There is an empty space. A round form appears, and another one appears next to it. The pair of forms fold like origami paper and move up and down. Looking at Hejum Bä’s work, one feels as though forms are creating space and moving freely within the stage-like plane of the rectangular canvas. The forms in the paintings are not icons that represent something real or indicate symbolic meaning. How are these forms created, and why do they appear active when they are fixed?
In retrospect, when working on 〈Coming the Painterly〉(2016), Hejum Bä was already addressing the relationship between image and abstract form painted on a plane. The artist’s visual perception is involved in the birth of such forms. The act of looking includes the cognitive process of remembering the subject as an image. Here, a difference is inevitable between the remembered image and the original subject. Even when one thinks that they know the seen subject well, what remains in their mind is an afterimage of an abstract mass that is subjectively formed. Imagination interferes with memory and transforms the image freely. In the end, perfectly matching the image to the real object becomes impossible, and the image is merely analogous to the original. At first, it was Bä’s interest in the unique appearance of foreign plants that led her to paint round forms resembling them. These forms exist arbitrarily, without necessary connection to the original objects that became their actual starting point. From the start, it was not real subjects, but a world of autonomous images that Bä expressed as forms in her paintings. Bä breaks away from representation by deliberately loosening the connection between images and real subjects to open up space for activity, and by accepting the active evolutionary process of images that occurs in cognitive processes.
In 〈A Possible Order when Things Don’t Make Sense〉(2018), Bä combined various color fields that recall origami paper. These color fields do not originate from a subject in reality, but are created in the artist’s imagination. The color fields have something in common with origami paper, but they do not indicate origami paper. They do not belong to the system of linguistic symbols that serve as social norms. Rather, they result from expressing the world of immaterial images hovering over reality. As these immaterial images settle as forms within the plane of the painting, they are given a thin body by the artist. While having a physical location, these “thin bodies” are essentially volumeless, presenting an imaginary world that is analogous to reality. Made of materials yet impossible to hold, the planes prompt the viewer to think about the status of painterly forms that span the imaginary realm.
In 〈Face〉(2018), 〈Landing〉(2018), and 〈Traveling between Stairs〉(2018), Bä created dynamic impressions by following formal relationships to arrange forms that appear to be close to reality because they remind the viewer of a subject without representing it. This creates illusions of color fields opening like doors, of shapes as light as a piece of paper landing, and of butterfly-like shapes bobbing up and down. The impression of forms seeming to move on their own turns Bä’s painting, in the viewer’s mind, into a stage on which an event occurs. Like a stage director, Bä has created pictorial “plots” that serve as a sort of blueprint, or a minimal formative framework, for imagining events. The viewer infers events through these abstract plots. Bä has moved away from plots, too, as suggested by the title of the painting 〈Away from the Plot〉(2019). Instead, she is attempting to paint without a set goal. The process of painting—the harmony or contrast among colors, the area of a color field, the viscosity of the paint and the direction of the brushstrokes, the arrangement of the background and forms—became even more important. The stories created as the forms on the two-dimensional plane rise, fall, fold, overlap, and unfold change appearance for each viewer. They are like a poem spoken in a few words.
Rudolf Arnheim, who believed that thoughts require images, and images contain thoughts, coined the term “visual thinking.” The formative process of painting can be explained as the process of making room for thoughts linked to the spatiotemporal sense. Bä’s works invite the viewer to imagine the process of creating form. Considering the formative process synchronized with the progress in the artist’s thinking, the viewer, too, imagines that forms are being created and filling the space. When viewing Bä’s works, the illusion of movement is generated through the viewer’s voluntary thinking. On a plane that lacks sequence, events occur purely by illusion and are completely virtual. They can be realized only in the thought process of the artist creating images, and in the perception of the viewer seeing the painted forms. Also, the formative situation wherein forms move like characters on a stage and expand is always ongoing, because it is continually reawakened in the thoughts of the viewer.
Through this method Hejum Bä promotes visual thinking through images and activates a poetic world independent from logical causal relationships. For Bä, the painting surface provides minimum anchorage in a world of free images, a place to find coordinates for orders yet unknown. Hejum Bä’s paintings can be anything at all and remain an elusive mystery. Nevertheless, they open up the world within us and prompt us to wonder whence the forms in our first crayon drawings came. And the answer remains a riddle.
Eunju Lee received Ph.D. in Art history at Ewha Womans University. She worked as an supervisor and curator of the non-profit art space Brain Factory. She planned and launched a incubating program for young artists as an associate curator of the Insa Art Space. She is currently conducting research and lectures on contemporary art history, as well as independent curating. She published the papers including 「Social Meaning of the Surreal in the Surrealist Exhibitions of the 1930s」 (Art History and Visual Culture, 2017), Curated the exhibitions including 《They Were Quite Fond of Slopes》 (Art Center White Block, 2021), 《A Virtual Shadow Casts in the Sky of Data Interface》 (Art Space 3, 2020), 《Follow, Flow, Feed》 (Arko Art Center, 2020), 《DMZ Peace Platform 2019》 (Camp Greaves, 2019).