2017 Olivier Kaeppelin

Room with a view

 

I have always been wary of seeing in a merely instrumental way estranged by automatisms, habits and language. It is not enough to open your eyes, to see and ‘take possession’ of the world surrounding us by naming it. It would be better to follow the 19th century recommendations to a young artist by his master, Caspar David Friedrich. To the question of the apprentice “how does one become a good painter?” Friedrich advised, above all, to learn how to shut his ‘physical eye’ in order to feel, to live the experience of the inner eye so as to forget about the evidence of the visible, in favour of the unfolding of his own vision spun from reality, yet, continuously reinterpreted by memory, the unconscious, the phenomenology of real situations. It is only by closing our eyes that we live new situations, discovering what is forbidden by the grammar of the visible, training and ‘the recorded’. Closing our eyes is joyful. It is a means to access knowledge. This physical and mental action allows us to enrich, complexify and transform sight into vision.

 

The gaze is developed through an evolving relationship between perception and inner vision, thus generating an unprecedented psychic experience. Hye-Sook Yoo inherits these questions that creators have asked for centuries. She answers them as a painter, obliging us through her work, primarily not ‘to see’, nor to distinguish. In front of her paintings we are obliged ‘to adapt’ but this adaptation is only possible by drawing on our own history, the visual memory of our existences or dreams. Memories of the obscure, memories of unfamiliar spaces where we fumble along, memories of our fragility, memories that build the spaces that Yoo then attempts to inhabit. Spaces which make up, through a game of geometries and subtle tones of grey and black, a series of spiritual rooms where the main role is given to the observer.

 

Here, we can talk of stages or theatres. These theatres, even if they are interior, are nonetheless astonishing receptacles of glimmer and light. But where does this ‘lighting’ come from? From our abstract visions made up of physical and metaphysical games, between shadows and bright surfaces. Certain deserted scenes evoke Edward Hopper paintings where all that would remain would be place and light, and the only human presence, the observer’s gaze investing the painting from the outside. Forgotten are the banality and order of all ‘things seen’, to see anew. Rediscovered is the vivacity of a first morning or a night transfigured by untamed vision. All sense of seeing is thus lost and reborn. I remember an artwork by Bernard Bazile made for the ‘blind’, or more specifically, for those able to close their eyes. I also recall the magnificent series of photos by Sophie Calle staging the relationships between the blind and art or nature or even imaginary representations of beauty. Both of these works interrogate our perception of reality, through the aesthetic, through life and our indecisive relationship to beauty. Therefore, should one not ‘be blinded’ in order to see?  Is this not the advice given by Friedrich to his young disciple? Or even Paul Klee when he indicates that art is concerned with ‘making apparent’ what we cannot see. Many years later, James Turrell’s installations follow the same quest using either artificial or natural light. In her works, Yoo allows us to live this paradoxical adventure as our eyes circulate from one surface to another, undoing and constructing the gaze. With her we are at the heart of this experience which, after the suspension of all forms of recognition, gives rise to the mind of an artist who ‘eyes closed - eyes open’ creates a world of rare intensity. It is one of contemplation and concentration, of wakefulness and sleep, of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, of darkness and light and lastly of slow and silent dazzle. Life there is simple, inexhaustible, like the movements of breathing, a soft yet vitally insistent vibration, like this poem by Emily Dickinson.

“I’ve seen a Dying Eye

Run round and round a Room–  

In search of Something – as it seemed –

Then Cloudier become –

And then – obscure with Fog –

And then – be soldered down

Without disclosing what it be

‘Twere blessed to have seen –”[1]

 

Yoo’s painted rooms preserve their secret in which also lies their truth.

 

Olivier Kaeppelin

 

[1] Dickinson, Emily. I’ve Seen a Dying Eye, poems, 1890