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I look at my photographs in Certain People differently from others. I cannot see my photographs with desire in my mind and have fantasies about people in them. Eros of photographs, which identifies subject with surface, stops. What I feel is the gap between me and the image. My photograph that Robert Mapplethorpe took did not look like me. The gaze was made for the camera shot. That is a result of compromise that was made unstably between an effort to cooperate with my best friend and photographer and an endeavor to keep my dignity. I doubt that my work appears to be the photograph Mapplethorpe took. Or I doubt if this would look the same with my picture that he will take next time. – Certain Mapplethorpes, Where the stress fallsby Susan Sontag
There are harmless photographs that shock me inside. “Harmless” here does not mean that it would not offer inconvenience or tension. This harmless shock originates from Hyung-Geun Park’s preference for the rapture of images. Nietzsche said that art completes nature in a metaphysical way, which suggests that his work makes up nature in a sensual and aesthetic manner. His photographs are peculiar in that they are full of images that arouse and restrain emotions at the same time. His landscape is not involved in comfortable and calm images or strange or tense images. His work consists of images that can be interpreted from a neutral and transparent perspective.

As French Photographer Eugene Atget visited a same place regularly with a few year intervals and took pictures of same buildings from different angles, Hyung-Geun Park takes photographs in a place whenever he visits again and again for a long period of time. That is because photography is not about capturing a moment but about delaying time forever like an actress in Japanese traditional play, Noh, drags her long skirt. Perhaps for the artist, selecting a subject is not just discovery. Rather, it is an incidental event and a chance to encounter his old soul. Taking a photograph is to capture the momentum, not a moment. In this regard, the momentum implies ‘the everlasting or aged moment.’ In this exhibition, Hyung-Geun Park continues his soul-searching pilgrimage with steady passion and a spirit of adventure in pursuit of an existential and aesthetic pleasure.

His photographs offer an opportunity to recognize something new and astonishing out of common, trivial, old and incidental things like German Philosopher Walter Benjamin’s concept of “Profane Erleuchtung (Profane Illumination).” Besides, trance experience is closely involved, which appears to be in contrast to the former at a glance. A butterfly on a snowy branch, a peacock in an artificial lake, a paper castle in the snow-white environment and several moons over the ocean are the unusual combinations that can be seen in daily life. These groupings, however, are not a strange method for modern artists any more. Rather, they are frequently used these days.
Nonetheless, his pattern is not a mixture of active images but a combination of feeble and trivial images. In other words, he destructs the boundary between nature and culture by making the distinction between natural and man-made production blurred. But the artist did not seem to intend to produce the images on the edge outright. That is probably why his images are vague like a dream and transparent like a movie, which insinuates that the codes or components of images are buoyant without conveying any meaning. But those images appeal to us intensely like a film with clear images. The buoyant codes means that signs do not match with meanings – simply to put it as ‘meaningless’ or ‘irrecognizable.’ This also indicates the meanings that are not codified and a more possibility of perception.
In this regard, his works resemble surrealistic photographs that show a dream with an unsettled meaning or an unconscious world. That is a world beyond reality, an improbable world or a world with surreal images. The artist, like other surrealists, aims to turn reality into a magnetic field of dream and to sublimate it to poésie (poetry). 
It is impossible to create these unreal images without momentary absorption of time and space. This power puts his landscape series in the still secretive and meaninglessrange. Moreover, this can be explained by the concept – the momentum of “a gazing subject” that French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty elucidated, with Paul Cezanne’s remark in mind that the scenery in my painting reflects on itself inside me. Only this way does a landscape photograph go beyond the clichés, surfacing as a living creature with an unsubstantial body. 

Hyung-Geun Park has been undergoing a transformation in terms of artistic intention and style since he came back home from England. His previous works were vastly pictorial. In modern art, it is commonplace that photographers imitate painters and vice versa. In this respect, what his works are pictorial means a glut of images through tactile factors and colorful delight. This excess represents ‘punctum’ or an ontological and psychological tone. Likewise, his earlier works are interspersed with the images that are immersed in subjects – in other words, the Unity of Self and Object. The artist became a practical performer of a sort of ‘uniting with an object.’ Thus, he turns into a landscape, a forest and a pool. In turn, the scenery becomes sensuality, body and a layer of fetish. The landscape that he produced has finally served as an aberrant and compulsory pictorial photograph that completes the human shortcomings, beyond a scenery picture.
While his previous works were the images that directly evoke emotions, this series is a collection of images that slowly exclude feelings. In other words, his past photographs were synesthetical, visual, tactual and auditory means to appeal to emotions straightforwardly. By contrast, this series is more down-to-earth, cautious and ascetic. At the same time, it is less impressive, decorative and energetic. His previous works had narcissistic images that provoke empathy, whereas his recent photographs are intellectual, aloof, and thus thought-provoking. Contemplative art induces the audience to have a certain amount of control, so it is no less than an art that encourages people to delay instant satisfaction. 
While his past pictures delivered the images of excess by providing an eccentric spectacle or abundant spectacular views, his latest job was to put a priority to balance through internal factors such as spacing, carelessness and contemplation by offering more space and scarcity. Furthermore, in his older works symbolism and allegory were employed in order to add the sensual factor to nature and therefore to create man-made and artificial beauty. On the contrary, this time he seemed to generate images that appear to be devastating and dry, but simple and permanent, rather than to focus on sensual pleasure. Which of these images would bring in a more fantastic energy?

A man who is lying on the lawn on a snowy day in summer. A man who looks like a boy, holding a mobile made of small transparent fishbowls. A child-like man who is standing an artificial moon in broad daylight. A man who is facing bands of light beside deserted flowers. A man who is standing in snow with a bird cage in his hand. A man who is sitting alone next to a road. Actually men, not a man. A man is not enough. The men are the artist’s alter ego (the other I) – double gores.
His self-portraits make the audience feel anxious. Where does this strange and awkward feeling come from? His self-portraits are far from other conventional ones. These photographs appear that they would not tell about the artist at all. In addition, they are different because he does not stare at the lens in any pictures. It was set that people would not notice that all people in the photographs are actually one person – the artist himself. But the audience feel uneasy in front of the photographs, not because of these factors. The impression might come from that artist is a subject – a sort of “objet.” But that is not all. Probably he was so conscious about the camera and the communication between him and the camera took place superficially. In other words, the subject to take pictures transformed to the object itself. It appears that the unity of subject and object – gazing – did not happen. Is it an exaggeration to say that this carelessness and avoidance dilute his existential belief as an artist?
Nonetheless, his self-portrait looks like a well staged and framed screen in which possibility and contingency was ruled out completely. In contrast to his previous works, he turned his back on the camera (lens) instead of gazing in his recent portraits. Moreover, that a cable connects the photograph and the scene outside contributes to expanding the angles for the external scene. That the artist does not pursue a complete screen seems to have a strategic purpose to help notice more things.
Together with other objects, his portraits are to realize his own utopia, not simply representing the real world. For example, the artist communicates with nature by listening to the sound of the Earth. And he pursues the dialectic truth of emptying and filling with a mobile of fishbowls in his hand. Moreover, he dreams and yearns for an eternal world as seen in the photograph of a boy holding the artificial moon (light) in broad daylight. All of these show that his self-portrait series do not convey simple philosophical messages. That is, he is not only making utmost effort not to lose a sense for existence as an artist but expressing his longing for utopia and nostalgia for nature as a dreamer.
This is not to say that discomfort from his works was reduced to some extent. The artist might have intended to make his audience feel nervous from the existential perspective. The existence as an artist is like posing constant questions that do not or cannot have perfect answers – just like Sisyphus in Greek Mythology.

I sometimes feel strange that unnecessary beings are still floating around in his work. I was wondering what kind these photographs would be if these ornamental elements or episodes (not necessary components) were abandoned during whole time of my writing – whether such simple and refined images could represent any aspect of the authenticity of art that has been hidden so far. So I reflect on the comparison made by Susan Sontag. Jean Cocteau and Robert Bresson had common traits that both of them produced images in ‘Spiritual Style.’ Although Cocteau was a witty romanticist who was attracted by physical beauty, he always adorned himself with artificial frills. Bresson’s emotional quality was anti-romantic and solemn to move away from artificiality that helps keep and develop an extravagant pleasure – physical beauty. ('Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson', Against Interpretation)
Ultimately, if the way to reveal truth in artwork is escaping from concealment, then more things should be disclosed under the condition of cover-up. In this regard, Hyung-Geun Park’s recent artwork takes a monotonous form by excluding emotional elements and thus the response to objects was delayed. Even this could be a methodology to bring to light the truth that is based on strong aesthetical pleasure, but it is questionable if it is obvious in his works. Therefore, this exhibition mirrors his contradiction and confusion in the transitional stage. For now, any complacent compliment would not help him do his job. It would rather be right to say at this stage that you look forward to seeing his works in progress.

By Kyung Hee Yoo / Art Critic, Ph.D.


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