Jung Hyun (Art Critic, Professor at Inha University)
A baby is staring straight ahead. He looks as if had just finished the ‘doljabi’ ceremony at his first birthday party, in which a baby is encouraged to grab one or two items from a table of assorted objects, signifying his future. The baby painted on the gold colored background is Hyunik Cho’s boy. The title Duty of Faith sounds rather heavy. Is it because of the weight of the responsibility which is heavier than that of his love for child? Actually, most parents would have felt as if their heart would break when they first meet their newborn baby. As an artist, Cho constantly brings and deals with the troubles, events, realities which are currently occurring to him into his art. A few years ago, he even went as far as to make a ‘monumental’ attempt to combine both the death instinct and the striving for life in one painting, under the theme of the sexual pleasure that is so intense as to be painful. Then, however, he got married and had a baby. The trajectory of his life leaves clear traces in his own works of art. The title Duty of Faith came from the phrase he found in a church flyer in the mailbox. The present Korean society, although coincident, is also going through the unexpected ‘age of loss’ owing to another ‘duty of faith.’ What the artist penetrated seems to be not different from the present situation in this society. It is not only the artist but also all the people of the country who are suffering under the heavy burden of the practice of wrong belief, the demand of exceeding belief, and unrewarding responsibility.
Then, let us go one step further into his world. The question about the sacred and the mundane has been the artist’s lasting issue from the beginning. From the theological point of view, they are said to coexist. The former has been always surrounded by the latter. Medieval cities in Europe were just like that. Around where a church was located, a market appeared. Imposters, prostitutes, and homeless people were parasites on the neighborhood of the sacred. Through artistic creation, Cho brings a kind of order to his life, the everyday moments which are in disorder and which he has no choice but to accept indiscriminately. In some sense, religion is, by definition, the process to give the order of meaning to life we are so doubtful about. The reason why modernist artists removed recognizable forms and exhibited a white canvas would not be entirely unrelated to the influence of a transcendent religious worldview. Although the transcendent view of art may seem to be exaggerated in the context of contemporary art, it still cannot be denied that the artist’s activity is the record of the journey to find out his own unique form of life, rather than following the given form. We advocate diversity and multiplicity almost unconsciously, but now is the time to realize how hypocritical it was. Stepping a little aside from the current of contemporary art which has flourished on materialistic thought, the artist observes his state of mind. This kind of attitude is evolving to the pursuit of self-awakening and liberation. For example, his installation titled My Mom and I — Prayer, consisting of a rice bowl on a turning table, hit by a spoon hanging from the ceiling, turns trivial items to a hollowed reverberation. His oil paintings painted on refractory metallic materials can be understood in terms of such attitude, for he persistently holds fast to the value of spirit on the basis of material. In this sense, the recent reappearance of artworks dealing with matter and materials seems to require serious consideration, which could be regarded as a reaction against digital culture that seriously expels the body out of reality. On the other hand, what should be kept in mind is that Protestantism has developed to a religion using capitalism. In other words, the holiness of religion can never be free from the actual mundane world. The frequent disparity between our belief in religion and reality would be due to the difference between mankind and God. Duty of Faith appropriates the format of triptych: the phrase ‘Duty of Faith’ is painted in the center and funeral wreaths on both sides. Duty of Faith — Flyer attached the above-mentioned flyer inside a crude gold colored frame. This hybridization between the cliché of holiness and secularized religion, in this way, shows how to use sacredness as a signifier of seduction.
Let us go back to the scene of his boy’s first birthday party. Duty of Faith —Birth II is related to the Eternal Light. I imagine that a lady with her eyes closed in the eternal light and her lips slightly parted, located in the center, is superimposed with the scenes of a blossom exploding like a firework and of the artist’s decent-looking son. His complex emotions are richly unfolded in the blank between these two works. I gave the title ‘Budding’ to this article. It is said that the relation between the scared and the profane is not a separated one. I wonder whether the latter is the condition for the budding of the former and whether the former is possible only through the latter. Famed historian of religion Mircea Eliade said that the Incarnation is an event through which “God concealed Himself in human flesh and
thereby made Himself no longer recognizable as God.” 1
1. Mircea Eliade, Symbolism, the Sacred and the Arts, trans. Park Gyu-tae (Paju: Seokwangsa Publishing Co., 1991), p.125.