The Way of Thinking that Heterogenizes the Present -Cha Seungjoo (Curator, Arko Art Center, Arts Council Korea)


For an artist who thinks not through language but through images, the blockage of reason is the disappearance of language for communication. Therefore, the act of paining itself is a kind of self-discipline for her to keep thinking, which often entails pain. Just like the miniature painted like one embroiders on the canvas stitch by stitch, the densely packed tree branches and the closely connected, luxuriant leaves are felt like the fruit of patience that has replaced ascetic process with images.

However, the language of thought that she selects becomes a game and play during the combining process, and due to this, the way of changing the expanding meaning, the way of expanding the meaning, becomes the most important factor for visualizing the thinking. In other words, her language of thought, freed in the imaginary world, meets the ideal landscape and infinitely opens up space for her to represent her who lives in the real world.


Here, the ideal landscape she has chosen is linked to the time and space of the past when the traditional landscape painting spread. The charm of oriental painting to her, who majored in it, is a new world of great possibilities due to its scarcity. In today`s artistic climate, it is not easy to encounter paintings that deal with subject-matters that appear in traditional oriental paintings, using traditional materials such as the traditional Korean papers like Hanji and Jangji, Chinese ink, and powder pigments. Given this situation, the material and thematic elements of oriental painting are even more fresh for her. Her work is characterized by painting ink-and-wash colors on Jangji first, then accepting the limitations of powder pigments which cannot afford various rich colors, and making the most of them. In addition to this methodological aspect, the power of story, which individual images included in the canvas generate in relation to each other, not only evokes the simplicity and static emotions of oriental painting but also acts as a basis for making her work special.


The word ‘thinking’ frequently appears in the titles of her works: ‘Forest of Thinking’, ‘Landscape of Thinking’, ‘Island of Thinking’, ‘Colors of Thinking’. For her, thinking remains in space, has colors, is isolated, and at times tries to talk with things and living organisms. The titles of her works are direct linguistic expressions of her psychological state, which is derived from thinking, and furthermore, they are signs of the objects depicted in the canvas. And this, relatively quickly, expands the audience`s zone of sympathy for the work.


Here, in order to understand the artist`s wish to ‘provide a time for rest and thinking to find a moment for joy that has been forgotten in our hectic life’, we need to look into the way of ‘thinking’ that penetrates the whole of her work. To this end, I would like to pay attention to the temporal distance that her works lead to, the way in which meanings take place in her works, and the connection to the physical space in which each work is actually placed. First of all, the two elements that can escape the purview of modern people, who are familiar with the busy urban life, are probably the element of tradition at a temporal distance and the element of nature at a physical distance. And the combination of these two is the driving force behind the main imagery of Kim Minjoo`s work. So her paintings are filled with the energy of lyrical and tranquil nature, and carry the traditional beauty of margins that were taken away by the world of brilliant images. Since her paintings do not show at least an artificial arrangement of nature led by a human crowd or an anthropocentric visual system, they provide an opportunity to be humble in the face of the wonder and sublimity of the enormous natural world. In some ways, this seems to be an attempt to narrow the psychological gap between oriental painting and contemporary art by reproducing and following the composition and subject-matters of traditional landscape paintings. The focus, however, is on the way of creating meaning by individual images that are arranged like hidden pictures to bring in cracks in time and space of representation.


And this is possible because ‘tradition’ for the artist may be a realm of ‘fa’, somewhere beyond reality. For her, who has never made reference to a specific oriental painting, traditional oriental paintings are a world of possibilities that have ‘plain’ impressions and material peculiarity, in which she can give free rein to her imagination. In other words, the artist uses traditional elements but connects her imagery as a young artist, who lives in the contemporary world, to the form of an age-old painting genre, and learns how to heterogenize her present that passed though the time of tradition that she has never experienced.

Here, her thinking becomes play, humor and game in the crack where the scenery of nature represented by traditional landscape painting overlaps with the objects and living organisms of reality, and the boundary between illusion and reality becomes blurred. For example, the modern building is filled with elements of oriental landscape painting, and the table, which implies a space for personal thinking, coexists with the elements of traditional landscape painting; yet it gains a universal quality through its ordinary shape itself. On the other hand, the images that are repeatedly appear include ‘small table’, ‘ferryboat moored in the forest’, ‘the back of the naked body whose face cannot be known’, ‘mermaid’, and ‘fishing nets with holes’.


These usually appear as small parts that may be easily overlooked in the ideal reality that has mediated the images of Great Nature, or they are disturbances that suddenly intrude into a static landscape of nature. For example, the ferryboat that is supposed to float on the river in a leisurely manner is moored in the forest or half-submerged in the river, only partly showing its shape, and the full shape of the mermaid is hard to figure out.

In addition, the landscape depicting a shape similar to an island directly expresses isolation, or sometimes the conduit for water represents attempts to find a ‘way’ of direction, and the representing the polysemy of language. And in this way she adds images of metaphors that signify the lack and breakaway behind the plenitude of natural images, to reveal the way in which the language of thought and the state of thinking coexist. What is important here is that her language for thinking has more extensibility than when it is in the traditional subject matters. For example, her free play can be implemented by borrowing the titles and styles of the works of traditional landscape paintings (Conversation between Fisherman and Woodcutter, Sightseeing throughout Nature, Bookshelf Painting, etc.).


As for Conversation between Fisherman and Woodcutter, the work brings in the conversation between the fisherman and woodcutter, a major motif of traditional landscape painting, and changes it into a narrative in which the fisherman has become a fish and the woodcutter has become a tree. The traditional bookshelf painting depicting stationery, antiques, and other objects around the bookshelf and books is reborn as Landscape for Thinking in which various rooms (for thinking) are gathered. Within it, there is a huge bookcase in which the rooms for thinking that have existed individually gather and scatter. And the components in the bookcase are connected to each other, and sometimes they build independent spaces. It looks like a portfolio of thoughts that has put the paintings done for the past few years together into a single canvas. At a time when the artist needed to gather all of the scattered fragments of thought and paintings and organized them, she found a way of realizing that once again in the traditional motif of the ‘bookshelf painting’.


It seems that this way, the elements that penetrate her work, such as tradition and modernity, pain and play, fantasy and reality, I and others, seem to present a way of compromising for coexistence, minimizing the heterogeneous tension that arises at the boundaries. The appearance of the mermaid mentioned earlier also incorporates part of the other person who in fact makes up one`s self.


To her, who chose the painting with the characteristic of boundaries for a means of thinking, understanding the boundaries and learning a unique way of coexistence contribute to the inner calm of her paintings and also relieve the restriction of the physical space in which the drawings are placed, leading to the diversity of the form of work. In other words, when the individual works containing the forms and colors of thought are considered as spaces for thought, the attitude of expanding the seemingly closed space of the canvas or the frame appears by applying the traditional landscape painting method such as folding screen, picture book, bookshelf painting, and picture scroll.


Hence, we see her work on the space for thinking fully unfolded in the frame; on the elements of the frame disassembled, segmented, and expanded into individual frames and spaces to be expanded into several different spaces for thinking; on a single canvas, in which the space for thinking is divided to connect the links together. And she goes on to experiment not only with the boldness of the installation, but also with the various components of the work-such as dividing lines and colors themselves, and painting props for drawing as a series. The accumulation of these experiments has shaped the details of formal and thematic changes that have occurred in her solo exhibition in recent years. And there is another drastic move in the methodology that she will try in the future: trying new colors, collaborating with professionals in other fields, and reinterpreting traditional paintings based on works for reference. As one of these attempts, this exhibition showcases a large eight-fold screen with a landscape painting based on the The Eight Views of Xiaoxiang of the Joseon Dynasty.


This is another mode of self-discipline through which she wants to control herself within external stimuli and restrictions, a new move when compared to her work so far that transferred a free imagination without a reference to the canvas borrowing from the materials for oriental painting. It may be that she tries to find the source of her own work though more in-depth training within almost extreme rigor, and reflect more intense energy of freedom coming from momentary imagination within a kind of constraint. The new works born from this process appear to follow the elements of traditional landscape painting on the four seasons. However, the subtle devices of reinterpretation in her paintings will be an exciting opportunity to get a glimpse of the language of her thought that she acquired though the new works she made for this exhibition. In the past few years, her room of speculation has gradually tried to make a connection with the outside through the gap opening by piecemeal. For her as an artist of oriental painting, who has faced the inner speculation and visualized the language of agonies and amusements, staying at the border is no longer an option but a major stimulus to support her life. So her work seems to have a tendency that and, within an increasingly refined language, takes away some of the inner desire, and waits for an encounter with outside possibilities. This is why we are paying attention to the minute changes that her work will bring about in the future.