The Mimetic Impulse of Everyday Life
Kim Sora (Head Curator at OCI Museum of Art) 2019
"You may know it well, too"
Cho Hyun Ik often adds this pet phrase when talking about his art works. You and me may know it very well... when it comes to falling in love, having a broken heart by loss of love, setting up a family and raising children... anyone might go through this kind of experience. He describes the situation in this light tone. He carries out his work based on his own life. It is not about obtaining subject matters only "through life." For him, artistic activities are inseparable from life and life itself is the source, goal and way of his works.
Cho Hyun Ik held a "semi-retrospective exhibition" 《Metamorphosis》(PS333, from July 1 to 15 of 2018) aiming at looking back on his 15 years as an artist. Though I have been a faithful observer of his works so far, I was deeply surprised by the wide range and variety of his works in the exhibition. On one side, there is a work capturing a sadomasochistic fragment of extreme love. On the other side, we see an innocent child on the canvas. The gap between the two is simply tremendous and I was about to doubt if these works are from one artist. Various works, which faithfully reveal the journey of youth he has been passing through, have changed the form in line with the title of the exhibition 'Metamorphosis." Despite this fact, we can observe one constant feature in his works. That is "mimetic impulse" and "quotidian ritual."
His works, starting with pathos experiences. project his desire onto everyday symbols easily accessible. They sometimes appear as a female aspect, a chrysanthemum, a souvenir from a touristic place and a toy of children. There is amalgam between triviality of objects, which inevitably belonging to the worldly dimension and the aura as a "selected" icon by abundant reflection of the artist's personal emotions. Cho Hyun Ik concludes that he carries out works "by deeply concerning on what is the most significant object between the religious, the sacred, the secular and the personal"1) His works possess both the sacred and profane features, and the two components are simultaneously displayed as ambivalent attributes instead of rejecting each other in the confrontation. Some advertisement leaflets without usefulness from the objective, practical and rational logics transform into a sacred offering in his works, and they reflect each other as a mirror while denial (insignificance) collides with recognition (meaningfulness) of the object. Instead of settling in the sole meaning, his works create significance structure through the whirlpool of transformation of values. To put it in Adorno's way, it can interpreted that the reasoning of identification aiming at detecting the object coexists with the mimetic impulse characterized by the effort of approaching the object in an antinomic manner. Mimesis, the process of one's assimilation into something, makes humans conform to the world to be similar to it. The invisible power, something basic and not divided, the mighty nature gains the reecho from the fragile human soul. Shudder(Schauer) produced when experiencing something unfamiliar ties to it by changing fear into sanctity in the name of magic and enchantment.2) If this is the origin of a ritual, in the works of Cho Hyun Ik, everyday life is a driving force to arouse an incantatory and ritual act (in his case, this corresponds to art works).
Observing his journey so far, it is noticeable that his works and exhibition have been focused on the form of setting up an altar. For example, his early work 《The light, cutting me》(Gana Insa Art Center, Oct. 13-18 of 2010) received visitors at the entrance of the hall with a painting depicting a naked woman, folding two hands like a Virgin Mary figure, surrounded by candles. Another work 〈King Power〉(2012) creates a contrast with the female figure by placing a Buddha statue next to it. Besides, in 《Temple of the light》(Kwanhoon Gallery, April 3-27 of 2013), the exhibition itself was named "Temple" and from the series <Duty of faith>(2016) with golden glittering, his child and family are ascended to an object of prayer. The flame of passion, which is unfamiliar to him, namely, love has become an object of worship. Lately, the unfamiliar environment in which he faces while raising a child replaces the object. Moreover, the form of the altar gradually turns from the plane of painting into a 3D space. In the past, the altar was alluded through some objects with religious cliche´ like candles. However, these days, he even got rid of this fixed idea and builds the altar tower with everyday items such as toys, bottles of potions and bowls. Some might doubt about it and ask "Do they really make it art?" Such trivial everyday items are used in his works. What is interesting here is the fact that the more his works are attached to life, the more they evoke the origin of art and general theory of art.
"As you may know well," children imitate people only with a few stones and play house. Also, with arms outspread, they imitate an airplane making a sound "Vroom-" with a mouth. The eyes of children, who create story with things which do not seem to have any relation with one another and discover similar figures, lead us to measure the state of origin where there is no separation between humans and the world, and between a subject and an object. Naivety of which a form is not separated from a symbol and the purpose is not separated from means allow them to mimic the inimitable object, and this nonintentional mimesis reflects creativity instinct inherent in the truth of things and human interiority. The prototype of art prior to the state of division from magic can be found from plays (games). Cho Hyun Ik indirectly experiences this through raising a child. During this process, his works also follow the eyes (gaze) of children and draws closer to the mimetic impulse. His recent exhibitions such as 《Family photo》(Ligak Museum of Art, Apr. 3 - May. 15 of 2018) and 《Parenting diary》(Cheongju Art Studio, Sep. 6 - Sep. 19 of 2018) sound like extremely explicit and childish, but this innocent "childishness" seems to be declaratory and provocative though. It is because he asks a question regarding "systematicity" of our cognitive system reasoning based on separation of everyday life from art, instead of making belive to be sophisticated or packing the image with some clumsy concept. What makes art "art" then? At least, the answer would not be a clinquant theory or merchantable qualities.
In the early 20th century when fetishism and evil effect of instrumental rationality was prevalent, Antonin Artaud stated as follows :
"If the symbol of our time is chaos, on the other side of this chaos, I feel a sort of a sense of alienation in the middle of things, words, ideology and the symbols representing them... If our life lacks sulphur-like passion, in other words, if our life lacks permanent magic, this is because we end our act by only looking at it."3)
We must be forgetting the magic of art, while numerous art works establish an independent system by separating art work from life and the criticism makes this judge with coldness to line up by sorting the rank based on a pyramid structure. For this reason, the works of Cho Hyun Ik based on concreteness of life is uncommon today. His forthright characters without manipulated techniques can be considered a simple trial to reconcile art separated from everyday life with life and recover magic of art. Even if it is quite challenging and puzzling even for him to find a correct way for he is already an adult grown under the social norms and fixed ideas... Instead, he will probably have to go through trial and error a lot more than others. It is because it will be just "researching" the perspective of children as an adult, no matter how much he follows the gaze of children. It is not a coincidence that his new on-going work is entitled <Formativeness (image) research.> However, when his research pays attention to the elements of everyday life and assimilates into life, this will allow his works to be more original.
It is well-known that Picasso "devoted his life to the study to discover how to draw like a child. He may have looked for the true prototype of art from eccentric imagination of children escaping from systematic ideas and customs as well as stereotyped rules. I do not try to say that the works of Cho Hyun Ik are as excellent as those of Picasso. Nonetheless, it is worth paying attention to his attitude searching for the origin of creativity without being swayed by the trends. As long as he carries out works deeply indulged in life this way, his future retrospective exhibition, in 1 or 2 decades from now, will be totally different from this one.
1) Artist's Statement of Cho Hyun Ik, 2018
2) T. W. Adorno, 『Aesthetic theory』, translated by Hong Seung-yong (Seoul, Moonji Publishing Company, 2005) & T. W. Adorno, M. Horkheimer, 『Dialectic of Enlightenment』, translated by Kim Yoo-dong (Seoul, Moonji Publishing Company, 2001).
3) Antonin Artaud, 『Theatre et son Double』, translated by Park Hyung-seob (Seoul, Modern Aesthetics Publishing Company, 2000).