What Jinah Sohn attempts with the show “Blind Mind” is an altered representation of space, by exhibiting chairs in sculpture and paintings. Sohn's study of sculpture, which began in the United States in 2005, has been an experiment with the expression of the self. The artist, already recognized for chair paintings presented through a distinctive style, experiments with her own identity in space. In her most recent work shown in “Blind Mind”, the artist conducts an in-depth study of the themes 'self' and 'the other,' showing the complex beauty of two-dimensional painting and three-dimensional sculpture.
Above all with “Blind Mind”, Sohn describes the chair through sculpture, and attempts a shift in its plastic quality from virtual to real images. By involving both visual and tactile effects, the artist addresses issues of space and the expansion of the senses in a multilateral way. The ironic title "Blind Mind" is an invention by the artist, suggesting that our attitude of seeing something through the mind is more important than what is seen through our eyes. It also refers to the pursuit of spiritual value in art.
"Blind Mind" is also the title of the large installation in the exhibition. It displays modeling qualities different from sculpture usually stood on pedestals. It not only occupies the entirety of the gallery’s first floor space, it extends to the space on the second floor, and has something to do with the two-dimensional pieces on the third. With the work, such elements as site-specificity, spatiality, and plastic alteration are present. The work correlates with, and has the same quality with, the paintings on the wall. In particular, the chair - her trademark subject - appears diversely, and in a common shape. In the gallery spaces, it appeals to the viewer through a theme of 'self expression'.
As seen in the sketch conceived, the “Blind Mind” installation is composed of two
stainless pillars, which are chair leg-shaped, vertical structures, about six meters high. Each cold, gray-colored pillar symbolizes guards at the entrance to the world of beauty. Taking the motif and form of a chair, Sohn uses stainless steel, poly-coat, and wood as her main media. Such materials are outstanding in their ornamentation, while being simultaneously representative of the physical features of the postindustrial age. The pillars of the installation, reconstructed with parts of a chair, demonstrate the artist’s adherence to the self. She translates the chair in three-dimensional space into a 'mental landscape', as a real image, stating the chair without its function, in an expression of the feelings of a deconstructed self.
The main feature of the "Blind Mind" installation is an enormous structure propped up by the two slender stainless steel pillars linking the floor to the ceiling. It is made of crushed stainless steel plate, with dozens of tiny holes, hung from the ceiling. Although its upper part is completely different to the shape of a chair, it shows parts or fragments of a chair. Its reflecting part, mirror-like, is intended to reflect the self. Also, the effect of light and shade is generated by reflections and nearby lighting. Such reflections confirm the subject, and approach the essence of objects.
The vertical structure connected to the installation’s head is composed of stainless steel, transparent poly-coat, and wood. Due to the stem-like legs, it seems to be in a zero-gravity state, devoid of balance. With red beads spread on the floor, a variety of lights, and silhouette effects, the installation looks weird, like a mythical monster; an alien from outer space; the Tower of Babel; or a mollusk in the deep sea. Sohn stimulates the viewer's imagination by adding theatricality to this deliberately conceived installation.
Sohn employs this theatrical representation of space and illusion, as a symbol for an experimental manifestation of a multiple world, that considers cycles of destruction and renewal. Different from the paintings she has made for many years, the installation brings about a real structure and a real thing in three-dimensional space.
Other "Blind Mind" sculptures, large and small, plus paintings on the gallery wall, evoke both theatrical and fantastic feelings with their broad scale of diversity and light effects: "Big Chair", depicts a grotesque chair on the wall; "Face Space", with chairs arranged like human portraits, assumes the role of bringing "Blind Mind" to higher perfection. In the space where a two-dimensional giant encounters a three-dimensional giant, multi-colored transparent poly-coat frames appear as if to tell of a long narrative of the self. The frame-shaped "Face Space" is a sculptural work that raises the issue of identity and desire.
Linking the first to the second floor, this work also raises issues of space and perception. The form of a chair is presented in altered images and various implications. The chair, which is thought to be the personification of man, becomes an object, separated from its virtual image; a perceived phenomenon, revealing the human senses as they are. We think of the true nature of Sohn’s rendition of space, maximizing the world of our senses.
This world represented in Sohn’s recent artwork is succinct and simple. The artist highlights the essence of life and temperament, and not any existing cliché: it is obvious her senses are based on an artificial and not natural world. In her work pieces are square patterns, transparent poly-coat, varied forms and their changes, and intuitive perception. The combination of small parts of an object and space is consolidated at one point. Her presentation of space, designed to involve many senses, is acute and delicate. What's discovered in Sohn's work is an escape from visible worlds and an adherence to invisible senses. In her presentation of space, perceptual phenomenons are made prominent by such elements as transparent color, weird form, artificial light, silhouettes, and the tactile quality of the object. As a result, the main features of plastic experimentation and space presentation in the "Blind Mind" exhibition present as follows:
First, the self and the essence of an object are expressed concretely through the deconstruction of the chair. In other words, the true nature of the self and objects are explored in three-dimensional space by disintegrating, reassembling, and reconstructing the meanings of the chair.
Second, there is a conversion of order, logic, and reason in three dimensionality. Their being, away from two dimensionality, spreads freely. It is not disorder: it is expanded work, rather scientific and rational, deviating from chaos and confusion. This is an intellectual and simultaneously sensuous installation underlining visual pleasure.
Third, each independent form and structure in the exhibition is represented in an incorporative space. Even in an orderly square space, in her two-dimensional work, a congregative effect stands out and her rendition of space, accentuating site specificity, opens up new possibilities.
Fourth, her deconstructed chair raises the problem of true nature and the significance of fragmentation: The object is transformed, disrupted, and deconstructed, but each part forms a whole. In particular, it is noticeable that the formation of an enormous installation through the deconstruction of the chair is a comprehensive manifestation of the self.
As such, the "Blind Mind" exhibition shows a presentation of space underlining the spirit, going beyond optical quality. It means Sohn's new spatial work renders naturally, and the generation and circulation of things have spiritual depth, moving beyond a merely sensuous representation. Especially in her rendition of two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, new change occurs in its generation and circulation. Sohn's sculptures and paintings, in representational space, are not understood merely with the physical eye, but as spiritual in a mental landscape.
On display in the gallery on the second floor are small sculptures and newly created paintings. Chair paintings, recently metamorphosed, are exhibited on the third floor. A minor change is present in the luscious colors, glossy surfaces, and simplified chairs. Sohn's paintings began with her description of the court chairs in 18th century France.
Her chairs are distant from any realistic representation, in that they seem planar, decorative, and disregard perspective. They demonstrate the beauty of distinctive plastic qualities in accord with the checkered patterns, comparable to a chessboard. Quite shockingly, their simple, tidy expression stimulates our retina. With chairs represented in a personified form, the artist implies adherence and an isolation of the self. The chairs’ changing of the subject, form the simple motive for her paintings.
Describing the most critical element, motive, and theme, in her paintings, each chair appears diverse. They feel comfortable and cozy. Although their ostentatious forms occasionally symbolize vanity and masculinity, the artist says that she tries to express them with a neutral character. Each chair, and its mosaic-like squares of black and white, blur lines between real and virtual images. Sohn's painting is a psychological work in which the self is distinguished from the other in harmony with the chair's real image and its virtual one.
The chair, depicted in a plane, and not in a three-dimensional space, usually appears as a virtual image. This image repetitively emerges in her paintings, as a manifestation of the self. Playing a critical role, the chair is more than a mere motif. It is like a living creature with personality - an emotional entity. In her paintings, the self's emotional changes are expressed through the chair. It represents an inner world and has an extended space. In her works, it is a metaphor for solitude, isolation, and compassion, rather than comfort.
In a personified chair, the viewer can discover their self. As a spiritual being, the chair has a concrete shape. The checkered patterns of black and white on its back and bottom give Sohn’s paintings a feeling of dynamic optically. Their surfaces seem to expand and have a three-dimensional effect, without any dependence on scientific perspective. With these formative factors, stimulus to our retina maximal and psychological oppression and sensuous impetus grow stronger. The chair is to prove our self as a witness of our times.
In her paintings, square patterns are as important as the chair as a formative factor. They appear everywhere inside the chair and in its background, appearing like the checkered pattern of a chessboard. The baroque-style chair and the square patterns placed in the ample space of monochrome color are the most significant visual motifs in her paintings.
Sohn’s squares appear as independent visual landscapes, enhancing decorative effects with their repetition. The intersection of black and white squares she explains, suggest the relation of the self with the other. For the artist, these square icons implicate a severance of relations between the self and the other.
No narratives are visible in the repetition and ornamentation of each square pattern. What can be discovered is the self and a mental landscape. Each pattern seems to flow constantly, isolated, evoking a feeling of strangeness. That is why these repeated patterns are suggestive of an abstract self and the other.
What might make the viewer feel a sense of the unfamiliar, is the deformation of each square pattern. Each distorted square, covered entirely with a wide variety of colors, undulates. The metamorphosed squares, along with splendid hues, provoke a specific effect: full of brilliant lights, the square patterns seem dazzling; they bring about an enormous emotional effect. If her canvases were filled or arranged with nothing but these square patterns, without a rendition of distance, the emotional effect could in no way be obtained.
Background is one of the most critical formative factors, after the chair and square patterns. The background of the chair remains empty; or it is full of floral designs. Like a relief, the floral designs protrude slightly from the surface. As the backdrop of the chair, each floral design seems like those of wallpaper and appear to stand out in relief. The flower designs look like the patterns of squares, representing the self, unveiling the inward self.
The background of flamboyant flowers remains plain and static. And here, a fine line emerges that evokes a tense mood. It runs across the center of the canvas or between chairs to enliven each muted background. Different from chairs and square patterns, it looks unstable and irregular in its beginning and end. The artist says it is symbolic of the relationship with others in reality. In works where the self is critically significant, this fine line is an important element to bring a tense atmosphere.
The background of Sohn's recent work has a specially treated surface, like a coating, and glitters with light reflected from it. The light enhances the visibility of colors and transparency of the surface. The chair, square patterns, and brilliant colors look more conspicuous with this light. It helps maximize an optical effect with the dramatic representation of its backdrop. With this light, the background has a more intense, lavish visual effect.
The light effect and colorist quality of Sohn’s paintings are reminiscent of perceptual phenomena such as brightness and darkness, warmth and coldness, expansion and deflation, tension and relaxation. She explores the nature of the perceptual phenomena and simultaneously experiments with modified forms and colors. The hue blended with light mixes again in our retina and at the same time makes form look fresh. Sohn is in the pursuit of the unreal by metamorphosing her chairs, squares, and backgrounds with light. Deviating from the representation of nature, her perceptual, visual art recalls absolute beauty.
In conclusion, a visual manifestation and representation of space in Sohn’s recent sculptures and paintings unveils the self more clearly. They seek the absolute of beauty, revealing an artist's spiritual world. Her new attempt at installation aims to move beyond the limits of two-dimensional work. The sculptural and pictorial changes she undergoes in extended space appears to be genre-hopping. We applaud her tireless, strenuous efforts with great verve. In her mental landscape attaining a depth of 'self expression,' we take pleasure in relishing her fantasy of spatial, visual beauty. By You Jae-gil/Art Critic & Professor of Hongik University