Meditating Pillars

Leslie Zhao Chuan

Linger amidst these satin-wrapped pillars. Elusive thoughts about grandiosity, texture or bizarreness and unconscious fragments of someone’s personal experience are pruned and packed into these clean geometric bodies. The honesty of their form and colour forbids one from taking them too lightly. The surface of these pillars is made by crinkling and creasing silk; it is passion silenced, it is rings telling the age of a tree; the creases go inwards or outwards on different pillars, telling two sides of a story, or perhaps, something superfluous and fleeting.

Young-In Hong’s installation pieces of the ‘Curtain Period’ gradually shift from conceptual concerns to abstract philosophical musing.
Young-In Hong’s works before the ‘Curtain Period’ seemed more diversified, experimental and self-exploratory, exuding a sense of youthful exuberance and waywardness. In recent years she had contained the rich diversity in her works and replaced it with tenacity in a few areas, this is apparent since the beginning of the ‘Curtain Period’. In 2000, she exhibited her heavy and theatrical drapes in London (Degree Show, Goldsmiths College, London and Assembly Show, Whitechapel, London). In 2001, she exhibited ‘Detached House’ in the residence of the British Ambassador in Seoul and ‘The Curtain’ at Proof, an artist-run space in London. There, the theatrical elements of her curtain installation became subtle; the exhibition spaces were more private and her curtains began to look like house curtains. Her very early but discontinued training in music and concert performance explains her inevitable fascination with the stage and the form of artistic expression peculiar to the stage. I take this to be where the creative impetus of her curtain installations originates.

An understanding of her previous curtain installations may help us read her current works. As a residence artist in Taipei, she made ‘Two Pillars [On the Stage, Off the Stage]’ and exhibited it at Taipei Fine Art Museum. We were wondering ‘what’ was she making then. Looking back, that work was a retrospect on all her previous series of curtain installations. Then, we did not question the purpose of her curtains, whether they looked like metamorphosed theatrical curtains, house curtains or the dreamy curtains of her personal past experience with concert performance. Her work was in fact very realistic, a form of narrative, speaking her thoughts. Or rather, she was finding things to talk about for her curtains, those so-called ‘conceptual concerns’, highly personal and idiosyncratic interpretations about space, public and private, and their relationship.

In her move from Seoul to London and London back to Seoul, there was no better place than Taipei to sojourn at, be it in terms of geographical location or cultural environment. It was an ‘otherland’ closer to her motherland. It was very apparent in the work exhibited in Taipei, ‘Two Pillars [On the Stage, Off the Stage]’, that the narrative was reduced and a new sense of direction was emerging after her prolonged obsession with this series of work. In both of her major exhibitions this year, the curtains that she had meticulously sewed are used to wrap around pillars in geometric shapes; they have almost lost their form as ‘curtains’, becoming abstract and pure. I prefer to remove the surface and get to the core of the matter: Young-In’s new work seeks to dissolve the boundaries between herself and object through the repetitive and prolonged process of sewing; the quiet residue of her self-actualisation evokes meditative thoughts, and awakes in the viewer a sense of beauty through an outer sensuality and an inner rationality. The sewing and making of the fabric is where Young-In Hong’s passion lies. In fact she is walking out of the narrative about the stage, the materials and ideas about space, and is essentially purifying her relation with the object, merging herself and the object. These pillars, having returned to their basic essence, become full of possibilities and take a broad view on the way of life.

Here, I do not want to simply put Young-In Hong’s approach as traditionally and culturally Asian. I have interacted with Young-In and for me, those ‘curtains’ she did before Taipei are curtains. These objects are obviously from classical Western culture, whether consciously so or otherwise, they are essentially ‘western’ objects. Her education in London further affirms such interpretations. Any personal explanation is unable to eliminate our doubts. There are endless elements to draw from different types of stages; her unconscious identification with the curtain reinforces her work’s obvious identity and cultural heritage. Yet when her curtain shifts from being an identifiable object to narrate ideas to being a self-evolved presence, a purification process of merging person and object and a container of meditative thoughts, its identity changes. The inner spirit of her installation work inevitably points to some other traditions. What leads to this change and how will Young-In position herself in the future? It is early to tell now. For the real artist, the creative process is like the spring of life, it gushes endlessly.

As an observer of Young-In Hong’s art, I am compelled to repeat these basic words of concern: When an artwork gradually sinks into introspection, how should the artist keep her creative process fresh? And how to ensure that slightest path of communication with the viewers?

BY Leslie Zhao Chuan

The Pillars, Exhibition Catalogue
2002, Loop Gallery, Seoul.