Events happening at the edges of the surface Events happening at the edges of the surface
Seon-young Lee (Art Critic)
The round canvases that are bigger than the average adult height let people have the enjoyment of ‘Finding Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)’ that the artist also feels when immersed in his work. Immersion involves falling deeply into something beyond emotionless confronting. It must be a step of the qualitative change that allows the division between one’s subject and object to be disappeared, which can be defined as the best gift as an artistic result. The achievement is only possible through deep concentration. Religion or psychoactive drugs can also allow the same effect but there is distinction that a newly created sensible object becomes a medium in art. In the immersive artwork, there are whole processes unlike fragmented labors, art unlike everyday culture, Jouissance unlike pleasure and infection unlike superficial communication. The stronger the density, the bigger the infectivity. Also, limitation of given time and space can be overcome. Soo-man Moon’s painting fundamentally accomplishes it in scale but his small works also bring out the similar effect from their density.
Although the small paintings can be captured at a glance, details let audience stay longer in front of them. If one puts one’s emotion on the butterfly, often appearing in the artist’s paintings in actual size, round or rectangular surfaces would be approached more extensively. The accomplishment is also felt in the big works from the early stage of the processes. One can think that the artist’s big painting as a celadon or white porcelain plate when seeing from a photo but it is actually an extension of a small plate into the height of a person while maintaining the density of patterns rather than just an extension. In the result, his paintings go beyond decorative feelings of ceramics. As one of the charming elements of ceramics comes in front, a new esthetic level is opened. Sometimes the blue sky and the flying crane on ceramics spread beyond the limitation of ceramics on surfaces. They are also illusions and imaginations but their scale offers a new experience.
The primal reason that they can offer a new experience is on the maintenance of the reference’s density on the works and the technique of extension during the process. Immersive artworks generally puts importance on overall installation rather than a specific target but in Moon’s case, the artist focuses on individual pieces. In other words, immersive artworks that aim for theatrical effects call visibility following all other senses while Moon folds all of them into his works as seen in the painting Combining Smells (調香). Of course, his individual paintings gather in an exhibition space and bring effects together but each of them is also immersive, which tells how they allow one to have esthetic experiences from each painting while having an objective distance and to fall into the different world. In the artist’s paintings, offering a psychological trip that aimlessly wanders within encountered objects, the dichotomy that conflicts a final result and process is collapsed.
In the artist’s studio, sixteen round canvases from the diameter of 36.5cm to 210cm are piled as a kind of a set. It seems like a Russian matryoshka doll, a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. This way not only allows easy transportation and storage but also expresses the view of the world that there are spaces inside a space. Macrocosm and microcosm here are in the corresponding relation and reflect each other while forming infinite affiliation. However, until his process is opened, audiences are hard to believe that the artist’s paintings are done on canvases because round or oval forms remind surfaces of objects such as celadon, white porcelain and metal crafts. As a result, his exhibition often confronts a helpless situation from audiences who see and try to touch and tap the paintings. How his paintings enable the scale that ceramics or metal crafts cannot realize locates the artist’s works in a vague place, which is neither a craft nor painting.
Although the artist’s references are national treasures such as Cheongja Sanggam Unhangmun Maebyeong (celadon vase with inlaid crane and cloud design) of the Koryo Dynasty and the results are elegant as well, Moon’s painting come as a strange object that cannot be easily defined as what general contemporary art does. This ambiguity has driven contemporary art to a corner but also become its identity at the same time. In Moon’s paintings, the paradox that involves the ending of contradicting matters to one point seems to be presented in round canvases that rotates around. The ceramic references are three-dimensional but how the artist spreads this into a two-dimensional form creates a change. New patterns are sometimes added when various painted or carved patterns on ceramics are rearranged in order to fit in a round shape of a canvas. The artist creates forms that are needed between connections of images and they exist as they have always been. Also, as seen in the work With Mother that referred to the Korean artist in the 18th century Hong-do Kim’s painting, Hwaseong Haenggung Hangchado (procession to a temporary palace), some variations involving that wide spaces are cut or narrow spaces are extended are done.
The artist has help from a computer for this complicated re-editing process. Since he has majored in the design of a machine in the department of mechanical engineering before studying art, art and science naturally blend together to the artist. He is not repulsed by machines, which can come to an artist who falls only in art. There are diverse tools such as reading glasses to represent small images and cutting machine for a sheet to detailedly represent rearranged images during the process along with canvases and paints in his studio. His technical capability will be greatly beneficial to his future work that attempts to extend into three-dimensions beyond two-dimensions. It has been possible to change a three-dimensional object into a two dimensional object from the inlaying technique. The process of more than sixty layers of paints from the background to the patterns and the final varnish cover makes the surface of his paintings not like painting but porcelain. Covering layers of paints again and again reveals lines created from exquisite patterns to small cracks as one layer.
The new paintings for the exhibition, held at Suseong Artpia in Daegu, do not only contain celadon as a reference but also present the inlaying technique with a feel of bronze. There are some paintings without a butterfly that always sits on the surface of celadon and paintings having no patterns but cracks like white porcelain. The paintings like white porcelain that have no specific things to look at seem to have pushed all the images out of frames of round canvases. The very fine cracks spreading like a spider web on them have not relied on coincidences such as timing like in the ordinary way but surprisingly appear from the artist’s intention. After the artist’s sincere experiments on materials and conditions, cracks are unrestrictedly split into wide, narrow and double cracks. The artist makes paints minutely permeate the gaps between those cracks and sharpen them, which finally becomes a sort of ‘inlaid cracks’. The cracks that look like fine patterns are neither individually painted nor neglected.
The paintings with inlaid cracks instead of representations remind the paintings of empty canvases, followed at the end of Modernism. The paintings have the surface of celadon mark with the representation of their delicate colors that determine celadon as a masterpiece. From the ‘dark blue color seen in a cabbage leaf that pops from the cold weather during the kimchi-making season’ to the ‘milky bluish green with green’, the variation of a blue color that the artist expresses or puts in his mind is infinite. According to him, the color of celadon has all the colors like red, black, blue and etc. but just ratio is different. A crane and dragon fly on the color that he delicately created. A butterfly joins in some paintings. A butterfly has represented in his early paintings as a trick. It was painted on a rectangle canvas and this canvas became a collection box, which implies that individual butterflies were carefully collected, spread with pins so that patterns on wings can be easily seen, and titled with scientific names each in a white box of a canvas. Shadows were even depicted as well.
Soo-man Moon’s early paintings tell that the technique of representing relies on the process of understanding, dominating and possessing. However, the artist in the recent paintings erases the pins that hold butterflies and lets them fly on the celadon-like surface. Butterflies are not just there to be represented anymore to the artist who had overcome a high-risk surgery. Butterflies are also the main agent to Soo-man Moon. As he even signs his name on a wing of a butterfly, a butterfly represents his alter ego. In order to depict a butterfly detailedly, the artist has to stay at one place and keep one position. Butterflies flying on the celadon-like surface now dream to be freer than the physical condition but the change is only a background and the density is kept same. Butterflies are in their actual size unlike other images and stay one by one on each canvas. They are not there to be shown but wings to fly are emphasized and even drops shadows. The background and butterflies are same illusions but they are different dimensions of illusions coexisting together.
Insects, painted with flowers in the Western still life painting, refer to an allegory of the transience of life but butterflies flying in the oriental background remind Chuang-tzu’s Butterfly Dream. The artist becomes a butterfly and enjoys the skill of the potters who created celadon and white porcelain. Audiences can also become butterflies and look around the paintings. A butterfly that metamorphoses into several states and grows as a final being with beautiful patterns realizes the difference and repetition of how modernism’s principle is not newness for newness but opens potentials inherent in its seed one by one. It had been a rule that the culture and art before modernism carried out according to the law of nature. Butterflies fly on the surface symbolizing infiniteness beyond a rectangular frame that is also a collection box, and look over. His bronze-inlaid-paintings, titled as Coherence, Finding Flow and etc., have the surface of bronze that is carved with symmetrical patterns.
The feeling of the old objects is there with bluish rust and blackish spots like rusty bronze ware and as it goes to the edge, the surface becomes rougher. The other group of paintings is the series having the surface of celadon without a butterfly. This Combining Smells (調香) series reminding a pupil of eyes as if it embodies the universe is delicately created like a perfumer makes perfume, and attempts to correspond to other senses. The gradation, getting darker as it goes to the edge, gives volume like ‘circle lens’ does. The paintings, having a butterfly on the celadon-like surface and titled as Poter’s Wing, are the series containing not only the exquisite butterfly, appeared in the early paintings, but also the moth from the Korean traditional painting of grass and insects in the background of the celadon-like surface as a sky. If his early paintings found a microcosm in the exquisite recreation of a butterfly, the butterfly, blended with the round surface of celadon, would mean the universe in the universe. However, whether it is a butterfly or the artist, the form is so perfect that it may seem vain. Thus, the artist sometimes leaves ‘humane qualities’ in his paintings.
There are also rectangular canvases that the four corners are trimmed to be round like a smartphone along with round canvases in the exhibition. The representations of images referring to the Korean traditional painting of grass and insects by Shin Sa-im-dang and the painting of Hangchado (procession to a palace) by Hong-do Kim are rearranged for the composition in the round and rectangular canvases. Also, the big painting, connected by ten rectangular panels, is included but still the round canvases are the one that gives a unique feeling in his exhibition. The circular shape is added into the rectangular paintings or the rectangular frames are transformed into the circular shape and this roundness creates the more cohesive and self-sufficient microcosm than the rectangular frames do. As also seen in the painting Combining Smells (調香), the round form reminds the expanding universe after the first explosion or the eyes looking at that universe. A. Yaffee in his book Symbolism in the Visual Arts tells that a circle is comparable with the allegory of the spirit (Plato) from the fact that a circle symbolizes the wholeness of a spirit of every aspect. A circularly continuing line of a circle is finite and infinite, and static and dynamic at the same time. As a result, a circle, embracing this double-sidedness, has been symbolizing perfectness across the ages and in all countries of the world.
The boundary of a circle sometimes divides the world into two parts, a sacred place and a not sacred place, and becomes a model of constructing an ego, home, temple, fort, city and etc. Images relating to this circle appear behind a saint as halo or in a mandala in religion. Soo-man Moon’s frequently used round canvas is another symbol containing the other meaningful symbol. It is realized in the earthly life but it is a way of art that constructs the alternative world by defeating the boundary within it. Art is a sacred base that one can play as much as one wants within it, unlike other fields. Sacredness drags while pushing, becomes helpful while falling one into danger and even gives eternal life. Mircea Eliade in his book Traité d' histoire des religions explains his concept of the sacredness in a circular space. According to him, this space attempts to repeat the primal sense of the saint who consecrated the space by isolating from the surrounding earthly spaces. Since the center of the universe has been projected in the center of a circle, the artist’s paintings are the repetition of the creation of the world and the reproduction of the universe at the same time.
Eliade explains that the realization of a circle is an endless desire of a human being and nostalgia over a sacred space or a transcendental place appearing as a paradise. It must be a man’s will that always wants to live in the center of the world, the reality and sacredness, in other words, a will that wants to regain a god’s condition beyond a man’s through a natural method. Eliade also explains about the outside and the inside through the dichotomy of sacredness and mundaneness in his book Images et symboles. According to him, uncharted or unformed territory starts when going beyond this closed world with boundaries. There are a space like the universe on one side and uncharted territory on the other side with unfamiliar existences like a devil, lemurs and the angel of death out of this familiar space. The destruction of established order, the extinction of the original image, is regression to the confusion, the original state before the occurrence of the universe. Eliade says that all the human beings ultimately aim for the overall reality, the center that gives sacredness to them and the center of them even if it may happen in the unconscious state.
Therefore, the desire to be in the center of the world where the communication with the celestial world is possible in the middle of all the existences is deeply rooted in a man’s heart. This desire explains the reasons that the center of the world is excessively used. The nostalgia of a paradise always means the desire to be in the center of the world, the middle of all the reality without difficulties. Eliade sees that the first purpose of this shamanistic will comes from the wall standing between two different spaces. Meanwhile, although the circular form of Soo-man Moon has the traditional symbol of a circle, there is a difference that it heads to the outside rather than the center while giving rough forms as it goes to the edge. This must look the outside beyond the pleasure of the scared space in the center. This open attitude allows the artist who uses the traditional medium for his practice to break the abstruseness of symbolism. The symbolism has one center and this center disturbs the free play as the modern debaters of deconstruction have insisted.
First, the round canvas appears as an ideal medium to realize a complete model for the center. And although Soo-man Moon effectively expresses the symbol of a circle that can be also considered as an eye or ego, he does hold on to it. This is because the symbolism does not also go beyond the idea of ‘representationalism’ when it becomes the center. Not only phenomena but also ideas are represented. This ‘representationalism’ is locked in the dichotomy of a subject and object. Also, the “expression”, marking when appearing as a subject rather than an object, is not that different. There are elements of creation and transformation as much as representation in Soo-man Moon’s paintings and the artist seems to develop elements of creation and transformation more in the future practice. Even though the references of his paintings are the national treasures that have a great amount of information, they go through diverse stages in the process of transformation. The realization of the appearance of ceramics in the unrealistic size, the active editing of a space and the creation of connection for differences of dimensions, the arrangement of images, and the foreground of the images that sits on the background such as cracks are a few examples that Soo-man Moon shows.
When defining his painting as a symbolic practice, it is not only a connection of the sensible and spiritual matters, in other words, a medium to fix the outside objects but also a symbol that becomes a medium to see the outside world through that connection as Ernst Cassirer says in his book Begriff der symbolischen Formim Aufbau der Geisteswissenschaften. In that sense, art is symbolic as language, myth, technology and science do. Let’s think about the meanings of the artist’s various images, created from the references of the inlaid celadon, as an example. There may be mythical narratives by the archeologists, historians or art historians who read art more with objective eyes in those images but a creator does specifically exist in myths. Also, ceramists who created the universe into symbolic objects in the history are left anonymous. Jacques Derrida says that the most interesting part in the research of the anthropologist Levi-Straussian comes in on the declared renunciation of all kinds of reference in the context of one center, one subject, one privileged reference, one origin or the absolute source in his book L'Ecriture et la différence.
Thus, there is no unification or absolute source of myths. The cradle and source of myths cannot be captured and realized all the time. Derrida emphasizes that the discussion about the structure of myths that does not put importance on the center can neither have an absolute subject nor center itself. The unification of myths is just tendentious and projective. According to Derrida, the unification of myths is just an imaginative phenomenon, occurred from the effort to interpret. The absence of the center here means absence of the subject, in other words, the artist. In Derrida’s point of view, we cannot define the center and completely generalize because a sign, standing for the center, is added as an extra. After all, the center is empty. When the center is disbanded, the idea that it is a reflection of a round form becomes disappeared. Then, the artist must have been so sincere to his references that are argued as the originals in order not to reflect but to transform. It is like equality is based in order to determine differences.
Soo-man Moon’s paintings that subtly change in every exhibition are still in the process of evolution. He visualizes symmetry on each painting like in a mandala but his main efforts are concentrated not on the center but also around the edge or on the surface. Gradation is used to strength the density of the edge in some paintings. The artist sees the roughness on the edge unlike the center as a ceramic’s level. He compares this part with the part of the Japanese warrior’s sword in which the natural cut is left like gushed lava. It seems to deliver its wavelength not only to the edge of his canvas but also the outside. Moreover, it asks this question beyond detailed depiction. Can the essence of a matter be seen through externals? The paintings on canvases depict the surface of ceramics but there is a distinction in a quality. As clearly seen in the work’s side and back, the artist rather focuses on the surrounding and the surface than the center. The binary idea of ‘essence and appearance or an original form and reproduction (Gilles Deleuze)’ is converged as one dimension.
This kind of a dimension allows to be immersed. Soo-man Moon’s practice ultimately heads to simulacra rather than reproduction. What Gilles Deleuze emphasizes in his book The Simulacrum and Ancient Philosophy is simulacra instead of reproduction. According to him, simulacra are not dilapidated reproduction but embody the positive energy that denies an original and duplication, and an original form and reproduction. Deleuze also explains the nature of simulacra that eat all the beginning by citing Blanchot’s words about ‘the universe where images cease to be the secondary existence compared to a model, a deceit claims truth and an original form does not exist anymore or the universe where the eternal glimmering only exists after the original absences are dispersed in a cycle of going back and coming back’. Although simulacra bring the universal collapse by eating all the beginning, it is not a negative disaster but a positive event. In this context, Soo-man Moon’s painting is not reproduction of the work, assumed as the original. It is like the engineering technology of science (what his major was before studying art) reflects a new existence based on ‘simulacra, in other words, the technique of reproduction without any original (Donna Haraway)’.
The dichotomy that divides the past and present, the east and the west, an original and reproduction, and etc. becomes one existence like a Mobius strip. Deleuze suggests Fortunatus’s pocket, looking like a Mobius strip, as an example in his book Logique du sens. This pocket was made with several roughly sewed towels so the inside and the outside were connected as one. Thus, this pocket was like embodying the universe. The inside becomes the outside and the outside becomes the inside. This changeover is always achieved by extending the edge so we become to follow the other side of the edge from the power of a Mobius strip. The continuity of the inside and outside substitutes all the levels. The rough edges that even seem to be rolling unlike the quiet center in Soo-man Moon’s paintings point out the time and space in which the events of changing the structure of the edge happen. The artist also considers the side space of the surface as a surface and attempts to bring the outer energy into the center. In this edges of round canvases, the understandings of ‘the ideas that rises against the surface and declines the wrong layers, and how everything begins from the edges (Deleuze)’ are realized.