Homage to slowed time
The light is simmering, slows to a halt and then gets reignited. It is impressive to see the scene that the old chandeliers repeat lighting on and off, as if the remaining breath lingers on. In her solo exhibition Slow time in Quantum in 2019, Im Suniy presented A Rusty Word where the old-fashioned chandeliers are flickering, which once shone bright and splendidly decorating the interior of the middle-class house but are now out of style and outside the focus of attention while glimmering dimly.
This work has a different style unlike her landscape series that Im has long been devoted to. The landscape series, resulting from elaborately stacking up two-dimensional papers one by one, revealed her will to hold on to a certain 'image' through repetitive daily task, which has led to a single monument in the end. On the other hand, in this new installation work of the old chandeliers flickering as if breathing in and out, we can feel the eyes of looking at the things vanishing with the passage of time the way it is.
The chandeliers have been made manually through the artist's meticulous work by connecting the crystal pieces one at a time - as if reviving the useless object. The chandeliers, in different shapes, appear to be a main character on stage, unnoticed, once and for all - though they are not the shining star. The gradual, slow flickering of light, which appears to embrace the breath of existent beings as if life is still there but disappearing, demonstrates sorrowful beauty that feeble things in the hidden place emits.
Such a change in her work embraces the weight of life that the artist experienced during her break from work for the past few years. Im has begun taking a long perspective of observing the world surrounding her which is hard to be concluded in a completed state, away from her previous work method to finish up at the peak of the repetitive stacking work. The words affixed to rusty droplets for the chandeliers come from her father's notes, which appear to start an occasional conversation as if breathing slowly as light is flickering. You may go past these words if you do not pay attention. Thus they appear to recite monologues that are not conveyed to anybody. Im said that she intended to address the time of the elderly who get slower after having spent the days of youth full of energy through this work.
Despite this external change, her interest in 'time' has continued to serve as an important foundation for her work. In her Trembling eyes (2010) and Turning away eyes (2013) series, Im represented an image accumulated with the passage of by taking photographs of still life from multiple viewpoints at once, and she completed her landscape series through manual labor of stacking up two-dimensional layers one by one. Therefore, temporality can be considered as the important basis for her work. These works reveal the space of time in themselves based on the accumulation of time.
In her recent work 108 sides and 36 sights and another eye (2019), Im also presented 108 viewpoints as the title indicates, by putting together 36 triangular kaleidoscopes and thus embodying a pentagonal star. The sceneries in reality are reflected onto these kaleidoscopes, but they proliferate into numerous images as the mirrors reflect these sceneries each other. She presents multi-layered sights involving a flow of time through the chain of images that cannot end up with a single image. This can be seen as her intention to break free from a single viewpoint that makes it difficult to recognise the substance of reality as the way it is, beyond the limit of conventional perception.
Her determination to get hold of the true substance seems to play as a significant motive throughout her work. In particular, her three-dimensional landscape series, which resulted from stacking up the printed topographic map cuts, can be seen as a trial to go beyond the limits of perception through coded information. Despite its beginning from the contour lines – numeric values of nature, she fills in the missing layers in between objective data by converting data values into material reality through accumulated labor. Im reaches out to the substance of landscape that cannot be captured in the information system by building the image with her hands.
Like the title 'Towards the Ultimate' indicates, the energy accumulated through daily labor goes towards an ultimate point where it gets nobly purified at its zenith. Nonetheless, the substance of the mountain that Im desires to reach remains an unattainable ideal. The world, which cannot be embraced with the artificial information system or the language system, is nothing but an unreachable utopia. This is why Im's landscape, beginning from reality like a topographic map reflecting the actual geographical information, looks like conceptual landscape in traditional oriental paintings.
Meanwhile, unlike traditional landscape paintings, Im's landscape work series mirrors today's situation where nature is located far away from people living under the artificial mechanism and thus nature becomes ideal. There is a sense of deprivation and nostalgia, which is derived inevitably from naturalness (of their own) taxidermied by humans (as a natural being) in a digitalised society. This also serves as a starting point for her early works such as Shelter (2003) presenting cactuses made from cement, From island to island (2005) representing the natural pattern wallpaper, and Stay (2008) embodying butterflies on the mechanically embroidered plant-pattern fabric.
Likewise, through the process to reach the substance of reality which is unapproachable with conventional perception, Im has been striving to find her own position between reality and her ideal. She once called her landscape series as "irrational journey." In contrast to appreciating landscape in traditional oriental paintings, in her work we can see a result of the accumulation of constant labor over a period of time on the premise of the impossibility to reach. It can be said that her landscape series, resulting from daily manual labor, is a monument about time living between real life and ideals though it looks like an ideal conceptual landscape.
Im photographed the three-dimensional structure that she created by stacking up the two-dimensional papers, probably because the photograph is an effective medium to visualize a point existing between reality and ideals. In her Towards the Ultimate (2014) series, she captured the landscape that she created by piling up the manually cut paper pieces with the effect of a scene like glacier or utopia. In her recent work Utopia (2019) that she presented after a long break, her subject changed to portrait photography. This series, modeled after her father who is a retired military officer and a 80-year-old barber, is about time of the elderly like A Rusty Word series mentioned earlier.
In these new photographic works, Im captured the reality faced with by old people as it is. However, through a sense of separation coming from her father's faded military insignia in a worn-out tin case and a mark 'utopia' on the furniture of the old barbershop, she indicates that their ideals shone splendidly once but now are getting hazy and lost. The barber's nimble but wrinkled hands and her father's hand flipping through channels with a TV remote control show a sense of existence accumulated in layers at a different speed from what society demands, as well as life heavily weighed on them. This 'Utopia' series can serve as a metaphor for the present situation where our journey is headed for an utopia, and also a homage to the slowed time of the elderly far away from the trajectory of the social change, though there are a great deal of meanings accumulated but nobody pays attention.
'Utopia,' addressed by Im, introduces a journey to an ideal place that gives us the direction like the stars even though they are far away. In the previously mentioned 108 sides and 36 sights and another eye (2019), the structure with the kaleidoscopes combined like a star shows that the star is located within reality, not far off. It seems that she was eager to reach the substance - the ideals that cannot be captured with our cognitive system - by toiling everyday with the task of stacking of the papers, which may be already within this (shabby-looking) real world right now. The image resulted from the real reflections mirrored each other in the kaleidoscopes reveals the modest brilliance hidden in the time of the slow, unproductive and marginal life like the chandelier in A Rusty Word.
Lee Eunju (Independent curator, art historian)
Press release courtesy SPACE SO.