Find your shadow to survive
By Sawako Fukai
Korean artist Ina Jang was born in Seoul and studied in Tokyo and New York. She is based in New York when not traveling and working around the world as a photographer. Her unique artworks, with photography as the main medium, have been shown in major international exhibitions, festivals and museums. Her works often explore the contemporary uncertainty of female identity in this complicated time. As seen in Utopia (2017) and Mrs.Dalloway (2017), the collaged female figures that appear in her works have their faces often hidden in the sophisticated composition of shapes and distinctive color palettes. Her latest work Radiator Theatre, builds on a similar theme with "staged" abstract shapes in the resemblance of female figures: round bodies, ribbons, masks, legs, and heels.
Radiator Theatre, as the name implies, was created from a small set made by the artist on top of the radiator in her modest apartment in New York. Each of the abstract figures are imperfectly hand-cut, hand-colored, and suggest narratives of their own. They would float listlessly against the background, if not for the shadows created by the sun that shines through the apartment's window. Their dark shadows root the figures to the ground, creating a sense of space and a new language for relationships between moments in the photographs.
Our own shadows have become ever elusive in a rapidly changing world where we have developed the ability to use multiple languages everyday. In explaining and describing Radiator Theatre, Jang refers to the idea of "language" and the work more specifically as "a range of wordplays, rhymes, misinterpretations, exaggerations, and lies through lyrical shapes and colors." In our daily lives, language has its complicated nature as well; we're fluent in different ways of speaking and ways of being in different spaces, in online corners or in the physical world. Our individual linguistic atlas is larger and also more digital than ever. We are learning how to ride this digital ocean, while feeling slowly washed away by its uncertainty. In the digital world, we are flattened into a two-dimensional existence, and our body's very own shadow, a sort of proof of existence, is slipping away. This new insecurity is a perception we have to live with now. How can we keep ourselves attached to the ground in this liquid digital world?
In Radiator Theatre, we find a response to such a complex question in the whimsical humanity created by brush strokes, colors, and hand-cut shapes as a result of Jang's vigorous act of making her own small theatre sets. Each piece required Jang to shoot while following the sun's transitions in the room during the day's progression, and she responded to the sun's path by physically crouching or lying on the floor, back aching and forehead sweating. Such literal physical combinations push back against the fact that every single grain of a photograph can be made digitally in the present-day. It is a reflection and a resistance towards the digital environment that we live in. Her work shows a graceful choreography of imaginative shapes and their traces, and utters quietly but powerfully, "We are still here."
In this contemporary world where the definition of survival has changed completely, Jang's work tells us how essential it is to play and speak with our own language. Unlike Peter Pan, we don't have our Wendy to reattach our shadows to us, so in an attempt to survive, we need to find our own language in order to establish one. As a way of navigating the chaotic contemporary world, we need to put our phones down, get on the stage of our little theatre, and gracefully dance under the sun with our own shadows.
Press release courtesy Jason Shin.