Barakat Seoul is proud to host The Absence of Paterfamilias, a duo exhibition of works by Cho Moon-Ki and Alex Verhaest. Though strangely similar, these two artists at the same time use entirely different media to shed a new light on the meaning of the family as a source of human conflict. Explorations of verbal and non-verbal violence and of the impossibility of dialogue, they together form intriguing variations on a theme.
In this exhibition, it is possible to contrast the two artists' dissimilar methodologies as they approach portraits of the family that may be most truthful though strange. Using painting and interactive film, respectively, in the disparate culture spheres of South Korea and Belgium, these creators nevertheless are very similar in that they question the myth of the family and borrow symbolism from sacred paintings to explicate it. They both speak of contemporaries' anxiety stemming from contradictions in the social system, with the family, the smallest unit of society, as the topic. Through this, the violence and severed communication rampant in the closest human relationships manifest themselves as negative emotions and situations such as conflict, anger, derision, and bewilderment.
Verhaest's work, Temps Mort/Idle Times is based on a script that concretely depicts the circumstances immediately after the tragic event of a paterfamilias' suicide. It consists of: The Dinner, which is a group portrait of a family including Angelo, the storyteller; Character Studies, which is a series of five individual portraits of members of this family; and five Table Props, which are still lifes. Thus constructed, Temps Mort/Idle Times sensitively captures the emotional agitation of the figures and reflects moments at which surviving family members are discomfited, unable to assume appropriate attitudes. Through a series of works from individual portraits to a family portrait, then to still lifes that are allegories of these figures' inner worlds, the artist tenaciously delves into complex human psychology.
Cho's works sensitively portray the ambiguous feelings of love/hate among family members. Depicting a fight over the inheritance at a funeral held to mourn a paterfamilias' death, The House of Mourning raises the cynical idea that unconditional love among family members may only be a simple illusion. In Cho's works, violence is simultaneously something exercised by a world that forces an individual to live as a member of a collective sharing a particular ideology and individuals' reactionary resistance against a world of depersonalization. The artist's pictorial techniques imbue the personages in his works with a ponderous, rocklike presence in contrast to Verhaest's characters. Possessing solid textures, these figures are beings who have come to embody insensitivity to violence. Personages who have been homogenized and only retain their materiality create the quietude characteristic of Cho's works. Replacing with them religious figures signifying love and miracles, the artist's works are like jeers at the forced ideology of familial love. Thus classical and contemporary at once, the two artists' works prompt viewers to ponder on the family, a monolithic ideology, while adopting the authoritative forms of religious paintings. Just as they show that the system of the family, which exterminates subjects, is a continuously circulating existence, these creators' works return, in the end, not to portraits of individuals but to bizarre portraits of the family. Cho's figures, who are entangled cheek by jowl even though they wield violence, and Verhaest's figures, who maintain objective distance among themselves even though they are together, almost seem to wish and long for one another. Just as the rigid iconography of classical holy paintings are revived in contemporary artists' works and continue the connection in The Absence of Paterfamilias, the exhibition implies that the desire to be united with others through communication and the desire to remain an independent subject constitute conflict that goes on beyond time. Is communication, which is impossible even among family members, or people who resemble one another the most and are the closest, at all possible to begin with? To what extent can we and others understand one another and become close? Yearning for independence as individuals in the wake of the disintegration of the family yet once again trapped in a single framework in the name of the family, figures in the two artists' works seem to ask what kinds of answers we may be able to find to the repeated conflict over boundaries between the self and others.
Press release courtesy Barakat Contemporary.