Song, myung-jin gallery


[Surface of landscape] criticism....Kumho Museum of Art 2005. 11
  
Stage of Matters, Visual perception of the Surface
             - What I saw in Song Myung-Jin's Paintings


   Even in the age of video, with its brilliantly moving mis-an-scene of all sorts, there is something
that can be called the "delights of painting." Though different in nature, these "delights" can be shared both by the painter and the spectator of the painting done by the painter. One of such delights is ex-
perienced as the artist visualizes a world that could not be seen by anyone other than the artist him/
herself on the flat, enabling me, you and us to see it together. In a Herakleitoic sense, the awake
share their world. On the other hand, those asleep each have their own world. While the former is the
world of reality, which can be visually shared by anyone can see and is aware, the latter is the world
of dreams, which can only be known by the dreamer. If an artist can successfully paint his/her
unique world of dreams (or fantasy or concept), the rest of us, who were unaware of that world, get to
experience the delight of sharing that world  through the painting.  
  Though I have no intention to repeat the debate on the distinction between painting and photography,
which seems to have been already resolved, and though it appears that the video image has transcen
-ded its duty to represent reality and is carrying out the tasks of simulation perfectly, I want to stress
the many paths of  possibility that painting has been paving in our world of visuality. Those paths
branch out over flat canvas or paper to our visual senses, and on those paths, movement without
motion takes pace and events occur endlessly regardless of time. Of course such definition is limited
to successful paintings, and it is the painting of Song Myung-Jin that I bear in mind as I give this
explanation.  

1. Methodology of the surface : from the limits of the flat
                                           to recomposition of the narrative


   Considering the fact that painting is an art that takes place on the surface of the flat, which has no
movement or sound, there are times when feel skeptical about how colorful could the delights achiev
-ed from there possibly be. But from time to time, we encounter paintings that make us doubt those
doubts. The paintings of P. Cézanne, Gerhard Richter and Francis Bacon are in that category. The
paintings of Song Myung-Jin is in the same case as well. They give us the pleasure that can only be
experienced from paintings. Looking at P. Cézanne's Still Life with Apples and Oranges, with the table placed cater-cornered and apples that look like they are about to roll off, we marvel at the way the flat
is translated into space, in Richter's Untitled, which represents an abstract realistically, we feel not
only visual but also intellectual pleasure at the paradoxical homogeneity of the abstract and the figura
-tive. Further, in Bacon's studies on portraits series, there is no need for words with regard to the
movement involved in the perceived flat pictorial plane. In discussing the work of young artist Song
Myung-Jin, who is about to unfold her world of art, the reason for mentioning the masters of Western
contemporary painting is not to demoralize this artist or to place her painting among the ranks of the
masters. It is to emphasize that though Song may not be their legitimate descendent, her paintings do
succeed to their awareness of painting. In discussing Bacon's painting, G. Deleuze said "every
artist summarizes the history of painting in his/her own way." If that is true, artist Song Myung-Jin
is no exception. Though the motives and appearances differ, to give an example, Cézanne's pursuit
to realize 3-dimensional space on the 2-dimension is attempted in Song's painting as extreme
emphasis of flatness in depicting the subject. The identity of abstraction, in question by Righter, is
twisted once more in Song's painting, as she makes paintings with specific forms look like color field
paintings. The aspect of movement in Bacon's work is dealt with by presenting frozen scenes of
which spectators can anticipate the movement, rather than depicting a sequence of the moments of
movement. For a spectator to anticipate movement is to imagine the movements before and after the
given scene, even though there is no motion in the painting itself. This is because the artist did not
represent the movement on the flat, but painted the traces of movement, or a state of fixed movement.
Spectators get involved in this trace or state with their imaginations, and recompose the narrative of
the painting. At Song's first solo exhibition, Image Capture, I said this was the "role of the spectators", which is essential in this exhibition as well. As a spectator myself, I also looked at the artist's work
before others and made an imaginative intervention. I will put what I have seen into words.    
    
2. Contents of the surface : The flat is a stage of events
        
   A single color is covering almost the entire surface of the canvas. It is an opaque green (opaque
oxide of chromium). But in detail, I see not just an opaque green surface, but shapes. The shapes,
which look like a gang of green little goblins overlapping without order, or a clump of green seaweed,
are coagulated as if they were to take over the white canvas. In another painting, while the opaque
green forms a homogeneous background, the forms of three people are painted, as if they just ripped
through the surface of the green canvas. Though I said forms of people, it is only the outline that looks that way, and actually there is no face or gesture. In an other painting with two 2 meter-width canvas
-es there is a gigantic green grid. On one side, the grids are melting and evaporating as they reveal
their floors, while on the other side, a hard grid that looks like it was cut roughly with a saw is spread
out on the floor. This is not all. All the paintings displayed by Song in this exhibition have green taking
over as much as half of the entire picture, and certain shapes or events which cannot be clearly iden
-tified are depicted in the paintings.  
   That is why the paintings of Song Myung-Jin seem to inherit and betray the tradition of modernist
color field painting at the same time. In the grammar of modernist painting, Malevich, Barnet Newman, and Mark Rothko defined the flatness of painting by phenomenologically revealing the relationship of
colors and the surface in the pictorial plane. This was not transforming the visual world, which we all
know, to an illusion of painting, but presenting the materialness of painting itself in a drastic way.Song
emphasizes that the painting was dong on a flat surface by presenting the contents of the painting
in opaque oxide of chromium and not imitating the forms realistically. If such aspect looks as if Song
internalized the anti-illusion aspect and self identity of modernism painting into the characteristics of
her own painting, nevertheless, by filling such color fields with certain shapes or transforming them to the stage of an event, the artist is able to create a new path, different from the existing modernist paint
-ing. Or, it seems that she is betraying the solemn canon of such grammar. As described in words
above, her paintings present shapes of objects and events condensed in green which cannot be defin
-ed easily.  The shapes and events are done in different grades of tone as if they were tuned to the
time-absent flat space, but nevertheless look 2-dimensional and motionless.The 2-dimensionalization
of the 3-dimensional and movement of the immobile were what comprised the visual world studied
and achieved in the paintings of Cézanne. Of course, such characteristics are not perfectly achieved
in Song's painting. In a way, he method of treating objects flatly seems closer to an illustration
technique, and the immobility seems to represent the frozen state itself, rather than the tension right
before or after movement. But, such characteristics should be seen not as deficiencies compared to
historical paintings, but as the unique features of her painting.  

3. Visual perception of the surface : From following with the eyes to imaginating,
                                                 from stationary to movement


   In the aspect of contents of the painting, which is revealed visually, the peculiarity of Song Myung-
Jin's painting is also materialized through the above-mentioned illustration technique and depiction of
the frozen state. Earlier, I wrote my views on several paintings, but in fact, the titles given to the paint
-ings by the artist were indicating the shapes or events in the paintings as something different. What
I saw as green men overlapping each other or multiplying green seaweed,according to the artist,were trees (Growing Tomb), and what I saw as human figures tearing through the canvas were actually
people in a grass field (Into the Field). Though spectators are free to see anything they want in paint
-ings, regardless of the artist's intention, what was the reason for seeing simple forms such as trees
or people on the grass so differently? I give the analogy that it is because the artist sees the ordinary
visual world differently and shapes it differently from us. As objects or human figures change into
strange shapes and unexplainable events take place in the world of dreams or fantasy, Song Myung-
Jin observes the landscapes of daily life strangely and visualizes what she has seen in her canvas.
Thus, the world which only the artist could see is transferred to the shared world of visibility which
we can all see. In that world, a bird, which looks like it was frozen in flight, flies over a landscape
of a gigantic mountain embracing numerous small hills. It is somewhat surprising that the scene of
a graveyard built where the mountain has been cut away, which can be easily witnessed out the
window of an express bus, looks like that to the artist. Field of Landscape is a painting of the river
banks in front of the artist's house. Without the explanation in the title, we would only see all the styliz
-ed plants, which could perhaps be found in fairy tales, and the variation of the flat green vegetation.
By depicting objects or landscapes 2-dimensionally in a variation of just one hue, the artist makes us
feel alienation. On the other hand, the events that take place in the paintings do not follow the rule of
causality,but are presented like a scene of a stage, stirring our imaginations. Before Song's paintings,
we do not just follow the images with our eyes, but also perform "imagination" using the painting as a
motive. For example, as we look at In the Shadow, we try to imagine what kind of conspiracy the
four people (if they are actually people), half buried in the green grass under the thick shadow of the
bridge column, are up to. Not only do we imagine the events, but also the movement. "Whik" is a
painting of the trace of something that zoomed across a grass lawn under a bridge, drawing a diagon
-al parabola. However, the subject of the movement and how such a trace was made is up to your
imagination. Song's paintings consistently request this "(imaginative) intervention by spectators."The
request can be interpreted as the hope of the artist for us to actively move our thoughts and visual
perceptions as we face the surface of the painting, beyond contemplation, which is the traditional
way of art appreciation.As dreams are short, the impressions we get from objects and events are also short. And as dreams originate from our imagination, the impressions we get from objects and events are based on our imagination as well. To paint is to extend such shortness of a dream or impression, or individuality into a picture. Some paintings go beyond tying such impressions on the flat, and share them with others and move them(the viewers and the impressions themselves).Song's paintings also belong to this category.
          
   Some readers may denounce me, saying what makes such characteristics the delight of painting,
and even if it was delight, how could us ordinary spectators besides certain art appreciators well vers
-ed in art theory "share" such excessive intellectuality. Reasonable as it is, such criticism is valid
only for pointing out the difficulty of this article, which interprets the artist's painting into words. So we
must see the series of paintings painted by Song Myung-Jin. We must see how the personal visual
world of the artist which was asleep, developed into a shared space of visibility, and enjoy it fully.
Who knows? If that sort of appreciation is successful, perhaps this overly pedantic critique may be
comprehended.

  Kang, Su-Mi (Aesthetics)


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