Living with Paints, Living with Lights
“I guess you paint pictures, too” someone said to artist IM Youngzoo when she was preparing for her show. Although it was a prosaic comment made by someone who had been keeping an eye on the artist’s work, the use of the word “too” troubled my mind because it was possible that the person has some prejudice against videos and paintings. He seemed to consider painting to be a very exclusive, special genre that only those who have stuck with it can do right. Thus, it seemed as though this person was hinting at his prejudice that IM’s involvement in painting is “a temporary departure” from her primary field of video and text. All the same, painting has a more special position in her art. Although her paintings were done in the process of shooting videos, addressing the same subject matter as her videos and text, they are not simply additions to her videos. As her paintings obviously assume some irreplaceable role, new words are required to appropriately account for that part. For this reason, I first put what she mentions as opposed to any extensive range of genres such as painting and video.
“Look, here begins the omega.”
“Omega” is an argot used when referring to an omega(Ω)-shaped sun by those who try to take pictures of the sunrise and sunset. Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet and refers to an auspicious start of the sunrise. It reminds some of God’s omnipotence (“I am the alpha and the omega,” from The Book of the Apocalypse of St. John) and others of a nutritional supplement, a luxurious watch, or eschatology. IM Youngzoo often begins her work with argots. It is known that those who have a taste for creating fishbowls or aquariums express their hobby as their “second-year living with water” if they came to have the hobby two years ago; those who pan for gold are called gold “fairies.” To speak accurately, however, what IM explores is not any jargon, but a sort of “argotic effect” brought up when a specific group of people repetitively use jargon, such as their way of talking, ambiance, and even the composition of images. For example, when both amateur and professional photographers try to take pictures of the setting sun hung on a candlestick-shaped rock, she intends to read this composition as jargon.
“What everyone wants to do is to find the position from which they are able to stick the sun into the end of the rock. A war of nerves was carried out to realize the composition called ‘lighting a candle’ or ‘Haekkoji or sticking the sun.’ That scene was so intense and weird. By the way, this composition was an open secret like jargon.”
Such an argotic effect also arouses a sense of cliché in some, like a sentence with blanks printed in an elementary school textbook (i.e. “___ arises in many places we reside.”). This effect occurs in the photographic composition like that of pornography in which Chotdae Bawi or the candlestick-shaped rock centered in the angle is photographed through a repetition of zooming in and out, habits of speaking stamped on one’s tongue, and the camera’s movement and angle that has become almost absolute.
It is interesting that IM captures some argotic similarity between completely different senses. For instance, she points out that some strange rhythms of incomplete bars in the Korean national anthem are similar to the aesthetic sense of the Chotdae Bawi protruding in the landscape or she compares the process of naming rocks with the movement of the camera.
“Changes in representative place names (Nuengpadae-Chuam-Chotdae Bawi) reduce the scope. If they are seen on a flat surface, paradoxically we come to realize the scope is expanded gradually. It is like a close-up angle.”
Thus, what arouses such a argotic effect––be it a word, visual image, or a video––was initially not so important for IM Youngzoo. What counts is, when a group of people repeat only something familiar to them, this repetition has nothing to do with any fun, but it is closely associated with their profound belief to keep something they consider precious. Whether that belief is some academic truth, superstition, fashion sought after by society, or a familiar habit, this effect obviously works in reality.
Painting and Sculpture as “Change in Matter”
Let’s go back to the first question. If a distinction between mediums doesn’t matter for IM Youngzoo, why does she choose painting? She used to make comments on the effect of matter and material. Matter comes to have tremendous power within human consciousness and brings many together. She calls this “change in matter.” Such examples are placer mining, meteorite collection, photographing sunrises, and creating aquariums that have little to do with actual value, but give no way to escape. If seen from this point of view, painting can be thought of as a typical change in matter. Although IM’s paintings are not far away from subject matter such as a candlestick-shaped rock, light and natural phenomena her videos and texts have often addressed, they cannot be replaced with videos or texts since they are made up of materials like paints and canvases. These materials abruptly change in their value within repetition and belief. For instance, The Bottom (45x159cm, oil on canvas, 2016) consists of three canvases in which a scene in the same place is portrayed differently through atmosphere and weather. But the minimum amount of information about that place is given. A darkish image almost indistinguishable from the atmosphere emerges at the very center of the first canvas while a dim image that looks like a splatter of light, vapor, or wave appears in the second canvas. An image is almost unrecognizable in the space of the right-hand side as if underpainted alone. What matters is not how much different they look, but some unusual energy sensed in “different repetitions.” Paints draw up energy from the “bottom” like some sexual energy sensed in the “bottom” of the body and beliefs brought up from the “bottom” of the mind.
IM’s use of circular canvases can be understood in the same context. While viewers tend to enter into the contents of pictures with square frames, they come to see an object as inseparable from the energy that radial images give off in a circular canvas. Circular canvases like round, bizarre stones attract viewers, while yellow paint used to portray dim rays of light are similar to a “fairy.” Such canvases call viewers together, displaying black rocks that are barely revealed in the dark space of a canvas and auspicious clouds that are scattered in the dim atmosphere (The Bottom – Omega, Night, Mountain, Water Sound, Beam, Candlestick, Clear, dimensions variable, oil on canvas, 2017). Does matter retain some miraculous energy that draws in more people as it reveals more tantalizing differences?
Objects that draw people’s attention and make them spend their time and effort in fact do not look much appealing. IM talks about the “back screen” those who practice “living with water” make by modeling it after a boulder that that looks like “a weird crust that is neither crude nor majestic” (Living with Water_Layout Shelter, Living with Water_ It Looks That Way If You Squint or Gaze at One Spot, dimensions variable, mixed media, 2017). IM’s paintings and sculptures (installations) hope to be objects with spiritual powers through their appropriate, less conspicuous existence. IM Youngzoo who has "lived with paints for three years" repeats her work regularly, like those searching for bizarre stones, adorning fishbowls, and panning for gold. She tests whether her paintings can be morphed into matter with a spiritual power to allure people by executing her paintings after meditating in the morning.
In fact, IM provided no answers to questions about specific events or the public’s curiosity in her videos, even in her documentary-style videos. She pays heed to the effect or aura her beliefs may arouse instead of trying to unmask the nature of her faith. Just as her paintings are not intended as additional content for her videos, her videos are not a device to account for her paintings. To the artist, both paintings and videos are mediums that have a sort of “interference effect” that interact with each other while not losing their respective functions. She has created a “Theater” on the web (www.imyoungzoo.com) where anyone can view her videos all day long or at an appointed time. These videos could be an impetus for the artist to maintain either her “living with paints” or “living with lights.” All we have to do is gain some energy from them as we repetitively engage in such living.
In short, IM is someone who practices aspects of such “life” together. Since her works are a close-up or collection of argotic, physical effects, we tend to think of them as the results of observing and analyzing those intoxicated by something or objectifying such individuals while keeping a coldhearted distance. And yet, she does not deride their state of intoxication nor does she say they are faking it. Rather, she attempts to fall into their state of intoxication through repetitive practices as they do. That is, she is in the awakened state of intoxication. Both paintings and videos are things she has been riveted by and things that draw people in via their effects. IM’s “living with paints” and “living with lights” has continued, crossing the borders of her tongue, brush, and camera.
AHN Sohyun is an independent curator and art critic. She studied Aesthetics and received her master’s degree in French contemporary aesthetics. After her Master2(former D.E.S.S) in Museology and New Media, she received Ph. D. with the thesis titled Sense of Museum Space: Semiotic Analysis of Museographic elements in France. Her exhibitions include Peace Like a River(Space99/EMU), X_sound: John Cage, Nam June Paik and After; Tireless Refrain; Learning Machine; Nam June Paik on Stage; Good Morning Mr. Orwell 2014; and 2015 Random Access (hitherto 2011~2015, at Nam June Paik Art Center), Degenerate Art(2016, Art Space Pool) and Salt of the Jungle(2017, KF Gallery), among others. She was awarded the 2012 Wolgan Art Prize. She is current chief editor of the Forum A magazine.