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Drawing: Ink on Paper.
Depiction and Performance
– Reading Kim HyunJung’s painting
Peng Feng(Curator of the venice biennial, Supervisor of Ph.D Candidates of Peking university)
At first glance, Kim HyunJung’s painting is analogous to new gongbi-hwa 工笔画 (painting done very carefully and precisely with the utmost care for details) that was placed in Vogue China and also to pop surrealist painting that was placed in Vogue in North America. On closer scrutiny, however, I realized her painting was not influenced by the two trends of contemporary art but rather inextricably bound up with her individual experience. As a very special case, we cannot read and understand her painting without entering the world of her heart.
I first met her at my office at Peking University. I found out that she had worked as an actress and treated her mental problem with painting. It is common to treat mental disease with art but few patients become artists through the process. As a researcher of art theories, I am very interested in her case. I am looking forward to more in-depth studies into the artist and her work.
Kim’s pieces can be classified into two types: paintings with the image of Lala and paintings without the image of Lala. Works without the image of Lala have one thing in common: these paintings all have the image of a dragonfly. Kim sees Lala as her inner-child. Her paintings featuring the image of Lala are all recognition and depictions of her ego. If we regard the dragonfly as her avatar, her pieces with the image of a dragonfly can be similarly interpreted. The dragonfly is not actually incongruous with Lala. The dragonfly is an ideal playmate for many East Asian people as children, so they have beautiful memories associated with dragonflies. The dragonfly is thus Kim’s other manifestation of her inner-child. Whereas Lala is her intentional inner-child, the dragonfly is an subconscious symbol of her inner-child. The images of Lala and dragonfly are after all the artist herself. In this respect, Kim’s paintings may all be self-portraits.
Painting resonates from the heart and the mind. As this is a significant norm of traditional Eastern aesthetics, Eastern artists are able to perceive and depict their ego without relying on self-portraits. The sun, the moon, and stars as well as flowers, birds, insects, fish, and mountains and rivers can all be symbols of one’s ego. This long-held norm of Eastern aesthetics had a response from Western modern aesthetics. A perception of the self by appropriating the object can be sufficiently explained by the theory of empathy by Theodor Lipps (1851-1914), which was in fashion in the 19th century. The mirror stage theory by Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) sees the other as an indispensable means to establish the self. We can consider Lala and the dragonfly as the other exploited to establish the self for Kim. A depiction of Lala and the dragonfly is a means the artist uses to set up her ego. If seeing her works as profound conversation with her inner heart, we come to realize that she has overcome wounds in her heart and formed a more complete, potent self through such talks.
As her painting is not literally a self-portrait but a quasi-self-portrait, it is improper to interpret her work with the empathy theory or the mirror stage theory. In a sense, because her Lala and dragonfly images seem plausibly adorned or fabricated, the fiction theory is considered most pertinent to interpret her work. Kim becomes a dragonfly or Lala, and has talks with masterpieces of art history. Superficially, this link and metamorphosis is closely associated with the postmodernist style. However, what I pay more attention to is the painter’s role playing. The painter emancipates herself from the closed self and is in accord with a broader world through her role playing. This role playing is perhaps related to her career as a performer.
Her twofold self is found in Kim’s work: the other to describe the self; and the role the self performs. What Kim’s work obviously shows to us is not only the perception and exploration of the self, but the perception and exploration of the world through the self’s performance. Kim’s work can be considered typically modernistif seen from the perspective of the perception and exploration of the self, but typically postmodernist if seen from the perspective of the perception and exploration of the world. In terms of material and method, however, her work can be seen as gongpil-hwa depending on typical traditional idioms. With this we can understand Kim’s work breaks down the boundaries between tradition, modernism and postmodernism. We may harbor suspicion against this classification, but Kim’s painting heralds the arrival of a new mode.
An art piece of One Divided into Three : The Exhibition of Korean Artists in Beijing 2014.
Artist featured by Saatchi Art in a collection