Gathering Rays of Light into a Focus-Medusa’s Room
Pak E-sun (Curator, Seoul Museum of Art) 2011
The viewer walks into the exhibition space, and is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work and the heavy ambient music. The viewer then falls into perplexity when he confronts the close-up images of women, most of whom have their eyes closed while some have them open, seemingly suggesting death and resurrection at the same time. The women lie silently, and the space, with flickering candles, seems completely deserted even with the music.
Consisting of new works by Cho Hyun-Ik, Gathering Rays of Light into a Focus-Medusa’s Room follows Light, Cut Myself, his 4th solo exhibition held in 2010. At a glance, the works in this exhibition and in Light, Cut Myself seem to unfold a feast of death stained with blood, but they’re actually a manifestation of the artist’s personal outlook on women. Regardless of gender, the desire to depict the beautiful subject of one’s love with his or her own hands is probably a human instinct. The artist’s interest in women roots from his school days, when he started to draw a girl he liked. Cho’s five solo exhibitions demonstrate this penetrating observation and philosophy on women, which comes to a climax in Light, Cut Myself. Cho employs the Greek mythical figure Medusa and Shakespeare’s Ophelia as his medium to express women. They either demonstrate femme fatale or a saint, or express their tragic misery through their own story. The image of femme fatale or the saint, eventually conclude into sensuality, which secretly reveals the male ideal type (manifested through a male artist). The long hair of the women lying down suggests the form of meandering snake (like Medusa’s hair). The artist deepens the color of the hair by using his own pigment made with graphite powder, casting a radical contrast with the brilliant glare that’s emitted by the grinded steel. Cho’s women, expressed as being lying down under the artist’s direction, have their eyes open or closed, but are actually dead women. Directed by the artist, women lie down as if to sleep but have their eyes open and gaze afar, arousing uncomfortable feelings in the viewer, as if to exclaim that his altar is not for comfortable rituals.
Possession through Accumulation and Repetition
It’s probably more appropriate to look at Cho’s works as an entire process of unfolding the artist’s consciousness rather than simply an act of ‘drawing a picture’. As can be observed in the artist’s personal ritualistic process of placing the women on the altar, performing a ritual and sealing them, women seem to be a somewhat uncomfortable subject to the artist. His subject —which ranges from his first love to nude models—lies on the bed with her hair shaken loose. The artist looks down at the poised subject from above, and photographs her with the flash of the camera. He then adjusts the levels of the photograph through the computer, collects hundreds of pieces of photographs to create a massive image measuring over 2 meters. This image is printed in black and white through an analogue photocopier, on which paint thinner is applied and the image is rubbed and transferred onto a corroded steel plate. He applies acrylic medium on top, enriching the texture of the brush strokes to add the painterly quality. When the medium dries, Cho paints over certain areas with graphite pigment that he makes himself, in order to deepen the color contrast. Repeated process of applying transparent urethane or pearl paint concludes the laborious art-making process, becoming the most symbolic stage. The mucous-like urethane paint embodies multifarious meanings, from suggesting water, a symbol of women, or bodily fluids of women or male semen. The process of applying paint is like letting out a lump of desire, a process through which the women in the work are symbolically possessed.
In the works in Cho’s previous exhibition Light, Cut My Self, the traces of swinging blade, or fleeting elements like the glare of the blade, seem to portray wrath towards a certain subject. There’s also evidence of the desire to possess not only the body but the mind of the women in the work, as can be seen in the splattering of blood that seems to have come from the women, or in the sealing of women with iron nails. While the artist’s previous works showed blade-sharp insecurity and fear, the works in this exhibition take a step back and shed a light on what comes after the climax. The blood stains and chilling blade are more or less subdued in expression through chrysanthemum and the women’s red clothes. Their red clothes, chrysanthemum and the flickering candle flames silently demonstrate extreme anxiety and fear, and the peculiar sense of tension that follows climax. These expressions of tension arise because the women in Cho’s works are corpses. Their blank eyes lacking focus symbolically express the fear and anxiety of never becoming free from death. Dark and damp like the temple of Medusa, and with flickering candle light, the space the artist has constructed raises a strange multifocal perspective. Women are positioned laying down defenselessly in a confined space, or concealed in coffin in Cho’s works, reflecting the poem Wound by the poet Wolf: “I engrave you gouged out with a blade on the blood covered memories...I tie you down with an unbreakable spell...I revive you with blood dripping endlessly from the incurable wound.”
Most people feel excitement for someone and fall in love. The process of falling in love with someone is caused by the subject of love in reality overtaking an individual’s heart (Anima and Animus, Original Projection ). Cho’s works at first seemed like an expression of anger or tender affection for a woman he loved, but his works go beyond the limited subject of women. Cho’s works talk about his entire life, and are a manifestation of the anima in the artist. One comes to ponder deeply about the real meaning hidden in Cho’s work when one immerses in the extremely passionate story of his work and is overtaken by the power of the large scale, material and medium of his work. They are stories about love between man and woman, the stories of inseparable love and hatred. Despite all the endless abasement and reasoning of refutation about love, such as its invisibility, illogical feelings and sense of temporality, we can never deny the fact that love is a part of life. Desire for love turns the confined women into victims and the confiner into the assailant, and creates a form of life including life and death, love and desire, and birth and death. This aspect that can never be explained logically, expresses life itself symbolically. Suddenly, I’m filled with anticipation to see the future works of Cho Hyun-Ik, an artist who casts a discerning eye on the boundaries between death and revival.
 In school of Analytical Psychology, anima is the feminine inner personality in the unconscious of the male and animus is the masculine inner personality in the unconscious of the female. Anima and animus take the ego to the deep layers of the unconscious mind. It’s a contrasting concept to the persona, and defined as seele (soul) by Carl Jung.