Lee Seon-yeong (Art critic)
Kwon Kyung-yupĄŻs paintings feature young girls and boys that have smooth skin and no wrinkles, fine hairs, or even blemishes. The pearly refulgence setting their bodies aglow reveals they are in their biological heyday. When examining adolescents between the stages of secondary sexual characteristics and complete maturity, sometimes it is difficult to tell boys and girls apart. For instance, the character in her work [Adolescent] (2013) who has a short haircut features an air of androgyny. These snow-white characters look artificial, as though one of their layers was peeled off or an extra layer added on to them. The characters in her works are similar to ghosts; they are neither alive nor dead. Such phantasmal beings as ghosts, fairies, and monsters are frequently depicted as attractive characters in pop culture, perhaps most notably in cartoons and films. The characters in her works have pale skin and white hair. The unnatural colors of their sense organs such as eyes and lips are described realistically; the colors go missing rather than being converted to a single tone.
Like pearls or white porcelain, theirs is a fragile, sometimes wounded beauty. Here the melancholy of wilting flowers is found. KwonĄŻs paintings often possess a melancholy that is not blue, purple, or black, but white. Those that are losing colors and fading are even bandaged. The bandages which appear in most of her works do not neglect characters in uncertain situations. Those with faded colors are certainly wounded beings. KwonĄŻs portrait paintings portray naive angels with wounded pasts. They are patients suffering from severe physical or mental illnesses. As seen in her painting [in Lethe](2008) where a fetus and amniotic fluid is bandaged, their wounds are fateful and permanent. The patients are not otherwise in a state of abnormality; they show fundamental aspects of human beings. As one British poet said, ĄŽhuman beings are patients with incurable diseases.ĄŻ
Patients cannot help being passive as their homeostasis has been destroyed and they have to fight against heterogeneity, which has penetrated their bodies through weakened boundaries. As potential or actual patients, they cannot do anything and do not try. They only stare into the air. As Kwon said, they ĄŽlet time be time.ĄŻ If they ever do something during that time, it might be to look inwardly. Each of her work has a character in it. In the uncertain backgrounds, these characters hang between meditation and daydream. The subtitle of her solo exhibition in Italy ĄŽWhite ElegyĄŻ indicates the emotional status of characters that are all in tears, as though they are part of a sad song. However, the girl entwined by white hair in the painting [White Elegy](2013) looks different from before, when her eyes were brimming with tears; she now looks somewhat insensitive. The characters in her paintings grow subtly old along with their creator. At once they are realistic and imaginary; it is fair to say that they show aspects of fantastic realism.
KwonĄŻs characters are overlapped with the images of fictional characters that have been created by graphical technologies being developed every day. The shape of a snow crystal is delineated in her [Snow queen](2013) series, while more arousing colors such as black and red often contrast white in portraying femme fatales, as seen in [Love](2013) and [Red Moon](2013). They appeal to the public for their fascinating and proactive attractiveness. These icons were inspired by a long-time immersion in pop culture. While in elementary school, she used to spend entire nights writing and drawing cartoons of slender girls, a wicked women, or comical characters for her classmates. She made a cartoon book and passed it around, reading it in turns with friends. After studying the arts, remembering her adolescent fascination, she continued to draw portraits that are far from conventional.?
Pure and delicate characters with adolescent sensitivity, newly introspective and vaguely anxious about it, have been central to her paintings. Perhaps Cupid's arrows have wounded and brought them loss. Kwon seems to believe the use of the fact that painting is eventually phantom. Although her characters are spectral, a strong psychological reality remains. That is why it is fair to assume these characters are portraits of souls. These ambiguous beings are nobody but a sort of original shapes of something. They do have source references. If there is one character that constantly appears in her paintings, it could be Kwon or her alter ego. For the artist, the canvas is a mirror of phantoms, a vehicle for narcissism. One of the pieces featured in the exhibition depicts a mythical character that crosses the river of Oblivion, which was also found in her work [Charon] in 2007. This androgynous character is depicted as a portrait of herself looking down obliquely at the mirror to draw it.
On top of a psychoanalytical hypothesis that human beings are wounded from the moment they are born, it is clear to see a physical and psychological trace of her adolescence in her paintings. However, it is reborn as an illusion rather than a direct reality that sheds blood. She replenishes the absence and deficiency of a damaged body once complete in her imagination. People cannot repress anxiousness and a fear of atrophy once they face the process of growing and becoming old. There is always a trace of death or incompleteness in being alive. Youth is remembered, yet forgotten. Her painting series [Space of Memory] from 2008 to 2009 and [Oblivion] in 2010 featured a dialogue of memory and oblivion. Memory and oblivion in her work change according to seasons. For instance, oblivion is depicted as an image of winter. The character with a stiff look on the face is frozen under a cold basement. Kwon says peopleĄŻs memories are stored in the human body. There is a symptom called illusional pain. Memories fade as time passes but often are remembered as being beautiful, or even painless.
Youth is at last recognized after it is passed. Although there are emotional ups and downs of expressions in her paintings, Kwon established the current characters with very small changes in the early part of the new century. Considering she was in her early 30s, her youth would have been on the boundary between memory and oblivion. Memories are cultivated with time. The attributes of memories are expressed in the painting's. Memories become faint yet clear at some point by some ways. The clear sense organs such as eyes and lips on the blurred faces of the characters suggest to its viewers a relationship between memory and perception. Memory and perception have a similar relationship to that of time and space. The sense of a deep melancholy that dominates her work is fixed in time and separated in space. Time is fixed at a specific point rather than generally passing in her paintings, just like the characters with the white porcelain skin. The characters that look mellow yet robust gaze at eternity in a world of quiddity that is time-transgressive. Kwon tries to get back certain times, certain ages through her work. The characters in the lost time are depressed.
From a spatial view, depression is a result of separation. Bursting through from an intact world, which is called ĄŽbirthĄŻ, gives entities a primitive trauma. Separation is needed for their second birth during the period of adolescence for an individuation process, thus causing this sense of loss. The deepest source of the sense of loss is unfulfilled love. It is a love story that might be hidden in the title of her solo exhibition held in May 2010 ĄŽlast letter.ĄŻ The symbolic order and linguistic symbol acquired as part of being artist have become a motive for her to transpose the depression of beings to artwork and the object to overcome for her. The absence and sorrow of separation are depicted in her work through symbolic activities. However, the melancholy, when achieving a perfect expression, is no longer melancholy. That is why KwonĄŻs style, which does not show a big change, seems to pursue such emotions. As the world of atoms that is the basis of substances has the portion for an empty space, many parts that sustain a real world are fantasy. The portion for a real world in fantasy is the same. KwonĄŻs work, existing between hyperrealism and fantasy, is at the forefront of paintings approximated or inspired by a phantom. It completely hides the touch of brushes.?
Borrowing a phrase of Heinrich Wolfflin's, Kwon's paintings are linear rather than painterly. She also made sculptures that look as though they came out of her paintings. Her epicene language in which reality is reflected transparently grants certainty to these fantastic icons. No smiles or laughs are found in the characters in her gorgeous paintings. As shown in her subtitle of the exhibition ĄŽSad Song,ĄŻ her works are of a melancholy derived from physical and mental wounds. The depressing feeling deeply infiltrated in the delicate ego erodes the will to talk or act. This immobility effectively combines with vagueness. The girl with silver hair that emits an arcane mood transforms into the queen of snow and mythical being, Charon, who then crosses the river of oblivion. The denial of loss and the reality of death are trained by a hardness that will never spill a drop of blood. Bodies are fragile, and they are treated as though they are treasures.
However, the rosy and bloomy eyes and lips are gaped open toward the outside world. These apertures are able to destroy the self-defense boundaries. The instinct of defense aroused by external factors or the imagining of dangerous situations is depicted in her work as a state of torpor, insensibility or excessiveness; as seen in her painting [Sword](2013), wherein a girl holds a sword. Attacking is another way to express fear. A trace of an incident that brought a severe wound is clearly seen in the bandaged characters in her painting. The character in her work [Vanished](2013) is bandaged and one eye is teary. The chin and head of the character in her painting [Tearful eyes](2013) is bandaged and stares at the audience. As seen in [Space of Memory](2010) or [Space of Memory[(2011), some naked bodies are also bandaged. The deep shock filled in the bandage is the cause of agony that controls a pantomime. The bandage that wraps around immature or damaged bodies is unveiled by hiding the destruction and deficiency inherent in the main agent as texts that are interlaced.
Unlike the abject tendency of contemporary art that urges healing by unveiling everything frankly, this indirect unveiling in her work does not offer the audience catharsis. The bandage wrapped around the characters in various ways appears to suggest a permanent physical weakness rather give an impression that the wound will soon heal and the bandage removed. KwonĄŻs work has a visual persuasive power as though this status is normal. In her work, humans are portrayed as feeble, frail beings. Sometimes her paintings feature ordinary backgrounds; however, the characters are usually placed in an empty background. This enhances the loneliness the observer feels for them. It seems that no desire is found in the characters in her work that became senseless beyond depressed. If a desire must be found in a discolored reality, it is a desire for death. In her book [Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia], Julia Kristeva said that melancholia admits the object of beauty and agrees to live within the object, that its attachment is separated from it.
Kwon consolidates the trace of death in a beautiful body. The beauty of the body is a sort of technique and an imaginative thing. The tendency to proceed to melancholy exists in her work. The book [Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia] defines melancholy as a life that sometimes blazes yet is pressed by an empty, colorless depression; it can be a life one cannot live on ? in short, a desiccated life. Although life can sometimes radiate, depending on the amount of effort we put into it, it more regularly leans toward death. On the boundary of life and death, Kwon becomes a witness contending the meaninglessness of existence. She takes pride in unveiling irrationalities of human relationships and beings. The melancholy in her work is originated from the trauma caused by birth or the rebirth. What is worthy of notice is the relationship between trauma and phantom. Wounds are made due to desires and the cause of the desires are unknown; they cannot be sated and are delusional.
The immature characters in her work are somewhat sensuous. They are not just the result of abnormal desires. As discovered by Sigmund Freud, symptoms of desires are most certainly shown in childhood. Juan-David Nasio said that infantile sexuality is excessively extreme and always causes disasters in his book [Hysteria: The Splendid Child of Psychoanalysis]. Infantile sexuality is the home of unconsciousness where agony resides, because it always overflows against the limited physical and mental capacity of children. Infantile sexuality, the root of hysterical symptoms of the future, overflows because it is too big for the ego. Trauma and illness ensues. Human bodies are a hotbed of sexual desires, and the desires convey an idea or create a? subterfuge that unlimited absolute pleasures can be gratified. The violence of wounds ***???*** implies that things not sensed through consciousness are sensed through unconsciousness; it brings the overflow of sexual emotions.
Those wounds are no longer external incidences. As Freud later stressed, wounds are internal and violent distortion lurks in ego. The wounds that torture a child are not physical; they are indeed mental and make the child suffer also the psychological trace of the incident. Therefore, the incident results a mark on the surface of the childĄŻs ego. As the child bears the trace, the emotion often shows the childĄŻs ego an unbearable image. The origin of the hysteria is not the wound anymore; it is an illusion, in other word, phantasm. The phantasm created by melancholy or the hysterical and mental symptoms are more important than the symptoms themselves in KwonĄŻs work. What people get when pleasure and desire are seen in a context of phantasm, is anxiety. The anxiety that becomes phantasm fills characters existing in unsettling silence. However, it is deeply engraved in the sensitive perception organs such as the lips and eyes, embedded spotless skin with no hair or pore to be found.
The wound under the bandage is not a physical incident; it is a psychological incident filled with emotions. It is concentrated in the sensitive parts of the body. Juan-David Nasio stressed that though some say phantasm is the same as a wound, there is phantasm that is not a wound. The emotion caused by actual wounds is fear rather than anxiety. Unfortunately, Kwon actually experienced a physical incident that brought her physical pain. However, psychoanalysis argues that every wound whether physical or psychological is imperatively registered in the world of phantasm. The major cause of hysteria is attributed to the unconscious activities of the symbol. Although the content of the symbol does not conclude at the limited image of certain body parts, it develops according to a scenario of phantasm. The phantasm is performed as a scene from a short play. Characters in the play own a virtual body. In KwonĄŻs paintings in which she materialized human bodies in a hyperrealism way, a virtual anatomic structure is frequently found.
On this virtual body, the bandage affixed to it is like a secondary part of the skin, and plays its role to touch the body part related to the incident that caused the wound. According to Juan-David Nasio, hysteria, which is an illness caused by a symbol, becomes an image of unconsciousness. It is separated from the body (ego), sent to the body part related to the incident, and eventually carries a high level of sexual weight. In this context, KwonĄŻs paintings follow the route of occurrence of hysteria. As summarized in [Hysteria: The Splendid Child of Psychoanalysis], desires are aimed at pleasures and the pleasures give birth to phantasm. The phantasm contains anxiety and the anxiety transforms into agony. The psychological mark from wounds, the mark that gives pains to ego as it contains emotions, is the origin of hysteria. Psychological wounds are created due to a lack of love, yet the lack cannot be filled. This may be the identity of the unrecoverable wound that is deeply engraved in the work of Kwon Kyung-yup.