The Closure and Disclosure of Visibility:
an Opaque Opening and the Transparency of That Closing

Yeran KIM

(Associate Professor, School of Communication, Kwangwoon University)

The creative world of Young-In Hong emerges from the collision of diverse and distractive impulses that refuse being seen, yet seduce seeing; fear to be seen, yet desire to see. There the impulses stand still. Then quiver. And then open a new creative moment. When these movements of hesitations and approaches are fused through repetition into a spatial form, we meet The Pillars. The pillars are traces of the past, living of the present, and dreaming of the future for diverse collisions that 'seeing' produces. Intertwined with each other, they stand stretching upward in splendour, anticipating the aesthetics of transparency as the one between disclosure and closure.

For those of us who come across Hong's The Pillars, the discourses of the art theorist Rosalind Krauss may add to the pleasures of ponderation and conversation on the work. Within the common understanding of 'visuality', it is assumed that anything visible must be fixed in a certain form. Against this supposition, Krauss doubts whether in actuality, every being is visually configured and conceptually understandable. She goes further to ask: does not visuality consist of the subject's desire for the invisible? In this context, Krauss analogizes visuality to an 'impulse to see'. Elements, such as non-existential existents that are visible and unseen, blocks whose form are not yet organized enough to be perceivable, or rhythms which are too dynamic to be fixed into one instance, are the threads and flows that actually make up the space of visuality. From this point of view, an act of seeing is essentially the process of struggle between the subject and space: whereas space exerts the structural force determining the possibility of existence and/or absence, the act of seeing is the subject's act of engagement, a plunge into the space, destroying the visual structure and demonstrating the energy of that destruction. The aesthetics of Hong's craftsmanship lies in the subject's persistent desire for coexistence with the other, which Krauss sees as intrinsic to human mentality. A 'ritual,' to borrow the word of the artist herself, the creative process of Hong has been that of dialogical sophistication between material existence and dynamic absence, towards the realization of her own impulse to make visible what has been unseen.

Why should an existent which is yet invisible be a problem? Perhaps because it is via the recognition of invisibility that our experiences of 'seeing' and 'being seen' become interactively meaningful (the artist's own words). Indeed, Hong has made a concerted effort to bring into visibility what is 'visible and unseen', which has been at work as the unique force fostering her creative world.
Characteristically, Hong's works produced in her twenties concentrated on the process in which the consciousness of non-existence comes into being through gaze and solidification. The everyday experience of seeing is limited by the fact that the subject and the object of visuality are necessarily separate from each other: this is inevitable, for the object must stay in the scope of the subject seeing. The object can never occupy the same position as the subject. Similarly, the subject cannot be positioned in his/her scope of seeing: he/she is the very point from which the scope of seeing starts. Consequently, the relationship between the subject and the object of visualization is inevitably based upon the relationship of separation and isolation from each other. In the time-space in which the distance between the subject and the object of visualization diminishes are Hong's works. It is also where scrutinization of 'the moment of pacificity, time of balance and the state of stability', and desire for coexistence are to be transformed into material modes. In Conscious of Sadness we see six cones in which a mixture of fallen leaves and gelatine is 'congealed': the leaves are, as part of nature, doomed to perishment.
The artist's impulse to see activates the fragility of the object, which is subject to contradictory values between memory of the past and loss of the future, into the 'process of solidification that involves the force of transformation'. Spatial opposition shifts into temporal continuity, lack of visuality into spatial coexistence and material extinction into the 'will to possession': thereby, the object comes to exist as a potency which is eternally open for the future.
In Hong's series on the night, The Night I and The Night II, regular polyhedrons are placed in the natural environment where the mountain and the sky meet in harmony. The existential principle of those polyhedrons is, like that of the fallen leaves in Conscious of Sadness, a potential of transformation, transformation towards non-existence. They are revealed at the spot of concentration, where light and darkness come across each other in the visual space. The artist claims that the internal darkness of the objects 'gradually' reveals their own doubleness in the dust when day and night meet, whence the objects 'slowly' begin to glow as they absorb darkness around them to 'eventually' realize their own beings (emphasis added).
The night here embodies the 'time in which the day of blueness becomes visualized'. Looking within, the night is the space of self-destructive darkness. Looking without, on the other hand, it is the formative space which visualizes the trajectory of time. The night makes communion with objects as a space that bestows visuality to others by its own absence. This dialogical aesthetics between the absent space and temporal potency continues to grow in the mediation of the night and to be 'finally' realized into the light of being.

It is with the series of curtains that Hong ventures beyond the states of gaze and solidification, challenging the spatial structure. Rather than induce the invisible into an existential form, her curtains aim to represent the very moment that the dual logics of existence and non-existence conjuncture and rupture.

The curtains will resist the spatial structure of existence and non-existence and the visual order of being seen and unseen, which have been presumed to be natural. The strategy of resistance, however, is not so much tempting the invisible into a realm of visibility (this would run the risk of being misunderstood as privileging 'existence' over 'absence') as revealing the radical contradiction of the binary opposition between existence and absence.

The existence of the curtain itself rejects the binarism ? the curtain assumes a 'there is' but it is, in actuality, an 'empty' space. It betrays the visual subject's ontological belief in his/her visual object. The curtain leads you to imagine a stage, and yet you can see nothing behind it. You are invited to step in and take the responsibility of creating a new visual space. Only when the physical engagement happens does the dialogical experience of spatial seeing/being seen begin.

In the space of associations beyond the divisional conditions of existence and non-existence and of visibility and loss, the artist too has a different position. Thus, the artist, who occupies the central position as the subject gazing at the fixed object in Conscious of Sadness or the Night series, 'falls' into the position of a potency dreaming of being seen in Falling into Shadows. 'Falling' here is ? similar to the night in the Night series ? a tendency of diminishing in which the artist as the gazing subject renounces the visual voice that she used to exercise exclusively. At the same time, it is a daring adventure towards the object. With this ambivalence, the space of 'falling' is so beautiful, melancholic and dazzling with the light of vitality.

Falling into Shadows creates a space where Hong's act of seeing and the object's instinctive state of being seen immediately coexist and collapse. It is her intention to show the opening itself, the opening of the space within the experience of coexistence of the subject and the object, rather than certain objects in a given space. Patterns of flowers or often of her own body are embroidered on the curtains. 'Drawing', as Hong calls it, realizes her immediate sensing and intuitive movement of embroidering at the brief moment of encounter between the artist, the object and the fabric.

As the artist's impulse to see becomes the object to be seen, both the subject and object falling together, it is then the viewer's turn to call into being the space of falling. The exhibition space is embodied through the viewer's bodies. The visual space of the stage finally comes into presence as the shadow of the viewer's gaze. Or into absence.

Hong's The Pillars represents what Krauss understands as a space where wills to see are planted upright. Reproductions of those in the galleries in Seoul, the pillars, like the curtains on the stage, create a visual space by interrupting the gaze. Just as curtains, though representative of the stage, must be removed from the sight of the viewer when the time comes, so pillars in the gallery, though necessary for preserving the exhibition space, must be out of sight from the viewers (so that they do not interfere with their viewing): they are given 'little or no voice'. This fundamentalist definition of objects which are visually isolated is challenged in The Pillars. It is a spatial desire that opens a new visual space where non-existence has life, through bringing their denied existence to the realm of visuality.

It may sound somehow incongruous to say that The Pillars is a spatial desire. How could the desire to destroy the natural order of existence and non-existence, of visibility and invisibility be given a specific form, if a form is assumed to be a body of existence and visibility, Krauss asks. She argues that by continually performing the acts of creation, destruction and re-creation of the order, the desires to see and to be seen could avoid being fixed in an oppressive form. Her argument would mean that with its dynamic rhythm, the impulse to see does not allow enough time for a certain form of oppressive structure to be settled. The vitality of The Pillars is fostered by the continuation of closure and disclosure that disturbs the secure and peaceful order of the visible being. The continuation is materialized in measuring the heights and widths of the original pillars in the galleries and transforming them into fabric structures. If this ritual escapes being a boring repetition fixing the form, it is because of the performer's physical limitations. The artist cannot represent what she sees and touches in exactly the same form, nor does she want to. Her continued performance involves an ironic potential that the physical limitations are transformed into kinetic elements in creating the space. The ontological limitations that the artist cannot keep the order of sameness intact are converted to work as kinetic energy, which continually creates the space where changes and differences are immediately generated. When the artist has the desire 'to see' from the impulse to destroy the order of existence and non-existence, rather than secure it, the artist's continued performance brings forth differences, her re-creation changes, and the fused experience of seeing and being seen freedom and pleasures of (non-)existence.

The Pillars is made of satin with a metallic silver lustre. Creased either in relief or in intaglio, each pillar has creases of a certain width and length, but no two pillars present the same pattern of creases: that is, a pillar is consistent by itself, but differentiated against the others. We cannot 'see' the actual size of the pillars: we can only go close and 'feel and touch' the elaborate creases, different shades of colours and harmony of fabric folded upon fabric to 'imagine' of the space potentially contained by these pillars. The space in The Pillars cannot be visibly defined. When we renounce the desire to know of a visible being, we awake to the unique space of The Pillars where the coherent order of existence and non-existence, of visibility and invisibility collapses. Penetrating with our gaze into the folds of the ritualistic time either in protrusion or in retreat ? into creases ? we embrace the (non-)existence of the invisible being.

In appearance, the pillars resemble curtains in Hong's previous works. The pillar is a curtain metamorphosed, so to speak; or rather, 'the pillar is no more a curtain'. They work on two radically different modes of spatial structuring. Hence, some interesting comparisons and contrasts may be made on the ambiguous visual spaces. The curtain creates an unfinished space whose facade opens and closes to its movements, while the pillar constructs a self-contained space completely enclosed by the joining of the fabrics. If the curtain has lively flexibility in which they may change at any moment, the pillar has solidity with its horizontal ends neatly joined and its vertical ends attached to the ceiling and the floor respectively. If the curtain expresses the weighty grace of velvet, the dazzling lustre of the pillar reflects the aesthetics of lightness all over its surface. The curtain is draped downwards in the silence of absence, in the richness of silence, and the pillar soars upwards in the fulfillment of existence, in the simplicity of fulfillment. It is, however, 'curtains' that we encounter, and not 'a curtain.' Concealing an empty space discretely, a pillar is a solitary being, sleek and closed: it is rupture, and isolation. However, the pillars are separated from and entwined with each other at the same time. As the sameness and the difference coexist in the form of the creases in the finished surface of each pillar, the contradiction of crevices and convergences bind the pillars. Thus, what the viewer and the pillars experience is not an arbitrary encounter, but a physical interaction of beings. The viewer does not stay away from the pillars: he/she moves closer to follow the paths among them. As the subject goes in between the pillars, he/she 'gradually' comes to be part of the object. The pillars and I penetrate each other. The space opens with suppleness. Come closer and feel the pillars. The beautiful blocks of soft textures and fine threads will move seductively to your fingers and motion and to the flow of the air. The visual concentration disperses physically, realizing the immediate experience of coexistence. Within the pillar was an empty space of non-existence. That absolute self-deficiency is now destroyed with the entry of the other, and the space 'finally' comes into existence.

Hong left the traces of her creative idea in the shaded, semi-visible space of the pillars, which is the creases. The artist tells us that the creases were shaped one by one by hand, after the pillars were planted in the exhibition space. It meant that the artist departed from the secure position of the subject seeing to join the unstable side of the desire to be seen: rather a risky choice. The artist's actions and movements are ambiguously (un)exposed to the viewer's desire to see and touch. In shaping creases, conceivably the last stage of the 'ritual', Hong perhaps wanted to create a space where the desire to see is expressed and crossed in multiple directions to be fragmented. Not as the subject presenting the object in a given space, but as an artist producing the spatial condition to enable the dialogical experience of seeing and being seen, Hong invites us to enter that space.

(The Pillars, Exhibition Catalogue 2002, Loop Gallery, Seoul)

Translated by Kwon Young Joo