In order to approach JUN Hyerim’s work, we need to reconsider a lot of customary thinking around painting. Her work fumbles many meanings embedded in the sign called ‘painting’ and asks us to reflect on them. I’d like to discuss what constantly makes us throw questions and find our own answer within her paintings through her recent works.
On contact points of the concepts of what we call ‘painting’ or think it is, there are several categories though we don’t enumerate them one by one. Of course, there is no complete painting embracing all the categories. Just like there is no one complete book which is written with all the lines of books from the Alexandria library. However, it seems clear that the history of painting has been established with these categories’ systematic definitions and borders. As someone praised painting as the hero of art history, it covers a large portion of art history. Imagine art history without the history of painting.
After all, painting is the result of struggles or disputes over how to define or draw a new border between categories. This tendency has enjoyably created the myth of newness, however, what today’s painting encounters is not the new aspect but how to bid farewell to familiar manners that countless attempts have produced. JUN has boldly summoned art history for this farewell. She also chose to delicately reflect on the impossibility of complete painting as mentioned earlier, and the potential answers through constant searching in spite of that impossibility.
In spite of the risk of eclecticism, JUN Hyerim’s attempt to retrogress to masterpieces intends to review synchronism of conceptual conventions in painting. Certain sign needs internal agreement based on its synchronic features, and those masterpieces placed within the boundary of history are subjects that have formed the conventio of paintings in the end. One contemporary painter’s act of reviewing those characteristics is an attempt to tear this historical agreement formed by combining ‘painting’ and ‘celebrated painting’ from another convention called arbitrariness of representation.
Is it possible for an object of representation to stand for certain status wholly and to accomplish one perfect existence? In other words, whether certain painting can accomplish perfect and abundant painting itself or not must be a critical definition arbitrarily reached, with innumerable objections. JUN Hyerim takes warning against surplus of arbitrariness around painting and representation. It is because there is no such painting that can reach perfect status in itself or gather all the characteristics of painting into itself. This is Narcadia named to signify impossibility of Arcadia which we cannot arrive nor exists.
The point from which JUN constructs her painting is impossibility of complete painting called Narcadia. It functions as the narrative penetrating her artistic work and at the same time covers her attitude toward painting. In 〈Nothing is There Though〉 (2018), the point begins with all the cliché images we could find online when we type paradise. However, this paradise image drawn on the painting plane doesn’t make any meaning, rather the word paradise itself and inertia of image are connected to loose universality of painting. Those fixed codes which make painting regarded as painting are linked with general symbols for paradise and this shows us that what we usually believe or define comes from the power of custom which hasn’t gone through the process of criticism and contemplation.
On the other hand, what cracks the relationship of this paradise image and general custom appears at the rearrangement of physical attribute and composition of painting. In painting, there are (mostly square) flat screen, paints (of various colors and materiality), all sorts of tool and the activity generally called ‘draw.’ The result adheres/interrelates to the space where there is a wall or a floor. JUN shows that the materiality such as canvas fabric’s wrinkles or sagginess is transformative nature intrinsic to the flatness of the painting. Moreover, she reveals the frame supporting the flat surface has three-dimensional characteristic by standing it upright on the floor, while constructing perspective relation of reality through coordination and reaction of various screen sizes, and location and distances between them.
This approach extends the mode of perceiving illusion and mimesis of objects within a picture plane to the realm of experience which physical composition of painting can arouse in reality. Therefore, common paradise image, namely the impossibility of complete painting protrudes to external space, cracks and converges with the attempt to overcome the limit of painting. This can be a question on what painting is and suggests new understanding of what painting can be and how it can be extended.
Especially her work 〈Nothing is There Though #2〉 (2018) embodies the space she aims to extend structurally, through her compelling brush strokes and the separate layers of expressions’ overlapping and spreading. This work raises the painting’s surface to more active field and creates organic correspondence between images and spaces those images produce. Particularly in between this correspondence, there resides the tension between conventional paradise image and those presented in historical paintings. Conceptual agreements on painting and its ideal and the moving surface formed by reverting those discussions to a paradise motive are constructed at the outside of the painting once again.
Physical extension of space caused by Painting’s surface and composition of painting plane naturally changes the strata of our experience on painting. Both 〈Nothing is There Though〉 and 〈Nothing is There Though #2〉 display repetitive texts drawn after the texts projected onto the painting plane. This scatters and gathers the space of pictorial experience into perspective relation arising between forming illusions on the surface and constructing the reality out of the surface. Therefore, from JUN Hyerim’s painting, we can meet this landscape of experience repeating contraction and expansion as its surface, arrangement, space and existence show.
〈Perfect Skin; meta surface〉 (2018) shows that her experiment on painting’s surface is advancing toward the concept of painting plane’s ‘hierarchy.’ Multi-layered and unbalanced planes, while each plane shows different texture and density, clashes and overlaps together. This attempts to make burst sound on harmony and unity of painting and deconstruct the myth of universal painting. JUN Hyerim postulates painting process as well as images and paints which form a layer of painting plane for certain completeness as limit or lack of painting. She scatters the painting plane with the hierarchy of different resolutions and again turns them into the whole experience.
In this work, I discovered the new temporality appeared in her work. This is different from the narrativity she showed before by selecting certain signs from art history. Rather, this new temporality came to the fore when she dealt with the matter of painting’s ‘process’ itself as a message of surface. This temporality of the surface combines with the space mentioned earlier and keeps evolving. Evolution can happen when we constantly throw doubts and test on the transcendental acceptances regarding painting and derive ongoing experience from them. For this, JUN Hyerim repeatedly reads her own perception on painting and establishes the formal basis needed for conception.
In the end, JUN’s painting can be said as both reconsidering and digging ‘painting’ that can be inferred from constant transformations. In order to describe this argument, I’d like to quote from KIM Hyun’s writing. “The wholeness of life is embodied in the movements toward everything, not gained from fitting the life into one’s within.”1) Painting is not life, but the reason she searches for painting is also provided from the whole discoveries in movements toward it, not from aiming at finality. It is not heading to definition of painting but engraving another traces within the meaning of painting.
1) writer’s note 1. KIM Hyun, “Finding Young Poets”, Insight into the Whole , Nanam Literatures 30 (Seoul: Nanam, 1990): p. 215.
GU Nayeon studied art theory at Korea National University ofArts. She has written about contemporary art of Korea and Japan. She published her thesis “Gutai Art and Modernism Experience of Post-war Japan” (2007), wrote Drifting Art(Gwacheon: Zininzin, 2018) and translated Tokyo Beta (2016) by KENRO Hayamizu (速水健朗) into Korean.