Calligraphic graffiti has succeeded in breaking free from the walls to float freely in space. They are not texts. Nor are they logos. More like… cranes, swordfish, whale baleen, whiptail stingrays? Or rather kites or Chinese lanterns ? Ji-Yun’s multi-form objects provoke us into a free association mode. Prior knowledge is certainly required before some elements can be recognised as deriving from the human body (or parts thereof).
Ji-Yun (1981, Masan, South Korea) draws/paints, takes photos, creates installations and gives performances. Although she has been living in France for quite some time, she has never been disloyal to her eastern roots. The fragile, drawn-upon rice paper, the lantern-like constructions, and also the underlying philosophy. Her grandfather a calligrapher, once said that everything you look for can be found on a blank sheet of paper. These words of wisdom can be interpreted in a number of ways. You are the one who decides how the page becomes ‘un-emptied’, or, according to Ji-Yun : the white sheet forces her into introspection. Black and White feature prominently in the results of her dialogue intérieure, with the underlying choice of subject bearing a strong personality. While growing up as a child of a surgeon, the hospital was for her a living anatomical picture book. In that time, she ‘neutralised’ patients into distant bodies, objects without a soul. The body as a whole, the individual limbs and organs, continue to this day to from the basis for her reconstructed, hybrid objects.
Over the year, Ji-Yun’s photos have become more abstract, partly through the focus on details. Colour steps aside for corroded black and white. The stylised character of the photos approaches that of her drawings, which are in line with the Korean principles. Compared with Western paintings, these leave a conspicuously vacuous impression. Composition takes second place to (maximum) expression achieved with a minimum of manœuvres and contacts with the paper. Lines, strokes and planes are conceived by pencil, pen, paintbrush and washes. Like Yin Yang, straight, jagged and fluid alternate with each other and keep each other in harmony. A vital link within her œuvre is Ma Balaçoire (My Swing), a (wall) installation in a exhibition dating from 2012 in the South Korea Korean Moonshin Museum (Changwon). The wall, bathes in layered and puffed up paper, connects the flat with the spatial. At the same time, in the same exhibition, several objects hang on barely visible threads and ‘conventionally’ framed drawings adorn the other museum walls.
While it is possible to just about distinguish little feet and thigh bones in the drawings, and while in the most recent photos the black lines and stripes turn out to be human hair, the dehumanising discernible in her floating ‘zeppelins’ is so highly developed that completely new interpretations arise. Does the form have a long and sharp pointed protrusion ? ‘Swordfsh’ (‘or is it that crane after all ?’). Is the form rounder and lightly curved ? ‘A ray (observed from below)’. Numerous parallel lines ? ‘Whale baleens!’ The lightweight character hints at animal-like forms, which float freely (under water) or hover (in the air). To achieve such a lightness of foot, here too Ji-Yun falls back on her Korean origins, mimicking the lantern constructions with rice paper and steel wire. Neutral and yet meaningful. Light with an in intrinsic weight. Ji-Yun’s structures possess all the characteristics of opposed poles in harmony.
When Ji-Yun photographs bodies in particular positions, inspired by yoga postures, carefully crafted and framed, we get the feeling of perfect, almost abstract, plasticity of the body. The “sculptures” that these bodies represent, then placed in the space of the photograph, have a smooth and perfectly executed character that makes a kind of hieroglyphics. Only the performance staged by the artist herself, allows us to reattach these shapes to living matter.
This plasticity is indeed something both enigmatic and disturbing. The face disappears as does as any identifiable image of a full body, to reveal a composition in which the limbs are all assembled into a form that is both elegant and somewhat monstrous. In recent work, the limbs themselves disappear, using various tricks of staging, to reveal nothing more than a tangle of hair, in some cases reduced to just a few strands, a subtle calligraphy just barely emerging from the white background in which it is embedded.These are the remarkable drawings by the artist that help us, as is often the case, to penetrate into the work that seems elusive to us. Some of these drawings are preliminary sketches used for the production of photographs, but much of this work exists for itself and allows us an insight into the inner universe of Ji-Yun. We discover an imagination in which proliferate monstrous bodies, most often devoid of limbs (with the exception of the legs or feet that seem to be the only link to these strange beings with the outside world). It is not impossible that we should see in these visions the childhood memories left by her time spent in the world of the hospital and the disabled. But whatever the reason, Ji-Yun finds and reinvents the body without organs that haunts the drawings and the writings of Antonin Artaud, and of which Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari gave the best analysis we know (*). What strikes us is not so much the grotesque character and disturbing features of these drawings, as the power they generate. They are the opposite of “good shapes”, a place where visions and the most profound energies thrive.
* Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. (Feb 1984) (In particular, Chapter 1: The Desiring Machines)
Korean Cultural Centre
“Wing” illustrates the working process of Ji-Yun. Installed in a light box in a yoga posture, her body appears as an image, up front and ambiguous, consistently maintaining a degree of tension.
– Sang-A Chun / Korean Cultural Centre –
Rounds, spirals, stars: This is a work based on shapes that the photographs of Ji-Yun seem to offer us. We are immerses in a bath of choreographed aquatics from Hollywood (Esther Williams, Busby Berkeley). But there is something else, a Korean, she bases her research around signs and bodies: “the imprint of the body in a photograph, in the frame, is of particular concern to me. I see a link with calligraphy in which writing must fit within a square space and play a subtle game of balance between full and empty.”
Rounds, spirals, stars: Once again, you have to look twice for a choreography of bodies revealing its ambiguities, for spirals of hair that hold us captive with their tentacles, for a hairstyle ready to come alive and start to crawl like a crab. Discomfort and beauty.
– Bruno Dubreuil / Immix Gallery –