In the home studio
In the home studio
In the home studio
When I notice a coldness hidden under a calm and natural appearance, I feel torn whether I may think it over seriously or I just let it go beyond my memory as a scenery I usually pass by. But this inner conflict is in fact futile. If I couldn’t disregard it at a first glance, I won’t be able to forget it anyway. This world is so used to cruelty and apathy that we don’t easily stop to pity others. However, there are some moments we can’t help but feeling certain sympathy. Even though we want to overlook such a thing as a mere view seen through the car window, it keeps recurring from the bottom of our heart. Through the works of the artists Mirae Park and Niall Craven, I encounter that kind of thoughts that they couldn’t just throw beyond the memory, the images derived from those thoughts, and a different but similar attitude of the two artists toward those objects.
A living thing has its unique appearance to express its nature and its own habits that are necessary for survival. The artist Mirae Park describes in her works the life situation that many animals and plants are facing. It looks peaceful at a first sight, but some sad and absurd reasons come to intervene, and the artist expresses her thoughts about them through the concrete and the abstract in her works. The numerous stray cats in cities or the sea creatures raised either as ornamental elements in an aquarium or even destined to be consumed as seafood, learn and accept their way of living just to stay alive in this artificial harshness. Deers, with no sharp teeth or venom, can only run away to survive in the law of the jungle, or protect themselves only with their antlers on the head. Situation for relatively upper predator such as wolves or bears is not more favorable. Their strong points including sharp teeth, power and threatening long claws are only the features to compensate their week points such as their need to hunt in group for their herd and their lack of agility due to their big body.
The visual aspect and the behavior of animals doing their best to live their harsh reality are expressed in the concrete part in Mirae Park’s frame. On the other hand, their impossibility to say what they want, to cry out all their wrath externally, and so their inward fierceness of desire for life meet the artist’s desire for expression and inner serenity attained during her work process, and they create individual dynamics and arbitrary forms in her frame. In her oil paintings, the accent created from the unique color combination and usage of brush in the non-concrete part of the canvas is manifested in shape of convergence and divergence, or of a sudden interruption in the middle of a dynamic feature. In the entire frame, we can see various parts swirling, smashing down, soaring up, then suddenly calm all at the same time. This characteristic of change in a work with the animal as object enables us to approach the theme of the work from diverse perspectives. This singularity appears even more obviously in the work <Nowhere to Hide> presented in this exhibition. The beauty of colors, the sadness in the animals’ image and the sensation created by the usage of brush embracing the animals are so intense that the viewers are invited to empathize with the emotions that the artist might have had toward the object.
The artist paints animals on the canvas but she doesn’t try to be loyal to the social association, the basic aesthetics (the general definitions on the beauty of a specific animal). Rather than that, she seems not to be able to turn her face away from their hardship of survival, which is not a question of living a better life, but just all about saving themselves from the threat of death. Wouldn’t she keep constantly her concern about them in somewhere in her mind? In solitude of a sleepless night, in a sentiment of a poem recited from a podcast, the animals appear and create a fable to allegorize a scene from a human life; they can be myself in another appearance. The works such as <Bears>, <Night Watcher> and <The Cow> narrate the artist’s own experiences from her daily life through realistic description. Especially, <The Cow>, inspired from a reading of the poem of the poet Gitaek Kim, is presented in this exhibition with the original poem. This work makes us feel like a cow, or the image of the cow in the poem might reflect the stifling reality we face.
In spite of different forms of each work, the intensity of lines throughout all her works and a lyricism responding to it remain tenaciously in the viewer’s mind. This would be eventually echoing to the viewer the emotional trajectory of the artist who can’t help but recalling those objects and painting them.
To describe a human body in a medical book or magazine, certain ‘objectivity’ is required to satisfy the medical purpose. The body documented with physical data, forms and scientific terms exists only as a medical case, without recognition of any dignity as a human being who has lived an actual life. The artist Niall Craven has grown up in a family background that favors him to approach easily to many medical books. Wounds and diseases, the related situations and human bodies treated as a mere image have had a great influence on the artist. In his early works, we can witness the bodies with more realistically described wounds, but gradually the expression of the bodies has become simpler, the shape more liberal. Signs are added on the image, and the artist’s feelings toward the object seem to predominate sometimes the shape itself. The main objects of his works have been evolved from the limbs to torso, then to hands and feet in another meaning in the recent works. Lately, the shapes are more abstract and we can’t see any obvious shape of an open wound, organs, bones and muscles, but mysteriously, we get to imagine physical sensation out of those implicit forms.
The artist approaches the objectified body with a subjective attitude. If he could have seen the bodies photographed or drawn in the medical books just as a scientific case, his works would have been quite different. Intervention of a subjective viewpoint is inevitable, because those objects are something from which he could not turn his face away. But seeing the changes that his works have been through so far, we can understand he is now facing the theme with a closer contact to the object. The body, even photographed for an objective purpose, also belongs to someone. The owner of that damaged body should have lived many experiences full of emotions, and have felt more or less pain. An explanation of the artist suggests us his perspective on the object: he says, when an unknown species of fish is discovered, a scientific drawing with accurate description of the fish is not a holistic explanation of that being. We need an imagination of what the fish has actually experienced in the ocean, to get a more thorough understanding and fathoming than the scientific knowledge. When I first saw his works, the first impression coming to my mind was “these works try to fathom the (physical/emotional) pain”. It may be connected to such attitude of the artist himself.
The torso works and the drawings with lines, colors and signs in this exhibition keep their common characteristic of beautiful colors, but show some changes in the usage of lines and brush. The works drawn exclusively with black lines reveal the strength of lines, different from that of surfaces. The latest works are small in scale, but have more characters of a painting than a drawing. The body is expressed by unclosed lines on the surface covering the background. The signs such as grids, used as a kind of expression of certain emotion toward the object in his earlier works, are now located sometimes outside the body as a background. The artist seems to assign more importance to the background, and it is more obvious in the latest works where we can see a remarkable change in colors. <Figure Lying on a Bed> and <Figure on Stool> portray respectively a foot in a lying posture and hands put together. The artist says he first painted the shapes on the entire surface, then covered most of the background surface with one color, leaving only a small part, such as hands or feet, uncovered. So the viewer sees hands or feet, but can’t see the situation surrounding those hands and feet. More meaning of the works are expressed in the covered background than the uncovered objects.
When I was working on the English title of this joint exhibition of two artists, I asked the opinion of the artist Niall Craven whose mother tongue is English. Would there be a term or an expression in English, which is close to the Korean title, meaning literally ‘impossible to disregard’? After a long list of possible candidates, he eventually suggested the word ‘Confrontation’. This word is particularly interesting when we think about the changes in his works. I thought the similar, but different attitude toward the object of two artists is expressed even in this Korean and English title of the exhibition.
In this exhibition, the artists are not seeking for an accurate description of the object, but showing two different aspects of reviving in their artworks the object that they can’t disregard. Mirae Park’s works, either the oil paintings with the coexistence of concrete and abstract, dynamic and immobile, or the conte and charcoal works with an outstanding quality of description containing intensity and lyricism, are born at an unexpected moment of a daily life, then gaining more and more depth. Niall Craven’s works demonstrate an impressive evolution in their formal aspect from drawing to painting, through changes of colors, lines and surfaces. We can also witness an emotional and psychological flow in his works, created by his constant efforts for the confrontation with the image of the objects arousing sympathy and pity in our mind.
by Kim Gi-taek
The cow’s big eyes want to tell me something,
but I don’t have ears to hear.
All of her words are inside her eyes.
Though words well up, nearly falling like tears
I know she cannot express them outwardly.
She cries, wrenching out her heart, handful by handful,
but in her eyes the words do not budge.
For thousands of years she has locked the words inside
and she just blinks her eyes.
Ah, such an innocent, round prison!
Not knowing what else to do
the cow brings back the grass from her stomach that she chewed many times,
and chews the cud over to grind, swallow, retrieve, and grind again.
Poem translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid
Rancière says he is uncomfortable
It is difficult indeed to overturn your thinking habit overnight. It is even harder for someone like me whose thought is based on reasoning and and humancentricity to follw Deluezean theory because I believe being dependent on senses or subconsciousness is the same as gambling. However, I must attempt to make a brief description on Deleuzean theory; or at least what I have understood so far. His theory came about the time when Postmodern thinkings emerged and started to raise questions on logocentric, anthropocentric worldviews. Basically, his philosophy is to find alternative to the worldview established based on the epistemology of reason. He rejected the teleological thinking system of modernism which is based on there is eternal truth and according structure. He also suggested an ontological condition in which includes unlimited number of the virtuals that can be actualized by the subject that employs all sensory organs beyond the eyes and even the subconsciousness in the process of cognition. This prescribes the nature of the subject as potent beings with subconsciousness and senses that once excluded or suppressed by reasoning. His The Logic of Sense is an explanation of his philosophy through the art of Bacon. He discussed Bacon in the book and interpreted that the characters in Bacon’s paintings are struggling to escape to another realm. It seems that he intended to prove that there were artists who imagined somewhere beyond the world where in which people had become mechines and territorialized lives in the name of univocal telos.
There are reasons that I must attempt to explain Deleuze despite my understanding on Deleuze is limited; I was assigned by critic- workshop to form an argument in reading Nial Craven whose approaches are referred to Deleuzean thinking and Bacon’s paintings. Nevertheless, my argument might have some usefulness in the sense that there are not much of chances for emerging artists to get criticism once graduated from educational institutions. Another reason is that my argument would be one of the possible scenarios in which how a theorist would identify the potentials and threats from his art practices so far. More than anything, I was embarrassed as a critic because I completely failed to read the message he intended to convey and wanted to help to form an arguement.
There are various figures appear in his paintings. However, their faces are rarely shown so that it is safe to say that he does not emphasize identities of the subjects in his works. In terms of style, expressionist techniques have been generally applied and picture planes are mostly composed of parts from a body that has been deteriorated or deformed. Despite such selection as theses materials, what I have sensed was more of the warmth from the artist’s gazes on to his subject rather than uncanny or visceral feelings. Or it could be said that I was able to find his warm interest toward them. Recently, there have been some changes in his works. He minimized the expression that used to help creating illusion of three dimentionality on his picture plane; forms are a bit simplified than before; and+ signs and/ or geometric lines are superimposed across the subject’s bodies and backgrounds.
Then again, when I received his artist statement, my assumptions were proven wrong. First, he calls himself a body painter instead he paints people. He also said that he has been influenced by Deuluezean theories since reading The Logic of Sense. He said, “my work, as you have probably already seen, is concerned with the body, ways of painting the body, and the relationship between paint and the body itself. He also added that he had experienced himself what Deuleuze termed as senseation which is referred to the experience equivalent to a ‘violation against human nerves’ when he looked at medical imageries of deformed body parts by wounds or scars. If so, I am getting close to an understanding on the meaning that his study of relationship between paint and the body is to incorporate “this feeling of interpreting our body by using sensation rather than vision.” It might be, like ‘phantom pain,’ his study is to explore the notion of what we learn from vision is not whole but also it might betray what is actually there to be sensed because the act of cognition involves brain’s interpretation of sensed data in order to complete act of perceiving the reality. He seemed to have agreed to Deleuze who has discovered potentiality in the senses of body. Title he provided also was supplementary to the idea of potentiality in extra sensory perception. “Something I started thinking about, as well, was the way in which we use language to refer to sensation, and this is something that informed the title of my exhibition ‘Pins and Needles’.” In terms of the techniques he applied, he added explanation as follows. “I believe the tension between the painting of the body and more abstract painting can achieve this to some degree, especially if these abstract marks can emphasize the flatness of the image.” After listening to his explanation, I felt safer to say the bold lines or small + signs superimposed over the bodies or backgrounds are metaphorical representations of sensation that cannot be achieved through vision.
Now, I am almost ready to come to a conclusion. The first thing that came to my mind was how to define the ultimate goal of this type of painting pratice. Specifically speaking, it would be one of these: 1. to reproduce artist’s experience of physical phenomena whichi involves of using other sensory oragans rather than vision sothat his audience can experience the same; 2. to creat visual expression that shows what he sensed using other sensory oragans rather than vision all in the same screen; 3. to narrate the statement that people perceive through whole body; or 4. to contain both the narrative representation multi sendory stimuli. However, one can wonder if it is possible to contain both the regime of representation and that of narration at the same time?
In relation to this, Rancièreonce once defined abovementioned notions number 1 and 2 as the regime of representation or mimetic regime and number 3 as aesthetic regime. If Craven’s goal is no. 1 or 2 all he wants to do is just continue depicting body and create variations until he achieves the most satisfying outcome while comparing to the receptions of the viewers. If his goal is number 3, or number 4, he would make people like Rancière very uncomfortable or very happy as he has fought to overcome the politics of aesthetic regime in modernism. For Rancière, modern aesthetic regime is not whole as it imposed separation between what the audience’s senses and the message conveyed. This is why he advocates indeterminancy in the art works to overcome such regime. Speaking of separation, Deleuze believed that the characters in Bacon’s paintings were attempting to escape to a realm of potency while attempting to ‘become’ something other than human. In this process of reading Bacon’s painting, however, Deleuze ignores what Bacon’s subjective intention whatever that was and reads it as a signifier asif it narrates the logic as is his. Then, Deleuze has replaced ‘the sense of punctum,’ which audience must have felt through their bodies employing logic of sense, with ‘the signifier of stuudium.’ This not only underminds his own theory by making Bacon’s painting has not much to do with ‘perceiving’ senses slipping out of already territorized realm but epitomizes case of ‘reading’ within the frame with which modern aesthetic regime mediates correspondence between the texture of the work and its efficacy.
Let’s go back to Craven’s case. Craven’s paintings have both festered toe and + signs that represent stinging sense. How should we categorize Craven’s approach with two methods of representation? One belongs to the realm of expression and the other to the realm of representation. One is senses and the other is reasoning. One is figurative and the other is abstract. Can one ever achieve totality of realms between senses and reasoning? Maybe his goal is to resolve or disprove Kant’s assumption of antimony. On the other hand, Rancière challenges us to dare to make pensive image, through his book, Emacipated Spectator. This pensive image he introduced is image of an art work that creates a zone of indetenninacy. According to Rancière, a pensive image allows different logics of aesthics to collide within the image. As a result, it creates impass of regimes. It has potential to covercome the politics of modernist aesthetics, because it evokes spectators to ponder about what the coming aesthetics. Ranciere’s such an imagerial preposition has rings to refutation of dichotomies between punctum and stuudium, between direct expression and representational mediation of an image. If so, were Craven’s paintigns the pensive images of Rancière’s? I have to admit that I am rather a slow kind of person to catch meanings sensitively. Even so, I still cannot lie that I have felt any tactile sense from his paintings, even from his drawings charged with full energy. I could not imagine either ‘violence on nerves’ or limitation of vision. Instead, I only confirmed that the + signs are the metaphor for the senses outside body and the trace of artistic operation. On the other hand, on conceptual level, every thing perfectly falls in to place. Perhaps his paintings have the potentials to be the pensive images and I only failed again to see such impass of regime. Wasn’t this also true for Cezanne? It took him his whole lilfe, but ecentually Cezanne made it possible to convert the meaning of ‘seeing’ in paintings one from the perpective view to that of phenomenology. Therefrore Craven may expand the meaning of seeing to the realm of synaesthesia some day.
In the center of an old infirmary a funnel of wind begins to spin, at first slowly, but then faster and faster until it whirls around with all the energy of a dancer in the throes of their performance drawing in material and rising several feet into the air, an inverted obelisk of dust and labour and life.
After a moment the whirling begins to die. It’s energy is spent and nothing sustains it. The dust that was once a frenzied tornado returns lifeless and inert to the ground from where it had come. Once again the scene is still and the clinic quiet.
On a desk in the corner of the room is a book. There are figures, petrified in silver gelatin within pages that have become worn through use and frequent examination. Flicking through you can see patients, who once lived, have now died and whose bodies lie entombed here.
There used to be people here, in these beds. People took their meals and slept here and the nurses listened to their complaints and their groans and the doctors examined and tended to their maladies and when the photographer came he documented their cases one by one, going down the beds with his camera, framing and suspending their figures in cellulose film.
These bodies belong to other men now. Examined, diagnosed, researched and categorised. Each time the photographs are printed the people that once were in these beds disappear. Their bones don’t ache anymore. Their ears don’t ring, their stomachs don’t complain, their heads don’t throb. Once again the scene is still.