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Jason Hwang

Jason Hwang, David Bowie was here yesterday. 2018. Archival pigment print, 81 x 54 cm

The subjects who gaze upon me are reflections of my self. Each of their souls a mirror of the universe, they are in fact my own (observing) form revealed in that same cosmos — so says the woman, walking, tinting the sky around her a soft pink with each step. If we are to believe this, then a labyrinthine space opens up between self and subject, facing each other like a pair of mirrors. A thing is an echo of a sound; a sound is the past of a thing. The woman longs for the future. Probably because that is where she came from. The type who lives each day nursing the bitter wounds of an ancient tomorrow and a deep nostalgia for the distant future, awaiting the arrival of a pristine past, she appears before our eyes, a sudden flash, only to vanish just as quickly, like the red-burning sun plummeting into the Acheron beyond the horizon. The song of the Spree reaches our ears, cool as a forest. One year earlier, a Mexican wedding is held in the church of some small Texas town. Pews line either side of a center aisle strewn with rose petals, the sides of each bench draped in an expanse of lavender netting, carefully decorated with white flowers. His officiating duties complete, the pastor exchanges a few words with a boy whose face is half-masked by the blackened scars of old abrasions and walks out; his own face fresh as the flesh of a guava fruit, shy and flushed, he is the only white person there. In the wake of his solemn, tight-lipped departure, a stir of thunder and sighs — an aftershock.

Suspended in a kind of correspondence between these two images, the others in the series exist in a state of tension — like a scattering of metal shavings around a magnet brought to attention, summoned by the undeniable pull of its magnetic field into a stiff, quivering circle formation, enveloping it on all sides. Though they were originally captured at different moments in time, for example, all of these scenes are now dots strewn across the same space-time. Ultimately, time is no arrow in linear flight. Rather, it settles; it surrounds; it accumulates. The me who was sucked into SO36 by a number of repeated and intersecting coincidences, am likely still living and breathing today as a plurality of me’s, having made slightly different choices among the infinite possible options in that specific mass of time. And they, in turn, may meet nightfall by laying their heads down in the direction of the me returned to the future. Meanwhile, the pale-complexioned David Bowie, who performed in that darkened theater himself as a young man, had traveled across the Atlantic and backwards in time to be embedded in vivid primary hues in the pure white icing of a birthday cake.

Jason Hwang, Ebtitel. 2018. Archival pigment print, 130 x 86.7cm

The circus acrobat I met in Manhattan that winter would be beaming one moment only to look completely impassive in the next. It’s possible everyone is actually playing a game where we are all searching for what we have lost. Perhaps we are simply moving ever closer to these lost things, following their pull. Swinging on a trapeze between the now and the “what if.” The blonde Asian and his strawberry-haired girlfriend pursed their lips and blew long, thick streams of the world’s most beautiful silver cigarette smoke into the air. These two, and the punks with their crooked cherry-red lipstick, and the crimson-shirted high school girls sitting under the red gate after a soccer game, catching their breath, all weave time and space together with their inhalations and exhalations. Sediment-sound returns to the atmosphere. I stand before the ocean once again. In search of those faithful appendages of the sea: the gulls that glare at the horizon; the sound of waves and the wind that ruffles their hair. To rest one’s eyes upon that endless, open, borderless view.

The urge to reach out to the object of desire, to touch it, to put it in your mouth and swallow it — this is the essence of the act of beholding. As soon as you get your hands on it, you force it down your throat, blindly. The moment you glimpse it your impulse is to trap it inside your camera. It’s like building up a fortress only to end up isolating yourself within it, even as you long for the unobstructed outside world: that same, sad habit of contradiction. I swim, gliding through the sights, young and old, and blink to fix the scenery in my mind. Grafing, Berlin, Manhattan, Venice, Dresden, West Texas, and other unspecified landscapes and their accompanying sounds are stitched together with the silver threads of the unconscious. Like assembling a globe out of flat pieces, these seemingly random locations coming together, one by one, and the subjects coaxed forth from within, like figures developing on photo paper, coalescing into a planet. The apparently arbitrary coordinates are implicitly specified along these notes, refracted through the abyss of perception and manifested into an invisible world of tangible forms.

Jason Hwang, Fort Galveston. 2018. Archival pigment print, 100 x 66.7 cm

Where the gaze reaches, there are sounds that can be heard even when the eyes are not closed. This is mousikē, ancient and multilayered. Like the diary of Sei Shōnagon, which she pulled from its place deep in her pillow each night to note the sounds that most moved her, my photographs are not unlike a daily log that traps the sounds (and the images in which they linger) from beyond that invisible partition.

Jason Hwang studied commerce and economics in Tokyo and New York before joining one of the world’s largest international financial organizations based in Washington DC, where he helped provide sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity across a wide range of regions including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. From a childhood surrounded by jazz, classical music, and cameras, to spending most of his life as a nomad abroad, always on the move, identity and polyrhythmic visual language have become vital elements of his photographic practice. Hwang’s photographs have an inherent diaristic element that blends the ephemerality of the impermanent with the artist’s own temperament. From time to time, the juxtaposition of unexpected subjects or uncanny familiarities, together with the use of oblique angles to depict the unpredictable and authentic realities of everyday life, result in images that imply waves of agitation. The artist’s works suggest that the subject is actually the viewer looking at the artist; here, the work not only reflects the artist like a mirror but captures and holds the entirety of his being. As such, for Hwang, the mutual gaze of artist and subject exchanged through the camera lens is not two, but one and the same. Counterfactual is a world of “things that might have been and never were,” an exploration of the space-time that constitutes the invisible strata of the real world. It is also a clue left by the artist’s exploration of that labyrinthine space where image and sound are one.

Wellside Gallery
4, Gomurae-Ro 8 Gil, Seocho-Gu, Seoul, Korea