2020 Hyun JUNG
(Art Critic & Inha University Professor)
The Other Side of Light
“Another world in which things no longer even need their opposites in order to exist, in which light no longer needs shade, the feminine no longer needs the masculine (or vice versa?), good no longer needs evil—and the world no longer needs us.”
- Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, Minumsa, 2012, p.21.
Yoo Hye-sook holds a pencil to do her work because she needs physical traces. She has naturally been labeled as an Eastern female artist who portrays the color black. A critic eloquently stated that unlike any virile Western brushwork, her microscopic dotting work carried out with a pencil evokes an unfathomably deep scattering of light, drawing a parallel between her work and Pierre Soulages’. Unlike Soulages’ artworks that have an oily texture and a sense of weight that seems to have been made by making a dash with the stroke of a brush, Yoo’s paintings bring to mind space and time around dawn in which fragments of scattered light appear blended with darkness. Her black paintings exist on the border between figuration and abstraction and do not belong to any one place. Some of her works engender a ponytail by twisting raven hair while others demonstrate an abstract state in which scenes are entirely filled with black. While her facture and material are relatively simple, her work depicts a variety of aspects. It is my hope that a study on how she has forged her own distinctive artistic idioms will be continuously conducted, moving beyond the arena between figuration and abstraction and overcoming limitations caused by using only the color black.
Yoo came to prominence in the Paris art scene beginning in the 2000s. Her paintings of black hair redolent of an Asian’s drew particular attention. I feel all the more keenly that they were subversive works in that they depicted one’s appearance from the back as opposed to just hair. Of course, she might have been unaware of the fact that it is hair. To her, it might just be a mass of lines, or only the viewer perceives it as hair and a person from behind. Called baekhoe (백회) in Oriental medicine, the top of one’s head is thought to be a breathing hole where all acupuncture points congregate. When practicing meditation, practitioners commonly state that they breathe through the top of their head. When I was examining Yoo’s paintings from this point of view, it suddenly occurred to me that her black painting may not be a manifestation of some pictorial space completed by her intrinsic texture and strenuous discipline. Her black painting probably makes possible the phenomenology of space established with the current of air, light, and darkness based on the material of the color black.
Her solo show Towards an elsewhere (2020) held at the Daegu Art Factory enthusiastically tack led our sense of space. Works she did a few years ago that refer to Edward Hopper’s pictures are concerned with darkness, not the color black. Darkness here is not a psychological expression; it is something that is closely associated with the sentiment of solitude Hopper’s paintings tried to capture. In fact, Hopper’s paintings showcase the essence of American-style Impressionism. In particular, his industrialized urban scenes and the lonely strangers in his pictures provoke one’s feeling of lonesomeness and, oddly enough, evoke compassion. His work’s pictorial narrativity intensively stirs up some sort of effect between the viewer and the artwork. Yoo seems to realize that any dramatic scene in Hopper’s paintings is neither an event nor an element but some relationship between light and darkness. In Hopper’s Morning Sun (1952), for example, a woman sitting on a bed in her underwear is depicted impassively looking out of the window through which the sunlight streams in. In this everyday scene, shadows engendered by light infiltrating into the inside from the outside take up almost half of the scene. Viewers experience some sort of unidentified sensation and develop an appreciation for the woman looking outside. Upon closer examination, we can guess that Hopper created a state in which unknown feelings, expectations, and anxiety cross paths in a clear way by trading on shadows. Yoo Hye-sook brings about new spaces in her paintings by drawing out shadows from Hopper’s pictures. Her space is not initially clear. It gradually emerges as dark quadrilaterals with different intensities and settles after her canvas is filled with something resembling mist. The differences in the darkness in terms of its tonality unmask the existence of light, capturing the momentary time of daybreak.
Perhaps that is why Yoo’s paintings remind viewers of the surface of a black-and-white photograph, just as Hiroshi Sugimoto discovered light and shade intrinsic to him through long exposure. I naturally became aware of her facture. Just as photography embodies form through light and darkness, Yoo discovers light by rendering darkness in graphite and acrylic. What can we see in this dark space, this literally empty state? Is it not absence? Yoo has never shown or presented something in an obvious way. Instead, she simply presents a texture redolent of that of hair. We discover human shapes and harken back to something bizarre from such images. The space she presently highlights and the hair she depicts seem to be different subject matter in her paintings, but the two have something in common in that they are outer layers that surround people. While hair protects the skin, space is like an outer layer that preserves the spirit and matter. To Yoo, black is one color and material as well as shadow and emptiness. In retrospect, she has never looked straight ahead. Frontality is an order or symbol invented by Western civilization that is like everlasting truth. If one deliberately tries to eschew order, this attitude connotes some reason. Of course, it is not easy to extract a political or social view from her paintings. Even still, her work silently takes note of the opposite of light, or the back view of a figure.
The world has become increasingly diversified and expanded with the evolution of media, network systems, and the acceleration of neo-liberalistic globalization. All the same, the monotonous cycle of our lives is being proliferated as data. The anonymous are gradually disappearing beneath a competition of easily reproduced media personalities. Baudrillard predicted that reality will proceed to a state of overcoming itself when a utopia is realized (even if it is imaginary). He held that representation is no longer significant in a world where any imagination can be immediately realized. Yoo’s work draws no parallel between figuration and abstraction: her work captures the hidden side of being in a liminal area. This is her endeavor to hamper the monotony of reality. Her work has delved into hidden social symbols. She has questions concerning the ultimate nature of reality. In addition, her gauging her entire work with her body definitely demonstrates the uniqueness of being irreplaceable with any technology.