Eo-Ulim: In Harmony
Review by Beccy Kennedy
On first sight, you wouldn’t realise that any of the three distinctive painting styles had been selected to represent a fusion of Korean and British artistic styles and experiences. The title, Eo-ulim, the Korean term meaning in harmony, particularly used in relation to inter-cultural adaptability ignites interpretations of hybridised, transcultural identities within these images. Additional investigation into the artists’ backgrounds and influences further adds to the significance of this harmony. The exhibition works on a logical level due to this curatorial input, although the vivid tones and Surrealist vistas of the paintings make for an aesthetically enjoyable visit to the ArtsDepot, Finchley, regardless of whether the viewer is interested in Korean painting or painting generally.
Beginning from the left of the gallery, Sangyoon Yoon’s contemporary scenes of everyday social experience, tell familiar stories of urban leisure seeking amongst the youthful. Clad in hoodies or ethnic cardigans, with sloped backs and beer glasses, gathered aimlessly together (and sometimes apart), around what looks like student campuses, these figures could be pleasure seeking in contemporary Seoul, London or elsewhere. Yoon’s nation-less characters seem without harmony, but with a familiarity, which is in harmony with the way (post-) modern lifestyles can leave us all feeling. As a contrast to these starkly realistic scenes, Chulwon Kwak’s silkily painted mountainous panoramas visit the shadowy depths of his unconsciousness, though this visitation is conscious itself. In conversation with Kwak at the private view, he described his attunement with Jungian psychology, in particular Jung’s analysis of shadows. Kwak talked of how studying art in the UK introduced him to the theories of Western philosophers. Similarly, Jungmi Bae’s works, which complete this contemplative circuit of canvasses, were strongly influenced by Lacanian philosophy. Bae describes her work as ‘feminist’1, and like Kwak’s use of shadows, Bae employs similar metaphors, but of flowers and mirrors, to explore the female psyche. Both artists seem to be searching internally, even embryonically, for a harmonisation with nature; that being human nature and the natural world of flowers and rural landscapes.
Kwak and Bae’s technical painterly mastery was learnt through their Korean art education; Kwak describes his landscape painting as ‘Korean style’ 2. Whilst his smooth topped mountains look like scenes from rural Korea, they could as easily be from the Peak District, and this ambiguity is perhaps what is most appealing. Bae paints Irises, a flower that grows wildly in Korea, but she also uses Delphiniums (anyone think of Winnie the Pooh?). Bae described to me how living and working in the UK, makes her ‘feel more open’ 1. It would be interesting to compare these paintings to her previous works from Korea. Her use of mirrors certainly adds extra visual and thematic dimensions to her floral encapsulations, so her study of Lacan seems to have answered questions for which she had previously been searching just to ask.
Eo-Ulim succeeds in what it set out to do: explore the assimilated harmonious and complex experiences of artists from Korea working in Britain. However, this achievement becomes apparent on closer observation, not of the paintings themselves, but of the artists’ histories and mind mapping movements. As an exhibition working around the theme of harmony, it works best when you consider the visual interweaving tapestry of this artistic trio and how the three distinct painting styles somehow merge to form a complete and seamless painterly experience for the viewer. Yoon represents the real, Kwak the subconscious real and Bae, the surreal, though these states begin to inter-tangle into each other the more you gaze, and consider your own experience within the gallery space.
Eo-Ulim / In Harmony, an exhibition of young Korean artists working in London, is showing in the Arts Depot, 5 Nether Street, Tally Ho Corner, North Finchley, N12 0GA, from 13 to 19 September.
- In conversation with Jungmi Bae, Eo-Ulim private view, 14 September, 2007
- In conversation with Chulwon Kwak, Eo-Ulim private view, 14 September, 2007