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Jahyun Seo : Seeing and Being Seen

2020. 11. 29 – 12. 9
Jahyun Seo

Between the Visibility of the World and the Invisibility of Beings

Jinsang Yoo

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_1

The world is everything that is the case. With this proposition, Ludwig Wittgenstein summarized the potentiality of the world and the impossibility of linguistic description about it. If God created the world, what he created may be an algorithm of infinitely proliferating and overlapping possibilities, not a static world. The world at present cannot be observed. It is impossible to do so unless one can see the world in every direction simultaneously like Laplace’s demon. Consequently, the present can be only observed from the vicinities, or voisinages, that surround each moment. The further you move away from a point in time, the more it becomes an afterimage of the past or the future of a starting point. Martin Heidegger defined the unobservability of the present as facing “Dasein”, which means the unseizable “being-there” or “presence” that exists between what has not yet taken place and what already has. Understanding the impossible present and facing it is the way humans face time, which also can be put as “temporality” that limits humans as finite beings. Humans think about the form of universal presence that encompasses the entire world within their worlds and vicinities. Humans turn to science, philosophy and art to understand the way presence reveals itself.

Jahyun Seo’s latest exhibit demonstrates the artist’s unique perspective on the “overlapping” of the world, a theme she has been focusing on for more than a decade. The exhibit displays most of her artworks. The theme, which is depicted in each artwork as well as the exhibit itself, is also discovered in the fact that motifs for her works are directly reflected on the worldview the artisthas established. The perspectival formation of geometric lines is presented on vertical mise-en-abyme layers that resemble a fractal structure. The formation is expressed in computer graphics, holograms, or sometimes even in paintings, which is the most non-informational medium. What is unique is that the overlapping geometrical layers remind one of circuits that are found in computer boards or semi-conductor parts. In turn, these shapes that stem from a line and grow into ramifications of multidirectional lines lead to the idea of the world as possibilities or combinatories. Moreover, the branching possibilities overlap into a myriad of multiple unspecified layers, rather than just one simple layer. It’s as if the processing speed and resolution of high-performance semiconductors are enhanced with higher density and lamination. The symbols of the layers emphasize the density and indexicality of nodes that temporospatially divide the intersecting ramifications and symbols. And here, each artwork represents a node.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_2

< Seeing and Being Seen > dates back to a 2017 artwork of the same name. Made of digital prints, the work portrays light shining through darkness like the Big Bang. Waves, particles and layers of substances dispersing from an unknown dot resemble tracks of microparticles produced from crashes inside a giant particle accelerator. The artist’s intense interest in basic time and space is portrayed in various formats throughout her works. Sometimes it takes the form of overlapping circuits, multicosmic worldviews, or archetypal symbols. One of the enduring questions of human history is the existence of the world and its origin that are often expressed in the form of religious documents or scientific discourse. Religion and science view the world based on two opposing assumptions: God’s creation and the changeability of substances. Religion cannot explain the embodiment of the physical world, whereas science cannot answer why we exist and where we come from. Seo’s works show her attempt to visualize the invisible consistency that penetrates both views. This, quite obviously, requires a good understanding of and insight in both views of the universe. The titles of her works also reveal her devout faith in Christianity. < The Creation >, < Sermon on the Mount >, < Wind of the Holy Spirit > and < The Beginning of the Gospel > can clearly be interpreted in biblical context. On the other hand, her frequent use of electronic patterns, geometrical structures and multidimensional spaces that resemble scenes from the movie Interstellar seem to be referencing modern physics’ quantum mechanical view on time, space and the universe. The fact that God created the space and the universe can be perhaps assumed as not a mere creation of objects, but a creation of the unified field that includes the entire space and its algorithm.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_3

Seo’s 2020 work < The Creation > is an interesting rendering of this perspective. Incomprehensible symbols that resemble ancient scripts and hexahedrons derailing from outlines that form dimensional structures in the center are portrayed on paintings drawn on four black square canvases.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_4
The Pilgrim’s Progress, 2018, Mixed media, 130 x 360cm, 51.18 x 141.7inches.

These shapes remind of calligraphy in her 2018 work < The Pilgrim’s Progress > The motif comes from a novel of the same name written by British author John Bunyan in the late 17 th century, which narrates a man’s pilgrimage from continued decline to salvation. The calligraphy used in the work produces the effect of a voice in the background. Consequently, < The Creation > reminds one of the first verse of the Apocalypse of John, which states that the origin of the world is the “Word of God”. In other words, the origin of the world is not only something material, but also a ‘will’ or a ‘voice’. In the paintings, geometric objects with material property are being created from the outlines of invisible dimensional structures. In turn, they summarize the artist’s interpretation of the Bible and modern physics.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_5

< Sermon on the Mount of > the same year also demonstrates interesting compositions. Similarly, four paintings are used to portray semi-transparent hexahedrons and shapes overlapping on a blue background with symbols resembling those of < The Creation > interacting with geometrical spaces. What makes them unique is that they project < Sermon on the Mount > where Christ is seen praying inside a sphere that looks like a bubble of time and space. It seems as if the “Word” in the New Testament is being projected on the infinite coordinates of time and space.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_6

The indicative, infinitely overlapping and mutually connecting forms of this exhibit originate from Seo’s acrylic paintings in 2016. Sharing the same name as < Seen and Being Seen >, the artworks consist of vertical and horizontal lines made of multiple fabrics. The artist’s repeated use of masking tapes and paints adds geometrical and perspectival depth and graphic textures to the paintings. They expand into the mise-en-scène of the entire venue, clearly demonstrating that the formats of the works are not only figurative, but also linked to the artist’s view of the world. Perspectival grids and graphic textures suggest the logical and scientific representation of space and materials, and the visual and tactile format of the perception of the world, respectively. Or else, such binary overlapping raises the question of the universal origin that encompass the contexts of both the perceivable and the subject of intuition. Seo’s works focus on each of our own forms of life, or Lebensform as Wittgenstein put it, where we face the world in the presence of religious transcendence, scientific perception and the conditions of impossibility.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_7

Seo’s 2014 work < The Tree of Life > depicts a big, naked tree whose branches appear to be falling. The painting could be representing existential crises all individuals face, or a being of substitutionary atonement. On the left and right sides of the painting are < Two Types of Relationships > which are UV-printed images on steel surfaces. Potted plants wrapped in bandages remind of the Cross, as well as bodies that died horrible deaths. The theme of the two works, sacrifice and healing, are mutually related to the artist’s writings on “faith, wish and love”, which is also the title of the exhibit. The theme can also be seen in her 2014 work < Wind of the Holy Spirit > and 2020 series < Love >. The former exudes an overpowering aura with vertical canvases and figurative motifs similar to her trilogy work < The Tree of Life > On the other hand, the latter finds its motif in opium poppy flowers, dividing an intensely scarlet background into numerous sections and implying an unprecedented “will” inside geometric structures. The opium poppy symbolizes consolation. In Greek mythology, goddess of the earth Demeter found solace in poppy flowers after Hades, god of the underworld, took her daughter Persephone. Each of the works is named < Love of a Cubical Heart >, < Love of Effort >, < Love of Consolation >,< Love of Friendship > and < Love of Emptying >. The same motif of opium poppy was also fundamental to her 2020 < The Mona Lisa > series. Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa, also known as madonna, poppy flowers, and divided and overlapping geometrical formations of scarlet surfaces seem to be a representation of ideal conditions of the world the artist dreams of. And the ideal conditions are the widespread greatness and dignity of humans that are projected onto the infinity of time and space.

Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_8
Installation view, Seeing and Being Seen, Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, 2020_9

In the last part of the exhibit is < Creation of Heaven and Earth >, a video work the artist devoted herself to. Interpreted as “The Creation”, the work is a collaboration with FRZM MOVEMENT, Hong 10 and video director July Yoon. The video consists of b-boys’ choreographs that appear to represent both the body and symbols, with the motifs of her major works and texts about her themes intersecting over the video. This work is a good presentation of the broad theme of the exhibit as it discusses the difference between what is “seen” and what is “being seen”, based on Hebrews 11:3 NIV (“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”) about the existence of the universe. In other words, what has “appeared” may be “invisible” at the moment; however, it undeniably exists in all the cases we can see. The existence of the universe is a manifestation of the “unseen” will in and of itself. And away from pain and confusion we seek to find solace in the existence of the universe. Perhaps this is the message Seo wishes to convey through her artworks. For her, all artistic expressions and one’s process towards them are a journey of seeking the truth, as well as a pilgrimage of exploring all scenes of the world, as seen in The Pilgrim’s Progress, and going beyond them.

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