My works start from my sheer personal experiences. Events in my childhood which are not forgotten even after time elapses are recalled on the screen again and again. Albeit being realistic events, they sometimes move in a direction which I myself even cannot understand as they are crumbled and subtly attached to one another and modified in my memory. I might simply gaze at them in my mind and chase them. The images sometimes get penetrated into social incidences of unfairness and irregularities, which I have deeply looked into by going beyond myself. I realize how challenging it is to explain a painting. Such bewilderment is not derived from being incapable of interpreting the images: the detailed images I paint are connected in multiple layers, which might look utterly illogical to some. And yet, they look more tangible than anything else to me.
Blood, Sweat, Tear and Endless Last Christmas
Man could never do without blood, torture, and sacrifices when he felt the need to create a memory for himself; the most dreadful sacrifices and pledges (sacrificing the first baby, etc.) ... the most repulsive mutilations (for example, castration) ... the cruelest rites of all the religious cults ... – all this has its origin in the instinct that realized that pain is the most powerful aid to mnemonics.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
In Soon-young’s painting appear quite a large number of figures and a particular place which cannot be specified. There are few cases where specific cases or circumstances are described. Some of the figures have specifically and slightly evolved in her three previous solo exhibitions. It might be fair that a figure wearing a robe like a wing suit resembling Micky Mouse dubbed by the artist as the symbol of salvation is named Micky- Mary. In the background of her paintings falls the snow quite often, sometimes with substitutes for snow, ranging from artificial snow looking around like Christmas tree decorations to cherries. Anybody that has seen these paintings might be easily reminded of Christmas. And yet, you might be disappointed if you expected such magical moments as the birth of Messiah or those that arouse holiness and awe. Her paintings seemingly imbue an implication that they have been partially excerpted from familiar and interesting comics – as if violence expressed in comics mostly seem less violent. However, the more I look into the world and figures she has created, I have started to feel anguish about my life and behaviors because I was reminded of the last drop of tear, which has become a visual signal from my face to boldly bear with suffering as well as of me as the one who had to sacrifice and of me as a victim. There appears no offender in her paintings. The starting point of anguish was due to my thinking that I could be one of the offenders which do not appear in her paintings. Why did Soon-young begin to paint such agonizing and violent paintings? I was also worried about how her world could be explored in a state where it is difficult to discover clues or causality to estimate the source of violence. In order to take a closer step to her paintings, I thought it would be better to look into her previous solo exhibitions. I also wanted her to feel my emotion to approach her closer beyond the artist-critic relationship and wished that she could enjoy the feeling of familiarity and anonymity she could feel by being called by her first name only. That is why I have decided to call her ‘Soon-young’ instead of mentioning her full name.
Her first solo exhibition titled
(2007) was about a girl – a figure with an ego which does not overly responsive to anything, simply having a sullen facial expression. As the title of the exhibition indicates, it was about the girl’s recollection. The girl might be the image of another ego living in her memory instead of a representation of the artist herself. The girl is a life borne out of the buildup of an ill will which has not been released. While the girl in her first solo exhibition consisted of ‘illustrative’ episodes which were rough and coarse, her second solo exhibition titled (2011) depicts a girl as a figure who does not express genuine feelings between the heaven and the purgatory. Let me compare two of her artworks in the exhibition: “Home life”(2009) and “Family”(2010). At the center of “Home life” painted on a vertically long canvas sits a Christmas tree. The tree looks like a substitute of the Garden of Eden, and from the surrounding of the rainbow which rose outside the garden of the heaven where four sides are blocked, one can recognize the facial expressions of figures that eagerly desire for a cut-off corpse and hair which kissed the death. Below the tree is a girl with vaginal bleeding who is wearing a red dress. The setting of “Family”(2010) is also Christmas. From the darkened sky fall round balls which decorate the tree. Girls shedding a tear, snowmen whose snow is melting down, the figure at the center holding a long pole which penetrates into the human body and many others that emotionlessly look at the situation are reminiscent of the bloody purgatory. The intensity of cut-off bodies and sadistic expressions has increased, and the falsified parade replete with irrationalities and hypocrisy leads one to think about the temperament of double-sided and obscure sentiments, instead of a description of a circumstance. The face which does not know how to reveal its emotions, or is rigid with fear, makes one make awkward facial expressions where laughter and anxiety are overlapped. Again in her third exhibition titled (2014) appears Christmas. In “The Christmas of orphans 2” (2014) unlike
the birth of the symbol of salvation, victims hit by spears take up the lower part of the canvas. Unidentifiable smears – eyes, tear or semen – decorate the surroundings of the tree. They symbolize both the birth of a splendid life and a discarded life. In “A still life 6”(2013) appears a kitchen table of a greedy noble family of the 17th century. A whale is placed between such fruits as cherries and grapes, and a sagging balloon or breast which is about to burst out is dangling on the tip of a seesaw. The head of a girl with a ribbon is making a subtle smile but is nothing more than a sacrificial offering put on the table.
Blood is related to life and death. Tear is an emotional body fluid derived from joy and sadness. Soon-young’s paintings are artworks on life and emotions as such. While blood stands for purity and dirtiness, the tear is the secretion of hopes and despair. The state where joy and sadness are layered on top of each other and life and death are not separated is reminiscent of a robe. The aesthetics of a robe lies in appropriation. The paradox in a robe where solemn death has theatrical packaging and the rebellious being escalated into pure beings lies in the coexistence of misery and solemnness. Therefore, violence in paintings in a caricatured comic is analogous to an aesthetic instrument which does not beautify violence but reveals violence. The figures making a fake smile by being stuck by skewers are the representation of not humans but the frozen mind. These beings which have been removed from the center of being ‘abject’ are reinstated into immortality like the corpses which float around in the world of Soon-young’s paintings. Meanwhile, the irrational image of the figures can be interpreted as the characteristics of the current generation – ‘animated GIF file’ and ‘insanity’ – representing the contemporary cultural trends. And yet, the universe of Soon-young’s paintings seems to be more deeply related to the worldview, stylistic characteristics, the sacred and the profane, life and death and perpetual regression which have been shown by Western medieval paintings. It is said that medieval art was an intermediary connecting human and God prior to entering the modern times. And yet, the process of religious salvation was not easy because one can reach salvation only by overcoming the temptation of many devils and cults. An icon developed into a symbol which conveys certain meanings instead of an excellent visual representation. Kristeva perceived that a symbol has a standardized meaning, so a symbol might be
patriarchal in the feministic perspective. He suggests a ‘signifier’ to counter a symbol. According to him, a signifier system is related to the pre-verbal stage and the body of a mother in the perspective of psycho- analysis (Jae Emerling, Theory for Art History). This is why one has to pay attention to words and behaviors which cannot have meanings attached, e.g. the acts prior to learning a language including babbling, sleeping spasm and crying. In other words, these acts which are impossible to decode are the signifiers which appear prior to symbolization with meanings attached. That is why a process of finding meanings came to be necessary, and Soon-young put forth in paintings the process of her understanding the world by going back to the starting point of constant suffering without representing the predefined meanings. If the perspective of Kristeva is applied to works of Soon-young, the festivity of abjections without having their own language could be recognized as ‘an interest in others which is impossible to represent and express’. It is not incorporated into the customary social structure but is capable of breaking it down.
Figures in the examples appear in Soon-young’s paintings in this exhibition titled . There is the snowman slowly melting down which appears in “LOVE” series (2017), Micky-Mary shedding tear, the cut-off girl and the girl with vaginal bleeding. The world has been enriched than before. The sea where a shale is to float around has swaying pink bubbles. The gray cloud being analogous to the night before the storm turns into a cumulonimbus cloud in the South Pacific. Snowflakes in black and white are painted in pastel pink and bright olive, and the snow built up on the land reflects the moonlight. The waning moon hints that the morning will come soon. Children in “The Christmas of orphans 4, 5, 6” (2017) are happily skating on the ice, and Micky-Mary seems to indicate some victory with the wings spreading out wide. Soon-young appropriates the emotional state of anxiety over deficiency and violence in the form of comic-like paintings. Tragic situations are comically hidden, and the higher the intensity in appropriation – the more the tragedy is hidden, the clearer the anxiety becomes. It is like anxiety where an unidentifiable smile obsessively reappears, and the dream and the reality are mixed up to the point where Christmas will not end. The age of pursuing success only is analogous to pre-assume a misfortune. I am not the only one thinking that as a city turns more
magnificent and a civilization dominates the nature, poverty and alienation becomes more common, let alone the recent tragedy in Korea. Soon-young invites virtual existences which are not socially represented and cannot express themselves to the festivity of darkness. Others that are invited here feel masochism, paradoxically overturning the customary social order. She as such expresses suffering and anger felt in reality through the devastating festivity of irregular abjections. Consolation might come in words of affection, but it is a process of approaching suffering of sadness and despair which cannot be represented. It is like willingness to sense what the ‘suffering’ of the body and the mind is, instead of formally empathizing with it because such a will is derived from the artist’s ethical mindset of having to represent the irregularities of violence.