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  Ontmoeting: (Trans) fusion of Landscape Portraiture and History Painting by Use of a Symbolical Device in Cho Duck Hyun's Digital Photo-Images _ Inhee Iris Moon 2008/08/31

By Inhee Iris Moon


Ontmoeting:  (Trans) fusion of Landscape Portraiture and History Painting by Use of a  Symbolical Device in Cho Duck Hyun's Digital Photo-Images


Prologue

Like this, Hamel wandered around archipelago  selling cotton plants. I like this picture very much because there seems to be  an allusion to his dramatic life; how he drifted ashore, wandered around and  escaped Cho-sun. I'm thinking of using the image as the cover of the catalogue  or of the poster.(from the artist's notes)


Photograph as Chromatic Picture


Before looking at the image closely, it will be  pertinent to mention artist's statement since it presents and epitomizes  clearly what he wants to say through his work. It shows instantly his love for  the image. The image is only a small part of a much larger and ambitious  exhibition /event called Hamel Project. Knowing that allows us to presume that  there is a value in this image important enough for the artist to consider it  as a representation of the whole project. The value, I believe, lies in  re-presenting the story of Hamel of the 17th Century by using symbolically  coded picture timelessly captured in transient digital medium, photography. Its  value also lies in the fact that the captured image lives on as an autonomous  contemporary photo- work inside and/or outside the Hamel context. Certainly, it  is foolish to assume artists know the total meaning of their works, however ,  it should be acknowledged that they, as engenderers of their works, possess  most intuitively acute understanding of their works. Sometimes their intuitive  understanding may be expressed in languages clearly visible or audible forms  but other times it may become misstatement with improper remarks or becom e  silence and get buried in the unconscious. In any case, the language of artists  can be considered as an important tool in excavating issues and meanings in art  works.

  This image is a part of a multi-media project.  Other media works include excavation performance, hand-drawings, installation  of the found objects from the Hamel trail and videos. Considering the diversity  of this project, the photo-works are at risk of being considered less important  or they may be dismissed as mere documentation of the other media. But if the  more visible medium like the excavation is a performance work , photo-works  should be seen as inscription of the process of the other works and more.  Photos as trace or the document of the process are important in itself,  however, the image of our discussion needs to be discerned as it is bestowed  with more value in it. It has a creative story ; a drama. The difference  between this photo-image and other document images is simple. There is a  psychological understanding and investment in symbolical meanings inherent in  construction of elements used by the artist for depicting story in this image.  This can be applied to other photo-images to a certain degree, but it can be  most aptly applied to this image as we shall see. This image, hence I would  like to argue, is a picture with a story completed in a medium of photography  and its story tells us about human experiences and conditions such as chance  encounter, danger of hubris, and fallacious nature of self-conceit. What is  most enchanting about the image is Cho's use of subtle irony. He does not impose  his ideas on anyone, yet everyone can become empathetic with his picture.


Mythical Landscape, Real Place, Symbolical Space in One


The pictured image comes from a region of Jeo-la Province  in South Korea.  In his note Cho described the moment as ' hard work in an incredibly rough  weather demanding so much motive energy tracing the trail of Hamel'. From it we  can see that the picture was taken from a place currently in existence. The  landscape has not been re-touched; it is as it was captured by the artist. In  the distance, there are misty silhouettes of mountains in layers and the  peaceful water that are also real. Thick clouds show the stormy weather just  passed and the thin ones to the clearer weather. Generally, there is a strong  expression of the climate in this kind of landscape, but lacking are the  confirm ing elements for identifying the location itself. Surprisingly, the  impression of the landscape is rather mythical despite of site's realness.  Inviting us deeper into the layers of mystical space, the image pulls and  directs our eyes to see strange elements in the picture. Unknown object held by  a child sitting on a rough looking quay, mythical background and the sea, two  boats… The composition of pictorial elements are so  contrived and unnatural that its effect is rather hypnotic. Deja Vu. Something  familiar becoming so unfamiliar and the unfamiliar becoming familiar. Like in  daydreams and fantasy where trance-like confusion takes place, the composition  hypnotizes us.


Suggestiveness and Ambiguity, Placing Importance on  the Primacy of Imagination, Off -Modernism


Highly contrived and yet strangely unnatural works  embodying hypnotic composition were always present in the history of picture  making. To demonstrate a few, there were Pierro Della Francisca from the 15th  century North Umbria, Brueghel from the 17th century Netherlands, Puvis de Chavnne from  19th century France and Picasso (especially in the Blue Period) from the 20th  Century. Works in the Romantic movement of the 18th century and its subsequent  followers in later centuries including the Symbolists, the Surrealists , the  Dadaist showed deliberate use of unnaturalness with elevated enthusiasm. With  the Happenings and the performance arts from the 20th century, it will be  worthwhile to remember artists who worked with landscape portraits with p  hotography as their chief medium. They include Gertude Kasebier, James Annan,  Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman, etc.. The list can go on endlessly here, but  what is more necessary than continuing to write names of artists is to  understand why the kind of disavowal of perfect balance and perspective took  place. Artists who favored this kind of picture-making knew that there was  something more persuasive, more powerful and more mysterious in working with unbalanced  composition with distorted perspective. They used unbalanced compositions to  rebel against pictorial restrictions and authorial reasons in favor of placing  importance on the primacy of imagination using suggestive ambiguity. The  deliberate awkwardness in which the figure is placed and posed in this image,  too, draw s attention to its relationship both physically and symbolically to  the elements which surround it.

  Keeping deliberately unnatural composition in mind,  let us take a careful look at the image. With mythical landscape in the  background, we can see a quay that looks like a giant block. Its rough surface  has many gaps that invoke feelings of estrangement; dry and barren which is so  antithetical to feelings of plenitude invoked by the surrounding water. The  quay does not extend over to the mythical land. Rather, it is discontinued  abruptly in the middle of the water creating feelings of uneasiness and  amputation. As the only pictorial element alluding to efforts of men, the quay  can be seen as a symbol of modernization. With the quay's off -centered  location in the picture, however, it can be said that the modernization alluded  here is an off-centered, non-mainstream phenomena. Whether or not the artist  has intended to present such details remains in question, nevertheless, what is  fascinating about the seeing 'eye'( mind, body, spirit, lens) is that it sees  and expresses 'I'(self) much better than the 'I'(of the conscious) that see.


Symbolic Space, Symbolic Elements, Symbolic (non)  Presence


On the quay there are several anchor holdfasts and  our eyes linger unto the first three. Unlike the other two, the first holdfast  nearest to the foreground has an anchor-rope fixed onto it and the rope is  dropped in the water . Although it is not visible, the tautness of the  stretched rope allows us to imagine the weightiness of the anchor that is  attached to the rope. The tautness seems to create sense of tension and it  become even more significant at the site of the knot tied to the holdfast. It  is as if the holdfast might yield to the strength of the anchor and be pulled  out. Loose tension is felt at the second holdfast. Here one's mind may drift  into oblivion, curiously staring a blank stare at the site of the boat attached  to the rope as the nagging question lingers; can the boat leave or stay? The  child, the most obvious attraction point of the image, is not the center focal  point of the composition either; he is off just as the quay is off. The center  point is, quite unexpectedly, a point proximal to the second anchor holdfast of  which to its right is a boat loosely attached in a relaxed manner whilst to its  left is the seated child. The second holdfast is situated as a center point of  the picture and as a mid-point between child and boat allowing gazes to travel  bi-ways the two objects.

  Other pictorial objects (boat, rope, holdfast,  child) also point to each other and create more complex visual path as  multi-referential elements. These elements direct our optical journey between  the present and absent boats, taut and loose ropes, holdfast and child, etc.. Reading the  multi-referential activity and connectivity of the objects allow symbolical  meanings and understanding to emerge. At this time it is important to point out  that the objects of this picture are placed awkwardly distant from the  foreground, heightening the oddness of the composition, as if maintaining a  space for another person( or persons) in view. Could this be! read as a  symbolic suggestion of an invisible character coming to being? In a way there  is a sense of drama in the picture where audiences await for a presence of a  character yet to come out. The anticipation of the invisible man inspired in  the blank foreground seems to draw us intriguingly to the picture and to its  alluring story .


Real-Life Child as Symbolic Return, Still-Life  Objects as Transitional Link, Metonymic Relationship


Most of the pictorial objects are located in the  middle ground between the mythical background and the empty foreground in the  horizontally divided composition . They include the water, part of the quay  surface and everything from the first holdfast to the tip of the child's head.  The general meaning indicated might be that the nature transcends human history  but staged in it is the human culture. We know that the water symbolizes birth,  plenitude, maternity, death, anger, defeat and so on, however, instead of  focusing on them let us keep our focus on symbolical meanings of the objects  like boats and quay. In other words, objects that are cultivable. Interestingly,  boats, rope, holdfasts, child, toy-like unknown object , clothes, chair, shoes  are all products of culture with symbolic meanings and values attached to them.  For example, of many symbols they possess, boats in one way can be seen as  persons. With head of boats facing outward away from the main scene in the  image, we can imagine people with minds elsewhere. But the problem is that they  are attached to something as boats are attached to holdfasts .

  The little child who is holding an unfamiliar object  is sitting on a chair by himself on a quay tilting-up his head back. White  garment, mobile chair and shoes are products prevailing in contemporary daily  environment that seeing them in relation to the mythical landscape momentarily  confuses perceived understanding of the composition hither to be explained.  However, just as we gave symbolical reading to the landscape, we need to do the  same to the child to achieve cohesive reading of the picture. To support the  symbolic reading of the child we must understand psychoanalytical notion of  Found Objects. The all inclusive meaning of Found Objects refers to things that  exist in reality and endowed with meaning before being selected or found by  chance. These objects create metaphorical connection between object, human and  non-human, organic and mechanical including everything material and immaterial.  The most basic example of transitional object is a blanket through which one  creates connection to mother and self. The blanket acts as a transitional  object and helps child to find sense of self apart from the absent mother. It  is a tool in the process of self- sublimation. The use of child in the picture  then can be seen as an access to childhood that is a deliberate retrogression  in the service of self in a transitional space that allows for symbolization.  Hence, the child is a symbolic return and his presen ce alludes to a journey to  the past just as the mythical landscape operates as a symbolic space.  Retrogression is to revert in order to come back (return) and because of its  psycho-philosophical importance, many writers like Marcel Proust and James  Joyce have utilized the notion of retrogression in their writings.

  As a symbolical return, the child possesses a  complex set of meanings. The whites of his white garments and a white wrapping  cloth alone can signify myriad of things in the symbolic system. The kind of  system Cho has invested in for the image is the metonymic symbols in which the  'act' of referring to something by the name of something else that is closely  connected with it takes place. In other words, the symbols rely on an economy  of constant substitution in which equivalencies are assumed and reestablished.  For example, the child's body is metony of self, of character, of voice, of  presence. But in the plenitude of its apparent visibility and availability, the  actual child disappears and represents something such as memory or childhood.  Symbolic meanings are constantly in flux according to changing demands of time  so they are continuously in expanding mode. Thus the 'whites' of child can  generate multiple meanings but a subjective and personal interpretations of  them can be cultivated depending on different responses of viewers. As such,  the whites of child can symbolize positive meanings like unity, nobility,  purity, innocence, regeneration but, at the same time, there are negative mean  ings like defeat, death, void, emptiness. In this picture, we can say that the  whites symbolize simplicity, sincerity, unity and solitaire; elements that  signify a good sport. However, what should not be neglected in the process of  interpretation is to remember the context from which the work was created  initially and the intention of artist who made it.

  Likewise, unknown objects held by the child in this  picture and other photo-images operate in the complex system of metonymy. As  referred to as the transitional objects earlier, characteristic roles of these  objects include referring, directing, transferring and substituting that are  similar to 'acts'of substituting and finding equivalent meanings in the system  of metonymy. Let us take a moment to look at the different picture with the  same child holding a mysterious round object on ebb seashore. Stock or stone it  is not certain, but what is certain is that it had gone through a  transformation that altered its original form and function into something  utterly new. The condition of this object gives off a sense of indifference,  apathy, obtuseness, but oddly at the same time, it gives off a sense of  peculiar beauty and nostalgia. Transformation of this kind must have took place  through repeated encounters with matters both familiar and foreign. Persistent  substitution of elements produce transformation; cultivation of the new.


Theatrical Portraiture, Subdued Drama


Let us look at the portraiture aspect of the child  face. The regal and almost arrogant expression on child's face embodies the  kind of theatrical faciality of the contemporary portraiture. Although child's  naive act is so obvious that it makes viewers grin at his performance, but  nevertheless, the child's tilted-up head and arrogant face seems to symbolize  the hubris of human nature that leads to possible fall. Traditional portraiture  generally favored neutral face in frontal angle. It had to do with depicting  subjectivity or soul emanating outward. Modern portraiture used more neutral  face to depict nature of likeness. The dead pan look on the 17th century  portraiture in painting and the photo- portraits of Andy Warhol of the 20th  century seem to share blank, dispassionate and almost bored faces that star! e  out at us but share no mental or moral feelings. Most portraits from official  documents to celebrity pin-ups are done in neutral expression devoid of any  inherent subjectivities. If the traditionally expressive face signifies  subjectivity and if the modern face invites projection of the artist or  viewer's subjectivity unto its surface, the new kind of facility selects its  subjectivity from a menu of multiple choices and establishes which might be  called a participatory theatre of false smiles, feigned psyches, faked  characterization and fictional souls. As such, the facility of the child should  be seen as a theatrical portraiture with a drama of the subdued irony. Face in  this scheme is an active narrative and the product of drama consciously engaged  with the camera and the viewer.


Epilogue


Belief is in itself the image: both arise out of  the same procedures and through the same terms: memory, sight and love?( Julia  Kristeva)


Seeing Through Loss and Distortion, Power of  Invisible, Rainbow Phenomena

  The image we have seen so far is a 'photo-drawing'  of illusions cum conceptual ideas signifying an encounter of the supernatural  economy and yearning affection of the artist. Only, the transient moment was  seized by the digital technology rather than hand drawing. At this point,  however, it seems only natural to question the subjectivity of the seeing eye  (be it physical, psychological, spiritual, lens-scopic) for two reasons: First,  photo-images always contain elements of 'excess' regardless of who the shooter  is. Secondly and paradoxically, despite the combination of meanings initially  intended and 'excess' meaning produced by chance, interpretations of any image  can not be total. In other words, the artistic process of making, presenting  and interpreting photo-images entails many encounters of unexpected matters so  that the process is always wide open to condition of change. Thus it can be  said that no one including the artist has the full meanings of works. Instead, different  interpretations are possible in accordance with personal desire and belief.

  Cho's image has a symbolical story rather than an  allegorical one. Unlike symbols in traditional allegories in which symbols  stood for was something decided in advance, Cho's symbols stand for  multi-reciprocal, metonymic meanings diffusing a mysterious influence around  them affecting the whole context in which they are placed. We have seen some of  referencing activities through the example of child and second holdfast. The metonymic  references persist as symbolic allusions to further encounters coming into  being; encounter of still-life/landscape portraiture and history painting,  encounter of contemporary art and artist, encounter of father and son, and  encounter of art and viewers, etc.. These encounters would happen through  elements of discoveries, conflicts, active engagements, hostilities,  confrontations, opposition and so on. However, Cho's choice of showing them  involves an unique element of a non-present being; an invisible person. As  mentioned earlier, the symbolic suggestion of an invisible character coming to  being is what renders the viewer in disbelief (but anxiously wanting to see  that which is missing ) to jumble together incongruous elements of the image.  In the context of Hamel project, the invisible being in the image would be the  presence of Hamel.

  This symbolization of presence of an absent  character is the captivating strength of the image. Through deliberate  exclusion of an anticipated character, Cho initially destabilizes viewer's  expectation but eventually captures viewer's psychic vision enabling it to see  the symbolic presence of the invisible through the viewer's desire of wanting  to see the unseen. In imagining, creating, showing the construction of immaterial  identity, Cho's pathos seem to reflect his understanding of the gaze which  shares a process of loss and distortion and the positive outcome of it. 'The  gaze or taking the visual world in is a process of loss' as Peggy Phelan said.  'Representation appeases a deep psychic impulse to employ the image seen as a  mirror for the seeing eye/I and to forget that it is also a screen which erases  the subject's own blankness and blindness.'( Phelan) Therefore the looker is  always also regarded by the image seen and through this regard discovers and  continuously reaffirms that s/he is the one who looks. But all seeing is hooded  with loss and distortion; there's loss of self-seeing. In relative terms, the  eye's inability to see fully may be similar to consciousness? inability to  fully absorb psychic data, a trace of psychic event remains in the unconscious  and participates in the kind of realm in which, what is not visibly available  to the eye constitutes and defines what is. In the same way, the unconscious  frames ongoing conscious events. Just as we understand that things in the past  determine how we experience the present the same can be said that the visible  is defined by the invisible. Going back to Cho's image, it can be argued that  looking at the picture where the looker seeks to see oneself but is obscured or  blanked by absence of the other, invokes empathy and symbolical identification  of the subject. The empathy and identification process requires patience with  blanks, with willful, active non-presence.

  As an endnote, a song about a rainbow comes to  mind: Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to  dream really do come true. Ironically, when you see a rainbow, you are seeing  something purely subjective. It is not really there. It is not tangible. It is  immaterial. It is sunlight spread out into its spectrum of colors and diverts  to the eye of the observer by water droplets. Yet it is the most spectacular  phenomenon of refraction (distortion) and dispersion( loss) that epitomizes  hope and mythical beauty. The challenge of rendering the immaterial identity or  condition may deem impossible without the (trans)fusion of these means : love  of imagination, belief in one's artistic endeavor, and hope of shared vision.  If Cho Duk Hyun's hand drawings are black and white photographs of shadow,  yearning, attachment, longing and affection, his photo-images are  chromatic-drawings of dream and hope in a full spectrum of rainbow.

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Inhee Iris Moon is freelance writer, curator and  art-educator. She holds Post-Graduate and Masters degrees in Art History and  Contempoaray Visual Culture Studies: Theories and Criticism for the 20th  Century from the Courtaul Institute and Goldsmiths, University of London.  A Royal Society of Art Certified Modern Art Specialist ( U.K. Board), she has  worked at Iniva ( International Institute of Visual Arts-London), Tate(London) and The New Museum of Contemporary Art ( New York). She is also a  regular contributor on art for several art journals.




     


24   homepage renewal  
23   From History to Memory_ Jiyoon Lee  
22   Butterfly Dreams, Mirrors and Mountains / Notes for Duck Hyun Cho: re-collection _ Pontus Kyander  
21   나비 꿈, 거울과 산 / 조 덕현을 위한 기록 : 리-컬렉션 _ 폰투스 키안더  
20   조덕현의 전시: 리콜렉션 re-colllection _ 신지영  
19   역사에서 기억까지 _ 이지윤  
18   The Scattered Puzzle Pieces _ Dae-Beom Lee  
17   흩어진 퍼즐 조각 _ 이대범  
16   Re-collection : Walking down two women's paths _ Jiyoung Shin  
15   Cho Duck–Hyun _ Ann Landi  
14   조덕현 _ Ann Landi  
  Ontmoeting: (Trans) fusion of Landscape Portraiture and History Painting by Use of a Symbolical Device in Cho Duck Hyun's Digital Photo-Images _ Inhee Iris Moon  
12   A moral proposal _ Patrick T. Murphy  
11   Two Mysteries Colliding _ Chtistopher French  
10   Leaning forward, Looking back – Jeff Kelly  
9   Restoration of Civilization _ Yongwoo Lee  
8   Reversing the Historical Imagination _ Young June Lee  
7   Entering Yiseoguk _ Choi Won Oh  
6   Cho Duck-Hyun – biographer of illusions _ Jan Donia  
5   From an Alien Past _ Hyunok Jung  
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