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KWON Yeohyun : Myth Today

2022. 7. 8 – 8. 13
KWON Yeohyun

Deviators in Heteroclite Forest 4O1A0512, 2022, Oil on canvas, 194 x 260cm

“A line of becoming passes between points… it has neither beginning nor end, departure nor arrival, origin nor destination.” – Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.

GalleryJJ is pleased to announce Myth Today, an exhibition of new paintings by Yeohyun Kwon, mainly the Deviators in Heteroclite Forest series, and aims to take a fresh look at the world he seeks, focusing on the recent shift to a more lively and sensuous touch. Kwon has been exploring human existence and self for years. Unlike his earlier rigid forms, the works from recent two years exhibit an extempore and sensuous picture plane with quick brushstrokes, and transparent and crisp colors. Hip-hop or retro-styled youngsters that seem to be found on memes emerge as the deviators, beating out ancient mythological figures.

Kwon’s work supposes a place where the desires and primitive senses behind the rational life awaken. That is another heterotopia, in reality, the matrix. Since the 2000s, he has been well known for forest imagery and linkage to philosophical and mythological discourse, as indicated by his work titles such as Conatus’ Forest, Magic Forest, Ophelia in Rhizome Forest, and Behold Medusa at the forest of the blind. To date, Dionysus, Oedipus, and Ophelia are pivotal characters and concepts in his work. On his canvas, landscapes before civilization, such as primeval forests and the sea, overwhelmingly unfold like a dream in which heterogeneous scenes emerge from various times and spaces intermingle with myths and characters. These secretive events weave a rich story transcending spacetime like a net in which they may be read as text. His canvas, filled with many symbols and receptive energy, catches the viewer’s attention by inducing curiosity with this unfamiliarity that feels familiar simultaneously. However, we should not forget that each narrative and microscopic interpretation are only a snippet of many embedded twists in the work. The episodes derived from the figures on his canvas are undefined images at times, each acting as an autonomous element. They function as a reassemblage of senses that opens up another possibility via accidental encounter and coincidence; and as a rhizome that creates events by perpetual connections and relations. Contingency and coincidence also apply to his mode of expression.
The diversity and hybridity in his works feature the essence of Postmodernism painting that was prevalent in the 1980s. His work mainly focuses on planar but also tackles other media such as photography, video, collage, performance, and installation. He has risen to prominence in the art scene at a relatively early age from the late eighties as one of the nation’s prolific artists with vigorous productivity, well received by both critics and the public. His symbolic world, built upon an experimental and independent formal language based on humanistic reflection for more than 35 years, has already been recognized for its value and has been collected by major art institutions, including the MMCA, Korea. Comparing his current work to the past, it is more flexible in image appropriation and plasticity and forwarded self-awareness that are more closely related to social phenomena today.

The picture plane is the place for deviators. They have always been in his work. Prometheus stealing fire from God’s territory and giving it to humanity, Oedipus plucking his own eyes out to make life at his will from harsh destiny, and his daughter, Antigone choosing human dignity over state power and order are examples of deviators. In L’Imagination symbolique, Gilbert Durand incorporates myths into a vast system of human imagination and suggests an archetype, a common foundation for humanity containing all human phenomena. He sees mythology as the imaginary in the state of latency. In Kwon’s painting, the ancient mythologies continue to the myth of the deviators today who challenge the solid barrier created by civilization.

Deviators in Heteroclite Forest 4O1A0623, 2022, Oil on canvas, 130 x 162cm

Deviators and Ophelia
The lively individuals at the center of the canvas are hippie-style youths of the past, unique and clumsy aliens in movies, kidults, or people who defiantly break away, and are things represented by subcultures such as kitsch. Kwon calls them deviators and finds the contemporary sign of hippies that vicariously expresses his repressed desires and senses through their somewhat exaggerated and unnatural actions.
In the late sixties, various popular cultures such as the Woodstock Festival and Britain’s Punk emerged while the anti-Vietnam War protests and the ‘May 68 ‘in France proceeded under the slogan “It is forbidden to forbid,” which marked the resistance to the existing system. Hippies, the vanguard of counterculture, known for sexual freedom, drug use, rock music, and flowers, criticized materialism and insisted on restoring humanity. The countercultures often vent through humor or indirect cynicism in the form of online memes in which the neglected can become fashionable again by the social hypes today. His narrative in this exhibition begins with the myth of deviators and subcultures today. Myth, which develops from mythos; imaginary and illogical stories, can offer a way to understand and explain the social reality of each culture, such as common notions, values, and ideology.
Barthes claimed that dominant institutions lull us into believing that constantly manipulated reality is natural and obvious. This socially constructed norm taken for granted may be the embodied myth of today without realizing it. Deleuze revealed how the culture and order structured by state power and capitalism cleverly internalize desire and guilt into individuals. The schizoanalysis in reframing the Oedipus complex also asserted that humans conform to the desire capitalism constructs, codifying unique unconscious situations and repression into society. While the deluge of capitalism and media today, manipulated and empowered, incites endless contradictory desires and, in return, gives material wealth, humans are tamed by social structure and live every day in oblivion, missing their original selves and senses.

From the deviators, Kwon pays attention to the things that are sacrificed and perished by uniformized social values and the sensuous desire oozing out of the gaps in the system. Senses always relate to desire and emotion. Here, the desire is more than human; that is, a will to affirmative force constantly moving in human nature. Repressed desires appear in daily life as deviation by disguising themselves, but they may be a series of positive indicators in natural behavior because it is also an escape from hard-set senses and thoughts. Repressed desire appears as deviation by quietly disguising itself in human life. However, the deviation may be an affirmative indicator if viewed as inherent behavior because it also offers an escape from hard-set senses and thoughts. Moreover, it transforms one into a different self from before regardless of existing unity or fixed identity. On his canvas, the deviators take ligne de fuite from the existing power and entirely possess the present moment.
Dionysian overturn of order and resistance to reason are also driving forces behind aesthetic life. The transition process from the individual self to the social one is crucial for Kwon, who has been exploring existential questions with his earlier question on ‘I’ and existence as a subject and as a social and historical being. The frequent appearance of naked Ophelia in the wilderness before entering the Symbolic and becoming socialized indicates his interest in the formation of social subjects, similar to how Freud and Lacan also used the anecdote. Entering the Symbolic, verbalized and tamed by education, from the Imaginary, a utopian and untamed imagination, implies that humanity relinquishes the unique existential value and dwells as a delusive image buried in signs.
Based on his oeuvre, the deviators coincide with Ophelia who appeared many times previously. The moment of deviation is the moment of senses awakening. They are Ophelia blindfolded or revived from the pond of death. They yearn for liberation from the system, wary of all hardened senses. Oedipus also seeks original senses and desires instead of what is before the eye. Reason and emotion, unconsciousness and desire, self and others intermingle in Kwon’s painting. He continues to reveal our primal senses and originality that have become dull in a dense social structure and pursues those that have not yet been captured.

Deviators in Heteroclite Forest 4O1A8912, 2021, Oil on canvas, 73 x 91cm

In Heteroclite Forest
The heteroclite forest, a place for deviators, where differences that have been sacrificed and perished by the institution are stored, where senses precede reason, connects to a primeval forest, the ocean, and a ski resort. The production process of dreams is a crucial basis for his work. Along with many literary references he employs as the source of thoughts, each individual’s repressed and renounced desires and senses are expressed in a scene that transcends time and space. This forest where multiple events overlapped in one space are connected is similar to how new relations emerge in the process of encounters among myriad beings, and constantly making their own differences via agencement. The body in the process of devenir (becoming) is always fluid. The unfamiliar encounters and assemblage unfolding on the canvas also do not allow organic unity like the unconscious desire of deviators. Just as there is no unity of stratum in humanity, the cultural strata composed of different bodies emerge in a complex way in which various forces interact with each other. The undifferentiated scene is almost an attempt to disclose the body of culture before becoming an organism.
Moreover, when the collaged images are eventually ordered, organized, and structured, he disarranges them repeatedly into rhizomatic branches or vortexes. Thus, he creates a new existence by introducing potential over the stratum of conceptual reality. Many questions arise, along with intriguing stories, such as whether this is another creative way of drawing senses, his way out of conceptual order and cliché of representation, or what he paints is a world consistently moving regardless of fixed subjectivity.

It continues in his composition of the work and his expression method of the deviators’ contingency and improvisation. According to him, “Qiyun Shengdong in things means when the artist’s ability is concisely applied, or its modern plasticity satisfies social and aesthetic demands, the viewer can feel this vital energy from the artwork.” Hence, as the solid background and clearly composed forms disappear, their outlines blur, and only the distinctive qualities emerge. Because his use of color is not additive but sensuously commanding, the form succeeds it only. Although the composition is still meticulous, the oil paint is applied thinly and transparently like watercolor to try variations in pictorial forms and light-filled colors. He calls it a “drawing of the senses” and “painterly drawing.” The more recent, the more light is visible in his work. The moment of a light brushstroke hitting the canvas is akin to the moment of the deviators. The velocity of the material that slips and flows regardless of will is a way of generating events and possibilities.

In summary, all the references to describe meaning and plasticity are ultimately a mode of expressing existential problems and senses. Through perpetual self-seeking, it may appear as a metaphor for the opposing relations between reason and emotion, and universal and individual. If there is a common goal for the deviators and the heteroclite forest, it may be a nomadic practice in which one recognizes the structure and temporarily escapes, at will, to restore humanity and one’s authenticity. Or rhizomatic thinking that produces new meanings through deterritorialization. What am I, what is reality, and where am I going? The recognition of reality is by no means inevitable. Longing for the utopia embodied in the matrix, he also enjoys the play of the senses as a deviator. The heteroclite forest in this exhibition is a constantly changing place of nomads and claims to be the myth today, offering a new outlook beyond the norms.

Writing│KANG Juyeon Gallery JJ Director

Deviators in Heteroclite Forest 4O1A9565, 2021, Oil on canvas, 67 x 106cm

Gallery JJ
745 Nonhyeon-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
+82 2 322 3979

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