People / Critic

Sooryeon CHOE: Pictures for Use and Pleasure_Let us Live in Hell

posted 13 Sep 2022


I Simply Don’t Know 只不知 & I Simply Don’t Know 只不知, 2020, watercolor, acrylic on cotton cloth, 227×182cm. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

I was going to oppose giving judgement, but I only witnessed his arrest without a shadow nor signal. He is innocent. Nevertheless, I can’t ask what the arrest is about. Because the one who visits is not able to be considered. Now, he must prove his innocence for a crime he did not commit and a crime about which he does not even know. The court is as invincible and blind as this arrest, so this claim can’t help but to be a judgement. For even if a bit of him is innocent, he tries to find an exit through the law even though he is referred to the court. But the access will be deferred forever. Since the law is unknown and the crime is unknown, the judgement will be only fair in its blindness. In other words, for judgement to be fair, there must be no condition at all to declare fair guilt without looking into it. And this kind of judgment seems to not exist and it has to be nowhere, but it exists in life all the time. The name of this suspicious and unfortunate law has been always the providence. So are the pains of the weak, the other, and the minorities who are innocent, but featured in the news every day.

After all, one can’t help but to name this one God who intrudes on the presumption of guilt. Maybe God comes into the world in front of this indifferent and chilling futility. Because believing in the somehow incomprehensibly magnificent divine providence existing in everything is closer to meaning than coping the verdict without the victory nor defeat. Therefore, there exists no one questioning God, asking “why do the innocent suffer?” While tracing the law of physics for accidents, its causal relationship, and related human law and interest and saying “that’s not your fault” at the same time, there exists no one making a revenge indictment charging why God neglects human misfortunes, rather than just shedding tears for the horrors of the world. As soon as we prosecute him, the meaning, left in the size of dust, would disappear. However, when it becomes unavailable to prosecute God, it also becomes unavailable to prosecute every other thing. It’s because if we can’t understand what is providence, we can’t distinguish what it isn’t. It’s a problem to remaining silent on the revolutionary idea of questioning everything, even this world, along with the feeble realization of only delving into something partially or only into the corrections.

Maybe providence will be unknown forever. However, to make everything possible, to eradicate every irrationality that is able to be cleared, even God who sticks to the presumption of the guilty must be prosecuted. CHOE Sooryeon’s Pictures for Use and Pleasure (Window Gallery, Incheon Art Platform Incheon, 2020) appears at this point. The name on the indictment written by the artist is for a devil who was against judgment. Whether it is a story of ‘a female servant’ or ‘Chaemo,’ the death quoted in this work is always irrational since there is no charge named nor cause of death. It is as in touch with the providence supervised by God as with irrationality. Likewise, God never considers the volume of individuals and treats everyone as a criminal. But the devil only hates the one with sin. Only the one who sinned is allowed into hell, since the punishment that God would not engage with the sinner is only hated by the devil, and thereby makes the sinner suffer. The devil having feelings for evil deeds is just a rumor created by irrationality. If the devil loved evil deeds, he would be unlikely to produce headstones for criminals in such a sunless place. Only (quoting) the devil eases the irrationality. Therefore, to forever face tragedy and misfortune, we have no choice but to accept it and to eternally give up. Pictures for Use and Pleasure cannot help but write the bill of indictment with ‘the words of ghosts or the words for ghosts’ that have ‘the view of the world based in didactic morality and the pessimistic perception of it.’ The exhibition says it is not limited to ‘that’s not your fault,’ rather it extends beyond stating that it would change everything except you, everything that surrounds you.


Carefree Women, 2020, oil on linen, 145×112cm. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

Unlike the scale of the exhibition, which is difficult to capture with a quick glance, Pictures for Use and Pleasure reveals itself in the form of one continual work. The work consists of some previous works and some newly produced ones, but they give up their partial or independent positions to come together as ‘one’ panorama. This oneness is irreversible because it cannot be separated nor divided even after the exhibition ends. This cohesion aims to distinguish providence from something that is not providence as it criticizes the feeble perception that tries to present only a part while neglecting the whole. This process doesn’t prove that the individual can be piled on as one by artificiality. Rather, the panorama shows that the whole does not consist of divided parts but exists by a connection that cannot be divided. Hereby, the individual always holds the whole thinking of it as its source, so it is proved that the totality is not lost even after it seems to be divided. Just as this exhibition is one artwork, narrating the ‘whole’ world becomes possible.

If one work displays how it possibly and synchronically reveals a totality, in another sense, a diachronic restriction of the work shows the totality of the world. Pictures for Use and Pleasure refers to the book of the same name, Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China (2010)1) an academic text that introduces the literature and customs of the Qing Dynasty. The book states that from a modern and foreigner’s point of view, the tradition does not comprehend life but reveals itself as a foreign body leaked from life. This tradition is not the contemporary one, rather came from the origin timeline when myth and reality were not classified as distinct. Even though the feeling of irritation, the irrationality of the origin and modern one are not classified in terms of their content, they still commensurate to today by what is stated to be modern. By not being classified, the origin story never stops speeding through the modern and the present on the timeline. This continuing direction proves that time is continuous, not severed, and, synchronically and diachronically, the world is revealed as a whole. Therefore, rather than a partial modification, the condition to practice revolution for the whole becomes available.

Two folktales are suggested in the exhibition. One is about the death of ‘a female servant and Soojing’ and another is about the deaths of ‘a woman and Chaemo’. The servant dies without any explanation, just because she came across the death angel, and Soojing dies because the servant belongs to her. The woman in the latter story dies and not long after that Chaemo also dies, both deaths for unclear reasons. What these two stories share is not just that the stories do not end with the death of the characters, but that the deaths of the two stories have no grounds. Every aim to end the cause of death in relation to those characters’ personality, description, whereabouts, and nature are all for naught. Anything related to the character has no probability, and it becomes meaningless. While folktales generally carry a message that leaning toward the promotion of virtue and reprisal of vice, CHOE chooses a story in which an innocent individual suffers and is punished without sin, underlining this aspect of irrationality. The reason that didactic morality is general in folktales is not because it is actually common, but rather because it reflects a desire for irrational reality to move toward the direction of the moral good. In other words, the judgment of the innocent is in fact closer to reality.


Where Everything Is in Order, 2020, oil on linen, 210×170cm. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

The narrator who describes Chaemo’s death ends the story with “at last, dies.” Here, ‘at last’ is an adverb that comes before the desired result due to a certain reason. Although there exists no cause for these deaths, what one can seek to understand is the narrating subject who ‘desired’ the death. The subject is ‘God’, and the incomprehensible and imperceptible providence can only be described as irrational. The pain that the innocent would experience, by which proves God’s absence or incapacity, cannot help but prove God’s existence by manifesting that God is fair to every existence. And it proves that the magnificent providence must be incomprehensible. If the realization that misfortune has its own meaning and intention, rather than having no meaning at all, frees us from suffocating futility, humankind cannot help but hang on to this realization. In such an atrocity that paralyzes humans, it would be rare to figure out the truth that caused that atrocity. Since the truth becomes unachievable, humankind begins reducing itself, persuading itself that truth does not exist or is unknown. This reduction presupposes the incomprehensibility of providence. Whether or not the individual believes, when they give up trying to understand or correct the world, they engage in proving God.

But this proof also paradoxically proves the existence of the devil. If there is a God, the devil also exists. Not a God who equally sentences sin indiscriminately, but the devil who sentences pain to the guilty since he only hates the sin. Between the two stories, there is a sentence “Your life on earth is exhausted, but your life in hell is unfinished” and this does not indicate the event was enacted later than those beings moved to hell. The sentence is a declaration to change the world of reality into hell. Therefore, it was written in the present tense. It can be declared, “Devil is here,” or “Pluto is here,” as if it is currently taking place, or more radically as, "King evil, you won” in the past tense. Overthrowing the world in which the innocent suffers to the reality of hell where only the guilty suffer is in the cards or currently taking place. Quoting the devil’s words that Pictures for Use and Pleasure uses takes the role of an indictment for this irrational world. "We will become the king of evil spirits.” Whether they believe or not, in this world of the devil not of God, we would participate in correcting the whole and in aiming to understand everything, rather than humbly accepting the providence. As long as we keep questioning this, this world becomes the place where the innocent avoid suffering and become the king of evil spirits.
Art unfurls itself to simultaneously expose every component of its field. This simultaneity removes the order of the components, and therefore creates a sense

of fairness. Although the audience views each part of a work according to their own order of viewing, for example spending a longer time viewing certain parts of the work, the fact that the artwork exposes all of itself in a singular instant never changes, so a hierarchy of objects does not exist. This indiscriminately exposure is comparable to God’s attitude toward the sinner and the innocent in this world he created. Since Pictures for Use and Pleasure challenges such a point of view, the work requires a necessary order. In order to present a specific order, the work uses ‘letters’. Letters cannot help but have order, whether it is from left to right or in the reverse, from top to bottom, and vice versa. Although the work expresses everything at the same time, once there are letters, audiences cannot help but follow a certain order of viewing. On the one hand, the work seems to break the order of creation. God’s creation was executed with the creation of light by his words ‘let there be light.’ But Pictures for Use and Pleasure must have existed before the light. Although the work installed outside the exhibition hall will fade due to its constant light exposure, the work existed long before light was created at the beginning of time. Therefore, it always exposes itself as even more faded than time can make it. The hierarchy of creation does not exist here, either.


Weeping, 2020, oil on linen, 227×182cm. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.

If these precious words, ‘it’s not your fault,’ did not console you enough, that was not because there was a lack of sincerity. It was not comforting because it indicated that we must accept everything as it is, without looking back at the past or to the possible changes of what is to come. And, that was a sad feeling. That sentence rationalizes the present world by saying ‘that’s how life works,’ rather than resisting it by saying ‘we must find the one who did this wrong’ or ‘we need to stand against this conclusion.’ This phrasing could be a helpless choice. Even after we are equipped with such knowledge of sending several human beings to the moon, out into the universe, we still do not know why hundreds of people had to drown in the water. Human beings are always trivialized when facing the pain of the innocent. The inevitable agreement that the whole cannot be changed in the end, scales people to be miniscule. This exhibition was not created on the metaphysical level that follows a rumor called ‘God’. In a materialistic view, ‘God indicates human beings’ humble and feeble agreement that makes them give up revolutionizing the whole, only thinking that the world can be partially modified. On the contrary, the ‘devil’ remains silent in regard to this agreement and symbolizes the attitude toward that revolution for the whole.

Once again, only art stands before the court that prosecutes God. Without a witness or proof, it prosecutes the God no one ever pitied before and demolishes the borders between humans. By doing so, it proves that art must exist. Once again, without experimentation or proof, materialism deepens itself to metaphysics, and the lyric becomes dense as it describes the world, thereby salvation is completed by revolution. All these things happen only within art. The circumstance of the world reveals the possibility of what is possible, but art manifests how the impossible ‘was’ possible. CHOE Sooryeon once said that the part of the title that states ‘easygoing’ or ‘Use and Pleasure’ was intended to evoke irony, but the irony is only available when it never stops wishing to revert to its original meaning while it means its opposite. This is also expressed in Sowol’s line, ‘I forgot’ indicates that the narrator did not forget and does not want to stop forgetting in the sadness of the loss. Therefore, the title becomes a road that continues to approach the concepts of ‘use and pleasure’ while it feels pessimistic about the world with no use nor pleasure. Let us live in hell.


Carefree Women, 2020, watercolor, acrylic on cotton cloth, 35×27cm. Image provided by Incheon Art Platform.


1) James CAHILL, Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

※ This content was first published in 『2020 Incheon Art Platform Residency Program Catalogue』, and re-published here with the consent of Incheon Art Platform

Jaeyeon Cho

Art Critic, Journalist of Art in Culture. He is a critic who aims to deepen toward the difficult, even after the end of loss and barbarism. He writes while trembling, depending on the idea that reform will be radicalized into lyricism and that anger will come forward as lamentation. He won first place with the article “Quietly Continuing Quarrel” (2019) in the 3rd criticism competition held by GRAVITY EFFECT, an art criticism magazine, and worked as a theorist in HART LAB Residency (2021).

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