Cross-section of Forms in Motion
Lee Sun Young (art critic)
Hanging obliquely in the air, seeming to cut the space into thin slices, the forms are casting shadows as protean as their shapes. The forms were created by cutting and pasting clay as flat and smooth as paper; their colors are dark, so that the boundary between them and their shadows seems to have been demolished. A net of shadows is cast in multiple layers within the exhibition venue, like an echo reverberating in the space, interacting with the shapes hanging from transparent wires as well as with the shadows of the viewers who enter. This work by Lim Jihyun goes against the gravitational stability of form that is likely expected of a piece fashioned out of clay and then fired. Through the complex forms of the pieces in which you cannot tell where the entry point is, capturing anything is impossible. Their curvilinear forms which surround extensive openwork notwithstanding, they couldn’t be light. Nonetheless, like ‘Smoke’ (2013), Lim Jihyun’s recent works best reveal their true character in the air rather than on the ground. In ‘Smoke’, several separate parts glom together into an ascending form as they are connected, appearing like a monster with many creases, twists, and holes.
The piece being shown in this exhibition seems to be a cross-section of such a form. Because the form is complex, the cross-section is also complex. Lim says that her work is something that could never be replicated with a 3D printer. As in the piece ‘Glomerate’ (2015), her works placed on floor are filled with potential, as though their future forms are folded inside them—like seeds, pears, or early-stage organisms. In her piece for this exhibition, Lim—who has been expressing the movement of nature rather than its outer cover—shows a structural cross-section that looks like a form whose motion has been cut off for an instant. It holds both a single moment and at the same time continuance. The continuance also occurs in the perception of the viewers who enter the space. Here, perception includes the experience of not only the gaze, but the whole body. The forms have been stopped for a moment, but like cross-sections of organs through which matter and energy have been coursing in and out in order to keep an organism alive, they are organic and structured. However, the fractured forms, including the shadows, are lacking a totality that can be taken in at a glance. Instead of an overall holistic order, there is uncertainty caused by the assemblage of fragments.
Life casts off its opaque envelope and exposes itself to the field of visibility. Between the cross-sections through which light and air pass, there is something like a secretion, emphasizing the impression of a biological life form rather than simply a mechanical structure. Just as we make cross-sections of life forms in order to observe them in more detail, the incision plane of a certain time and space is revealed. Rather than a form to contain something, or a subject placed within a certain scene, Lim's work is itself space; further, it changes the space to which it belongs. Reflecting various aspects of nature rather than just one side, the works are comprised of a combination of multiple units. Units which do not seem like units, interjoined this way and that, have expandability. In this exhibition, a space of emptiness is actively cultivated. Thus, the piece becomes a space, not a subject. For the artist, the clay itself is treated as a medium in the process of change. She believes that the physical properties of clay are “practicable when it is close to the lines, colors, and surfaces found in nature.”
The exhibited artworks have deft forms, closer to sculpture or painting than to ceramics. This piece, which shows strong curvilinear characteristics, can be described as lines drawn in space. From her undergraduate days, rather than making bowls and vessels, the artist used to make ceramic plates out of clay and make pictures on them; that kind of practice might have resulted in the painterly features of her work. The variation in color from one part to the next is also painterly. These subtle hues are the result of the traditional kiln technique known as gapbal (saggar) firing. During the saggar firing method, the clay is resting directly against some natural material. In the course of the firing, the natural substances leave behind colors and traces of themselves upon the clay. If you put these substances next to the clay, the combinations result in unique colors and textures. The artist uses natural vegetable-based materials as if they were paints, including bark, fruit seeds, rice hulls, seaweed, banana peels, and rice. Here, the clay and fire play a role in fusing multiple dimensions of nature. Nature, as a complex synthesis of many elements, features a lot of holes.
The complex inner cavities and hollows, not easily reproduced nor copied, create curves flowing in unpredictable directions, like a three-dimensional maze, and strange tangential sections. Inside a burrow-like hole there is another hole, and the pathways in the form split and divide endlessly. Where the forms begin and end is uncertain, as only endless continuance is shown. The shapes are created by blankness, and the interior is made by the outer skin. The pieces have no bottoms, and cannot be laid one on top of the other. In the sense that you couldn’t repeat the same shapes or colors even if you tried, Lim's works are strictly one-offs. This “one-time-only” element carries within it the notion of movement, like genesis or evolution that does not reproduce a certain species of organism. For Lim, the start of art is nature, and that nature is a living thing. Her complex, subtle colors not only use natural materials, but they also follow the way of nature. Just as an architect studies a beehive, the artist refers to nature for the most basic method to properly set up her artworks. This idea is classic. In The Idea of Nature (1945), R. G. Collingwood wrote that the ancient Greeks regarded the natural world as “a world of bodies in motion.”
According to the Greeks, motion itself was due to vitality or ‘soul’. For Aristotle, too, the natural world was a world of self-propelled things, that is, a world characterized by autonomous movement. Nature itself is process and growth; it is change. This process is evolution. The holes formed here and there inside Lim’s pieces are like channels for the endless flow of all creation. Of course, this kind of thinking about nature is not just for the classical age, but is also persuasive in these modern times dominated by information. Michel Serres argued that, like a living system, a system of communication also involves a sender as well as a receiver, mediated by multiple flows of energy and information. With its passages that twist this way and that, Lim's piece is itself a trace of movement, and it serves to structuralize that movement. Some pieces seem like traces of a molting process, like a skin that has been shed. The pieces of the artwork, hung obliquely along a diagonal line, give as much a sense of movement as the cross-sections of openings producing complex shadows. The artist fixes the flexible material of clay in as fluid a form as possible.
It ultimately results in a rigid solid, but implies fluidity. Her piece ‘Smoke’ is the zenith of this fluidity. Owing to the common code of fluidity, the smoke resembles an organism ascending in a turbulent rotating helix; the organism is like freely-moving elements. Just as in the circular relationship of solids, liquids and gases, there is a continuous and connected motility, like the Ouroboros, the symbolic snake that eats its own tail. In a world where quantity changes to quality and vice versa, the dogmatic paradigm that regards everything as separate becomes relativized. The installation pieces hanging aslant in the air show a topology created by flows of energy. As described by Serres in one of his Hermes series, energy draws a topological structure, makes pathways in the topology, and exists in the topology. In Lim’s work, natural forms exist in the form of energy. This bundle of energy is a code and a system. This is also true of the ceramics, which bring clay and natural materials into contact with fire. The artist focuses on fixing the dynamics of the process. The dynamicity and complexity of nature must make materiality visible, as if able to be touched. Like a whirling vortex in the air, ‘Smoke’ resembles complex turbulence.
When turbulence begins, disturbances increase exponentially. In Éclaircissements (Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time), Serres describes flames as initially rising smoothly, then after accelerating and passing critical velocity, they fragment into multiple crests and bifurcatations, becoming a rough, fluctuating vortex. In other words, he says that fluids have vortices, within which smaller vortices are created, and each of them creates a unique rhythm as they extinguish fluid energy. Lim's artwork is the morphology of this rhythm. What is shown by the metaphor of the vortex is not universalism, but rather, as Serres would have it, a philosophy of life based on pluralism and polymorphism. Nature is meeting art at a more fundamental level. Rather than a superficial representation of nature, the artist wants to find its principle of isomorphism. And she does not stay in this principle, but makes perpetual variations. The numerous folds and creases found in Lim's artworks are signs of such variations. In Le pli (The Fold), Gilles Deleuze wrote that “the labyrinth of continuity is not a line […], but is like a piece of fabric […] which divides into an infinite number of folds or disintegrates into curved movements.” According to him, straight lines are always mingled with curvature.
Deleuze also argues that there is a continuum of variation that turns fluctuations into folds and conveys folds or fluctuations infinitely. If “molding amounts to modulating in a definitive way; modulating is molding in a continuous and perpetually variable fashion” (Deleuze), then Lim's artwork can be regarded as modulation. This modulation is carried out more deftly in a pictorial manner, like a line drawn in space. It expands in every direction against gravity. This expansion shows the saltatory capacity that life has up until a certain moment (the expansion may die out when it reaches a certain critical point). Just as a pair of feet is more stable and can generate more speed on a moving bicycle, lines that escape from representation are stable only within movement that has a sense of speed. Lim says her works have no bottom. The bottom is not set from the beginning, but selected only later. With her artworks, the beginning is at the final point. Starting with the transformation from clay to ceramic, the transformation is a perpetual thing.(2016)