Space of Differences, Lost in Heterotopia By Jeon Hye-jung, Art Critic

Mar 13, 2021 8:13AM

Space, outside ourselves, invades and ravishes things: If you want to achieve the existence of a tree, Invest it with inner space, this space That has its being in you. Surround it with compulsions, It knows no bounds, and only really becomes a tree If it takes its place in the heart of your renunciation. - An untitled poem (1924) by Rainer Maria Rilke

Impossible Island No 2, 2016

Gonggan in Korean refers to the empty space between things. “Space is an indefinable, general receptacle of all things –the seemingly empty space around us.” (Patrick Frank) The term “place” has a meaning that is a bit more static and concrete than that of “space.” “Space” in English connotes an unfathomable infinity that continues to spread throughout the universe. Raum in German includes the connotation of “residence” which depends on its original meaning of “a human settlement created by logging in a forest.”

What we face before Choi Eun Jeong’s work is “impossible island.” Unveiled in this Impossible Island, also the title of several of her works, is not an island but an intricate intercourse of spaces impossible to realize. An island is a metaphor for isolation. An island in Choi’s work is not cut off. It is rather intricately connected to somewhere like the Gordian Knot. While space is empty, Choi’s space is filled with something. And, while an island refers to “an isolated remote land,” Choi’s island is weirdly and obsessively linked to everything in the scene.

Whereas time refers to continuous, atypical non-material, space refers to concrete, typical material. And yet, Choi’s space displays an atypical, ambiguous non-materiality. Or, its border is unclear, undefinable and quite vague despite its revelation of excessive materiality. When I first came across Choi’s pieces, they reminded me of Michel Foucault’s “heterotopia” due to such intricate ambiguity.

“Heterotopia” is a sort of a realized utopia whose concept Michel Foucault tried to conceptualize but gave up on. This is to incarnate incompatible plural spaces in a real place that works as a space of fantasies to produce isolation and infiltration as well as open and closed systems simultaneously. A heterotopia is deemed to exist in all cultures and is associated with historicity or temporality. Foucault articulates several possible types of heterotopia including spaces such as a garden, cemetery, museum and library, rest homes, and whorehouse. A heterotopia has a system of openness and closeness isolated from its surroundings. We can define its real space but it is a place outside every space. And, heterotopias raise objections to every space. Thus, every heterotopia is all the time plural and vaguely positioned in a space, reiterating its openness and closeness.

Square Experiment, 2020

Choi creates heterotopia in the heterotopic space of a gallery or an art museum. Her pictorial space displays a chaotic scene that is likely to be in our real world but is nowhere and that is likely to be described but undefinable simultaneously. This is not a comprehensive, beautiful scene but a fragmented, confused world. This is either a utopia covered with alluring colors or a dystopia falling endlessly. This is also both a world in harmony with nature and a world in disharmony with the nature defined by geometric structures. Adjectives used for Cho’s works, such as “impossible,” “subtle,” “floating,” and “oblique” point to the contradictory nature of her paintings.

The artist connects things to one another with images of pipes, ladders, and connecting structures in a(n) (im)possible (un)realistic world. Martin Heidegger accounts for the feature of architecture with its function to concentrate on and gather the divine and the dead within the land and under its sky. A typical architectural structure or place is a bridge that brings together the scenes around a river.

The numerous images of connection Choi embodies assume the role of a bridge. While Heidegger’s bridge connects an immortal god to a mortal man in the middle zone between the heaven and the earth, Choi’s connections work as a heterotopic gate between utopia and dystopia and reality and illusion. And, this gate is neither firmly closed nor widely open. This is either a living mouth or a molded structure. Choi’s gates lead us to a chaotic world by opening and closing its mouth like living organisms just as “chaos” whose original meaning is “opening the mouth” (chainein).

I discover spaces in which geometric images are realized in Choi’s works using as many colors as she can. Her works crammed with various images paradoxically reveal more chasms. We find a world foreign to us and ambiguity undefinable for us between banisters, natural objects, artificial structures, and flowing paints. Her painting looks like a dice game board on which players move their pieces toward the goal. Just as the board has uncanny, showy images, Choi’s images lead us from a deep abyss to an ecstatic scene in a mixture of splendid ideal worlds and chaotic illusionary worlds.

Despite this overlap of numerous heterotopias, Choi might feel her work is insufficient. Her recent works can be thought of as a hybridization of all genres of painting. We discover not only an overlap of space but also time in her recent pieces that seems to embrace all manners and factors from Vincent van Gogh’s trees rendered in thick matiere, Sol LeWitt’s structures in mechanical drawing, and the audacious brushstrokes of abstract expressionists. If so, where is “I” looking at the space? Am I seeing the space from an omniscient viewpoint? Or, am I looking outside from a space confined by colorful forests, slippery paints, and keen structures? We have no bodies in Choi’s space. We become foreign in her space, foreign to ourselves. Choi arranges her scenes, puts canvases together or sets structures in a unique space beyond painting. Her works revive the existence of our bodies we have forgotten. We become the flaneur in a new space of hybridization between reality and illusion and utopia and dystopia. “Penetrable, opaque, open. A closed body and an imponderable body.” “Actually, my body is always in another place. That place is connected to all other places of the world.” (Michel Foucault).

Eunjeong Choi
Harmoney Hall No2, 2020

Interestingly, I feel new energy erupting from Choi’s inner world through inexplicable bodies and groping eyes. Paints crossing severed canvases and divided grids appear about to burst. They lend a sense of tremendous speed to calculated scenes. It is my expectation that Choi will push us into a completely new dimension through her work that is at the center of a fresh tug of war between figuration and abstraction, landscape and structure, and reality and illusion. I dream of such a dizzy world quite foreign to me.

“I am the space where I am.” (Noel Arnaud, 1950)

I did not know where my place was before Choi’s painting. That “unknowing” is myself. We are in a place that is neither inside nor outside and neither reality nor illusion and where differences conflict. And, such differences are ourselves. We are beings of differences who have gotten lost in a heterotopia.