Kwon Kyung-yup's Paintings

Encountering, Making Up With, and Healing One's Own Ontological Trauma

Kho Chung-Hwan(Art Critic)


Here is the memory in the body, the trauma remembered by the body. The feeling of love toward a little girl around or younger than adolescent age, is called the Lolita syndrome. The emotion evoked by Lolita, strictly speaking, is closer to compassion than to love. Or rather, it might be the mixture of both. In any case, her asexuality or immature sexuality and the psychological unrest or uneasiness caused by it stir the emotion.

Occasionally, she herself knows what part of herself moves people's mind and intentionally displays and use it. It is none other than the image of an infirm and feeble-minded girl, which not only arouses the sexual fantasy more feminine than actual grown-up women but also stimulates the protection instinct of the man.

Girls like this appear in Kwon Kyung-yup's paintings. The asexual and immature sexual identity, the images of sickly and weak-spirited girls invoke the Lolita syndrome. While being depicted realistically, they are felt as unreal beings, looking artificial like animation characters or mannequins. The overlapping of tantalizingly realistic depiction and the image of purity suggested by the aseptic, unnatural condition as if being cleared of worldly pollution increases a strange tension.

The peculiar emotion you feel in response to Kwon's paintings, so to speak, is the compassion caused by what you think you read in the girls' expressions: the image of infirmity and weakness, asexual or immature sexual identity, and the compound of a sense of artificiality and the image of purity. It is a stack of layers of various different emotions, delicate and ambiguous, and above all, complex. It seems to me that the texture of this complex emotion exactly corresponds to the sexual identity of women represented by Lolita, and the mental trauma inherent in women and its ingredients. Possibly, it does. What is obvious is, whether as a result of her willful pretense or unilateral interpretation irrespective of her will or intention, Lolita internalizes a kind of sense of trauma. The sense of trauma is indeed the true essence of this little girl.

The girls in the paintings disclose this sense of trauma. It is revealed by the pure, snow-white, sterile space (the empty blank highlights the girls only, intensifying this pure space), by weeping, bloodshot eyes, by closed or vacant eyes as if seeing through themselves, by staring straight ahead as if accusing someone of something, and by expressionless faces as if not to show her true heart (here, expression works as a kind of defense mechanism).

It is said that the eye is the window of the soul. The artist uses the eye as an active means to convey emotions. For example, a patch over one eye indicates a sense of loss (here, the eye bandaged represents self-protection will by avoiding a feeling of loss, and simultaneously, the other eye looks at the person or thing that caused the feeling to her). Tears are also introduced as an auxiliary device: they not only are a more direct means to deliver emotions but also symbolize the nullification (purification?) of emotion. Kwon gives these condensed tears forming as elaborate crystals a special meaning: they purify, heal, and sublime emotions (here, tears imply catharsis, that is, purification.) Sometimes, this sense of trauma is expressed in a more immediate way, such as through the girls' crouching body as if protecting themselves from outside stimuli, eyes closed to disregard them, and blood-blistered chest.

And what shows a sense of trauma most clearly would be a bandage. The bandages covering the part of the girls' face (which seems to be in no way unrelated to the fact that is expressed in the face more directly than in other bodily parts) hide not the wounds in the body but the those remembered by the body, those stored as a memory in the body, those spiritual and ontological. Like eye patches, bandages protect them from outside stimuli, and cover, embrace, take care of, console, and cure the injuries remembered by the body(the mind sometimes forgets hurts but those remembered by the body are never forgotten). In this sense, the bandages wrapping the whole body as well as the face in Kwon's paintings is performing the ritual and magical function to confront and heal one's own ontological trauma.

In the far side of oblivion, you meet again the hurts that you have utterly forgotten. Man, who left this world, is doomed to across the River of Lethe, the river of oblivion. The reason the river is called such is that he can enter the next world only after parting from the worldly desires (which are themselves the object of oblivion). There are among the dead souls those who still cling to and yearn for the desires, unable to discard them (that is, whose desires are stronger than forgetfulness), and they shall be turned into hell. They are obsessed by desires equally both in this world and hell.

Thus, the heaven and hell might be the world prepared for this world, not for the next. In other words, the presence or absence of realistic desires creates the heaven on earth sometimes and other times, the hell on earth. Without desires, there are no frustrations (which are none other than hell); without flights, there are no falls (which are none other than hell). However, man is an animal which desires and dreams to fly and therefore, life is inevitably ironical, absurd, and tragic. No man is free from the definition that man is a desiring animal. Accordingly, ironic life, absurd life, tragic life is a necessary consequence of being a human being. The frustration and the sense of loss engendered by the inevitability embed irremediable wounds, ontological wounds, that is, traumas, in personality. Desire is frustration and a sense of loss, or a kind of sense of lack or deficiency. It desires always what is lacking. Thomas Mann's phrase that there is no art without (a sense of) lack can be read again like this: there is no art without desire.

On the other hand, there is a ferryman who carries the dead souls across the river of Lethe: Charon. Kwon represents him to be rather feminine, not masculine, or asexual at the least. In this way, the artist engraves the ontological hurts, the glorious wounds (or, man's self-conscious exchanged for hell) into his melancholic, expressionless, asexual face. Thus, Charon in her paintings symbolizes oblivion, the ontological trauma, and the human self-conscious (perhaps, all girls in her paintings may be these Charons living in the heart of all of us).

Furthermore, the Lethe is a river, that is, water. The artist transforms the water into amniotic fluid, into a fetus floating in its mother's womb. What on earth does it forget? Is there anything that the little being is to or should forget? Platon said that man is born from the ideal world of Ideas into the earth, according to which an unborn child is being deleting the memory in the ideal world (just as the soul who is born from this world into the next effaces the memory of the former). And Lacan argues that the world encountered by a new born baby for the first time in its life is the Imaginary - a self-sufficient, complete, and full world without concepts, distinctions and differences before the symbolic dominated by language and sign. Here, the baby is not forgetting something but living in a self-sufficing, perfect, brimming world without the memory for oblivion.

There are also other fetuses whose head irregularly tangled tubes are inserted into, as if injecting something. They illustrate the state of the regression of adults. What parts of them do regress and degrade? Their memory (wounds) regresses and degrades into the origin where it came from. The human conscious frequent forgets hurts but the body never does. Thus, this is the regression to look for and return to the archetype remembered by the body, where the artist finds the first repression (repressed memory) infused through the tiny tubes inserted into the baby's head. This means that in order to progress from the Imaginary to the Symbolic, it should abandon and repress the self-sufficient world of the former. The Imaginary that is suppressed and given up becomes trauma, steals into the stratum of the unconscious, and inscribed in the body. And in this very manner, the artist makes up with her own trauma in the process of encountering the archetype of her forgotten wounds, from the far side of oblivion.