season. As such, it is impossible to describe Korea using just one color. Korea has so many faces and changes so fast that I cannot pick just one color to describe it. I would pick an intense yellow during the hot summer or light blue during the fall.

Is there a special reason for your having brought photography into your work?

At first, I tried using a mirror to reflect parts of landscapes. Then it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be bad to use photography as a source of my work as it has been my hobby ever since I was young. Photography can capture any object, from the churches and conservatories in Germany to the traditional Korean houses and the hotels in South Korea.

World Cup Stadium &
Transplantationen, Media City Seoul Southkorea Computer prints, 2000

Your work uses natural landscapes or urban architecture, just like a map. What do you expect the audience to see through those objects?

I don’t intend to give them a particular message. It is meaningless to communicate with the audience that way. What’s important to me is their personal experience. I want the viewers to be the center of and the main character in the world that has been newly recreated using the world that actually exists. That’s also the dominant philosophy of Europe that I experienced in my generation, that “I am the center of the world.” The forest, the city, and the night view show a panoramic view that surrounds me. I want them to feel the world that moves and changes around them.

Did you use a sphere to breathe life into the two-dimensional photographs?

I had no special intention to do so. The sphere was “made” as I went on. I used to work with printing or loops (bands). Then I thought it would give the audience a unique experience if I turn the 360° panoramic view into a sphere and found that the South Korean audiences particularly prefer creations in the form of a sphere.

Hanok Photografic collage,
Coated with plastics, 30cm, 2004

Artworks are likely to imply the artist’s philosophical code for viewing the world. Is this true in your case?

I don’t plant any philosophical intention or purpose in my work. I don’t have any particular philosophy or religious faith, but if you ask me to pick a religion that’s similar to the philosophy I pursue through my work, it would be Buddhism. It emphasizes the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, coexistence, and the law of nature instead of strict doctrines or commandments.

What have you found about the future artists of South Korea whom you have met as a professor, not as an artist?

My students and I have different backgrounds, cultures, and natural traits so I don’t wish to cover them with my color or impose my viewpoint on them. I respect their own “texture.” I wish they wouldn’t lose their originality even if they’re influenced by me. There’s one thing I feel sorry about as a professor, though. The basic quality of an artist is finding a unique personality. My Korean students’ visual talents are flawless, but they’re weak in terms of concepts.

What do you plan to do in the future?

I’m scheduled to have an exhibition in December. I’m planning to exhibit the new variations of online images using open sources and fun 3D printing work, in addition to the sphere pieces. If you’re asking me about my longterm plan, I’d like to say that “I have not lived as planned until now.” I’m teaching students now when I had no plans of becoming a professor, and I’ve become a husband and a father thanks to my son, Noah, when I had no plans of getting married (laughs).