Eunju Lee (Curator and Art Historian)
Including her recent body of work, artist Lee Jihyun’s art has been a process of merging the private spaces and the public places she has visited. Images of popular tourist destinations become an extension of private spaces such as the inside of a closet or the surface of a desk, simultaneously forming a unique time and space on the surface of the painting. What convey the fact that the painting is a hybrid of the two spaces, though, are the different applications of scale, and our own logical visual experiences of those spaces. However, the touristy places filled with unfamiliar faces are received into a personal dimension through the surrounding familiar personal belongings, such as bead earrings, pencils in pencil cases, make-up on the table and clothes in the closet. The clothes that spill out of the archways of the Coliseum, or the earrings that drape in the Smithsonian museum like chandeliers allow us to imagine a chain that is linked through a complex network and flow of memory and consciousness. Whether the chain is destined or arbitrary is not the issue. Video-like images and thoughts are edited and crossed-over from a complex flow like a scene from a movie. The images that are momentarily blended remind us that our sense of vision isn’t fixed on one spot, but is always hovering in the space layered with the interior and exterior spaces. It’s important to remember that Lee’s work departed from depictions of her studio space and other personal spaces like the inside of her closet. Even in her latest works that depict striking images of public places, the essential motif is invariably the private space. In the layers of colorful spaces, most of her personal belongings depicted in large-scale enter the public spaces, filling up the space like the belongings of Gulliver. Prominent public places like the Coliseum become an essential element in the humorous space-arranging game that the artist leads, melting into the make-up table drawer, desk corner, and closet cabinet. The image of the interior of accessory box and the sparkling green earring on the neck of the stuffed elephant in Smithsonian + Rm_2, the make-up table shown through the Roman archways in Assisi de San Francesco + Rm_1, the studio space extending above from the wall of Museum of Modern Art in New York in MoMA + Studio_5, all reveal a moment when a personal history is seeped into the monumental architecture. These images of the exterior public space exhibited as the interior private space create a unique interior still life painting rather than a touristy landscape painting.
Historically, paintings of the interior spaces have symbolized the comfortable life of the Bourgeois. The owner of the room enforces his or her authority over the possessions, by examining the belongings properly placed within one’s range of vision. What is confirmed through the non-rebellious possessions in the room is the power of being in the place of the possessor. By comparing the unrivaled changes that take place in the real world outside and his fixed possessions in the private space of the room, the owner feels satisfaction and security of being in his position. One can say that most of the paintings of the private interior spaces usually reflect the desire to preserve and guard oneself. In this sense, Lee’s interior paintings situate themselves at a humorous standpoint, as they are not totally depictions of the private spaces, nor do they reflect only one gaze, but are mysterious and unfixed spaces that are simultaneously both an interior space and a tourist site. The individual characteristics of the personal belongings in her work acquire an unfixed state of influx due to the hint of mobility shown by the tourist destinations. Through these transitions, we are therefore able to perceive that the artist is not so interested in the matters themselves, but in grasping the flow of consciousness.
In her work, the perception of the narrative doesn’t rest on a specific room, but is situated in the outside of the rooms where she can look at various spaces at one time. In such a case, the recognition that ‘I’m the one moving’ becomes a more important realization than the question ‘Who am I?’ For Lee, acquiring multiple ways of perception through moving from one dimension to another is a more important issue than standing in one point of view, and confirming one’s authority over a certain space. The spaces that Lee chooses, reforms, then puts on the painting’s surface, have no set logical probabilities. If there is anything in common, it is that the spaces originated from the artist’s own memories and consciousness. As the title of her exhibition Reflective Surface implies, Lee’s paintings show that the artist herself is the editor who freely blends and combines spaces as if it were a game. This is why her work is unfixed, unfinished, and has an open structure. The important issue is not the idea that one dimension is linked to another dimension, but that our consciousness itself is illogical, multi-faceted and fragmented. Mixing the two heterogeneous dimensions doesn’t imply that Lee’s interests lie in exploring the unknown dimensions like the closet in the movie Chronicles of Narnia, but in revealing the fact that our consciousness is composed of so many layers that have no beginning and no end.
In this sense, Lee’s painting surfaces are a hypertext that exists on the multiple layers of dimensional planes. On the painting’s plane flows the artist’s consciousness along with the thoughts on the issues of painting itself. Structures of the rectangular frame often appear in her paintings. The concept of another painting within the painting has appeared in the work Window II in frame in her first solo exhibition in 2003. In the 2005 painting Café Lalo + Studio, Lee dealt with the historical issues of representation in painting and its relationship to the rectangular frame, by inserting in the paintings, photographs that used an actual window. The actual mirrors that were often displayed in her work disappeared in her last solo exhibition, materializing only in paintings, and then they reappeared in the painting-installation works shown in this present solo exhibition at ARARIO Seoul Gallery. A.Seo+Dining Rm is a grand-scale painting that will fill one wall at ARARIO Seoul Gallery, and it is a representation of the real gallery wall that will hold the actual painting. In this picture is painted a large black mirror which will actually be hung on one of the gallery walls as a part of the exhibition. This expresses the complex link between the painting’s representation and the relationship between reality and illusion. In addition, the gallery wall depicted in the painting holds the image of the antique-style living room that Lee often depicted in her work, forming duplicate images in the frame structure. The question is then can we say that the living room scene is the painting? Or, is it a motif within the painting? The audience falls into a maze with no answers.
Artists resort to their individualistic artistic method and approach when facing the assignment of having to compress the 3-dimensional, synesthetic, multi-layered and interdependent structured world onto the flat surface of a painting. The methodology that Lee chose was to turn our fragmented consciousness into a non-linear line. When the mental spaces so mysteriously connected like the Moebius strip are compressed onto the painting surface, it can conclude in a simple one-dimensional story, can be a refined guide that leads out of the complexity. We feel awe in front of the simple Friar Angelico’s painting because the surface of this painting provides a doorway into a broad world outside. However, Lee’s paintings hold skepticism regarding the long-standing faith in such a perfect exit. Rather, Lee solves the problems of painting, by accepting the insecurities associated with the surface of the painting. Her approach also disagrees with the absolute perfectionism of the 2-dimensional planes of the Modernism era. She knows well that she cannot materialize the dynamics of life and organic flow of the consciousness on a surface of a painting.
As a postmodern artist who accepts painting’s fate of being a method to represent the matter, Lee explores the ways of perceiving with no beginning and end through her paintings. From the early paintings that reflected elements of drawing, to the mirror projects, frame structured paintings and other recent works, Lee’s work reflects the diversity of the human intelligence structure formed by the perception and consciousness that moves from one dimension to another. She lays out a game of space and time on the surface of the painting, by corresponding between the heterogeneous dimensions. Parthenon+PIC_Jenga in her 2006 solo exhibition, is a painting that forms a link between the Parthenon and Jenga game. In this painting, Parthenon appears as an element of Jenga game, as the bricks of Parthenon intermingles with Jenga bricks. The artist focusing on the Jenga game is depicted in the painting, but this also portrays Lee’s role as an artist. As if playing a game, Lee is mixing and deleting dimensions of time and space, forming an autonomous painting space. Because the outlook of the game is formed by the supervisor with full control, it’s impossible to predict how that game of time and space will turn out. However, I would like to suggest that we can detect a small change of direction in her recent work Erecthion + Jeju Studio. In this painting, the awe-inspiring temple and her studio are mixed, and rather than appearing as an interior scenery like her other works, it appears to have elements of Surrealism. This is because the painting focuses more on the background sky and the outside scenery. This change is the result of a long-term exploration into the subject of interior space and objects, and I eagerly await to see the impact such direction will have on the future work of Lee Jihyun.
*This essay was written on the occasion of Jihyun Lee's exhibition, 'Reflective Surface' at ARARIO gallery Seoul in 2008