Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The Dust Bowl. The iceberg that ended the Titanic’s maiden voyage. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Throughout time, nature has proven over and over again that no matter how advanced our industry and technology, how magnificent our ships and cities, and how much we encroach upon and alter it, we are, ultimately, at its mercy. South Korean mixed-media artist Seon-Ghi Bahk understands this well. Our tangled relationship with nature—oscillating crazily between worship and destruction—fuels his approach, and is at the heart of his elegant and understated exhibition at Zadok Gallery, titled “Seon-Ghi Bahk: Fiction of the Fabricated Image.”
To enter the gallery’s pristine white space is to be confronted with a forest, of a sort. Midnight-black fragments of charcoal—a substance derived, of course, from trees—hang suspended from the ceiling by nearly invisible nylon threads, shaped into installations that recall iconic architectural forms and natural forces. A thicket of grand Greco-Roman columns, which seem to be in the process of disintegrating, fills one of the gallery’s rooms. Nearby is a single column with half of its pediment missing, while another seems to be disappearing, drip by drip, into a small stone basin set beneath. Bahk plays with the cultural resonance of these forms. Dating to what is considered to be the dawn of Western civilization, and incorporated into civic and domestic structures ever since, they symbolize rationality, art, and order, the triumph of man over nature. Here, however, they are dissipated and airy, relics not of strength but of fragility.
On the walls hang the artist’s austere ink-and-charcoal drawings on white paper, whose images echo his installations. One features a funnel shape, calling to mind visions of furious tornadoes, powerful whirlpools, or, perhaps, a cloud of locusts about to ravage a farmer’s field. This natural force sits suspended above a shallow bowl. Like the column, it could be seen to be gradually dripping into the bowl, enervated and, eventually, contained. Or is it instead emerging from it, an explosion of unstoppable fury, nature’s revenge against culture and our inability to find balance between fabrication and preservation?
“Seon-Ghi Bahk: Fiction of the Fabricated Image” is on view at Zadok Gallery March 8 – August 25, 2014.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory