Another function of a studio or an exhibition
Kim Jung-hyun (art critic)
Jihyun Lim's solo exhibition "Image Transition" started in the beginning of the new year, a time memorable for its heavy snowfall. While "Reproduced Glacier" (2020), one of the works in the exhibition, evokes snow as a natural phenomenon, the exhibition as a whole was more in harmony with the outside landscape, especially regarding the "laborious effort" of reaching the exhibition venue in such weather conditions. All three works were the result of incredibly painstaking labor using ceramics, panels, and photography, and the contrasting but collaborative relationship of the laborious effort and images stands out as the theme of this exhibition.
Focusing on contemporary sculpture and installation with ceramics as one of the core materials, the artist starts from persistent experimentation with clay—the basic material of ceramic arts—and other materials. While working to fashion the materials into abstract or concrete forms, the artist also raises questions concerning the manipulation of the materials that constitute the forms and our perceptions of them. "Image Transition", which is the subtitle or English title of this exhibition, clarifies the subject of the exhibition even more clearly. Beyond the central concept of her previous works, “creating forms that do not fight clay’s physical properties,” the artist raises awareness of the dematerialized transformations that occur in the process of creating and viewing a work. Rather than assigning "natural" though non-conventional forms to the properties of the materials, the artist deploys "images" that are conventionally perceived as natural, albeit sometimes unnatural, and again evokes perceived senses.
"Collection: Image Objects of Laminated Wood" (2021) and "Collection: Image Objects of Marble" (2021) are works that imitate the perceived images of laminated wood and marble, using wood panels and ceramic respectively. Commonly used as architectural materials, laminated wood and marble are often found in daily living spaces. In fact, such widespread use has led to mass reproduction of inferior versions, namely printed materials bearing wood and marble "patterns," widely used on account of their cost performance. As a result, with the senses being thrown into confusion when it comes to distinguishing between a given material and its image, at a certain point the image overwhelms the presence of the original object, and the sensory distinction between the original and its replica becomes meaningless. In "Collection: Image Objects of Laminated Wood", sheets of laminated wood are layered, cut, and bent through hand-crafting, then the material is fashioned into the form of its original source, a natural tree. Nevertheless, the work’s aim is not to declare that what is natural should be labeled as nature. Coalescing with what it stands on—the laminated wood-based steps that form an architectural element of the exhibition space—that artificial manipulation of wood is contrasted with the work that has reshaped the material through an artificial process (wood fashioned into the shape of a tree), which serves to create a sense of distance from nature as something natural. The incongruity of using wood to fashion leaves, instead of a trunk or branches, also contributes to this striking contrast. Of course, manipulating laminated wood is incomparably trickier than using vinyl laminate bearing a printed wood pattern. However, that labor is not in the purview of the viewers. They merely stroll around the space, occasionally capturing images with their smartphones.
To view "Collection: Image Objects of Marble", which is arranged on the floor like machinery parts or architectural materials or sometimes mounted on the wall, viewers must watch their step as they move carefully between the objects. Unlike marble with its attributes of aesthetic beauty and strength, ceramic objects are fragile. The fact that the objects display the patterns of marble does not alter the properties of the material. The ceramics standing in for marble are much more malleable, and the sculptural units formed into wavy shapes, small and narrow arches, and rods and brackets resembling machinery parts have been casually scattered on the floor like so many industrial materials. While the patterns of real marble occur naturally, the marble textures on the ceramic objects have been formed artificially. Natural marble patterns arise through chemical interactions between heterogeneous substances, while on these ceramic objects, it is layers of clay of diverse colors that form marble-like patterns. Then the ceramic objects imitating "the image of marble" are not simply inferior imitations of the original, like sheets printed with marble patterns. As such, while the original and the imitation clearly relate to each other, the condition of "resemblance" is often immune from any hierarchical order. The artist's concern is obviously not in giving normative and aesthetic judgments of the economic transformation of consumer tastes for laminated wood or marble, but in transferring the medium and observing how our senses and perceptions change accordingly. How differently would we perceive real marble, versus printed sheets of marble patterns, versus ceramics that imitate marble patterns? Which one is closer to the ceramic sculpture with marble patterns: real marble or printed sheets? Would there be any change if a picture of the ceramic sculpture with marble patterns is added into the mix? Far from making a determination, these questions reveal the difficulties in making such judgments. Within the chain of complex sense oscillating between object and image, we would only estimate the method and the attitude of the question of art as anchored with the physical object standing in the physical space.
Through six "photography-objects", the artist directly displays the transition into image or the transition of image. I call them photography-objects instead of just photographs, since most of the works, except for "Naked Eye" (2021), have been finished with mixed objects such as tracing paper or stained glass. For example, "Fine-scaled" #1 and #2 are based on photographs of foam, cracks, and greenish amorphous areas. Including some vague shapes, the irregular outlines resembling trunks of trees or smoke are covered with complex and sharply cut tracing paper. The transparent glass frames that serve to press down the flyaway tracing paper are then replaced by pieces of ash gray and bluish stained glass in "Quick-Slow-Spontaneous Selection Tool" #1 and #2, with so-called color fields adding another layer to the photographs’ backgrounds. Compared to the handcraft process of ceramic and wood materials, the use of pictures and stained glass may seem mechanical, but it is not.
The intricately hand-cut tracing paper is the first thing visible, but it is not the most remarkable process, according to the artist's statement. The series of photographic images are not virtual images built from digital tools nor images of ready-made products, but close-up images through a micro-lens from the ceramic relief exclusively made by the artist for this project. Moreover, a whole plant was used for pigmentation, being cut, washed, dried, and placed on a screen to capture the hues and textures derived from the clay and plant matter reacting to the heat of the kiln. The effectively condensed final product of this full-fledged material experiment in the ceramic medium does not represent a work in itself. A small fraction of the large surface constructed through this process labor has been photographed, then adjusted through digital or analog means before being presented as a work of art. A photograph may overrepresent or underrepresent its subject, but there can’t be many cases where the surplus wastage between subject and photograph is maximized like this project.
What’s more, the whole story behind the material reality and the physical processes of that subject-work is regrettably far from being revealed in the exhibition. While in his 1979 essay “The Function of the Studio,” French conceptual artist Daniel Buren wrote that “it is … only in the studio that the work may be said to belong,” Lim does not even claim that the original ceramic subjects of the photography, which might remain at her studio, are the only genuine form of the work without distortion. To the artist, the gallery might be the first space where the art piece fully belongs. That integral wholeness does not arise from its originality or the environmental context of the space where the work originally belonged, but from the conversion of the medium from relief to photography, along with their separation or another single revelation of this from the concealment of one of them. In addition, that transition from physical subject to intangible image is not restricted to a few specific works of the artist, but occurs more actively in the behavior of viewers. Rather than being immersed in the works before them, they pass them by from the vantage point of someone taking a walk, sticking out their smartphone cameras as if preparing to take another look later on. Such reproduced images of the exhibition and works create a microtrend in the overwhelming visual culture of social media, which increasingly seems to threaten to erode the materiality and physicality of visual art. Nevertheless, there is still no sign of a defensive and judgmental view, analyzing the phenomenon of the image transition in contrast to fuller physical appreciation of an art piece.
Since the photography-objects have been placed like a bridge between "Image Objects series" and the exhibition-goers' smartphone galleries, the space of the artwork is extended beyond the studio and exhibition space. The artist does not even deny such extension of the work into the individual viewers' smartphone images taken from the exhibition space, which also serves as a photography studio for the visitors; she seems to accept it as an element of the conceptual movement of the work. A studio, an art gallery, and the viewers' smartphone galleries—it is impossible to say which is the space where the work truly belongs. We would only observe the fact that this "additional function" of an art exhibition drives the ideas and senses of the "Image Transition" of the artist, who aims to look for "movement to another sensory perception, like observing images or materials outside of a ‘screen’, not perceiving them within restricted conditions."