SoYoun Jeong : Between Fact and Fiction
SoYoun Jeong is a contemporary artist educated both in Korea and New York. She is currently a doctoral candidate in image engineering at Chungang University in Seoul; her art often concerns images realized with a digital video camera and edited on the computer. Yet, at the same time, she incorporates nature into her intricate projects: in one work, live flowers exist in conjunction with video projections, while in another, a one-channel video installation with four flat LCD monitors, an image of the moon is shown to move in geometrical arcs and lines. The speed of the moon as it travels results in interesting, seemingly mathematical patterns in the piece. Yet its distinctly limited trajectories concern a natural imagery that exists in dialogue with the programs defining its movement. The incorporation of technologies-mostly low tech in nature–remains useful to the artist; but Jeong’s aims lie more in the direction of a merger between the imagined and the analytic. The tension between the two categories of thought do not clash so much as build upon each other, enabling Jeong to present her audience with works of startling vision.
Jeong has titled her show “Art Almighty,” imbuing her exhibition with a cosmic, if not necessarily pious, outlook. The proposals made by her work bring up interesting ideas, in which her predilection for an interface between nature and culture establishes mergers that feel highly contemporary. As the title of her show implies, her creativity’s insight takes part in a language that is larger than life. Art alone cannot establish the kind of reach Jeong’s work possesses; there must be as well a consciousness of nature’s position as an example independent of and corrective to an overly estheticized point of view. This outlook extends to the artist’s methods: Jeong looks to computer programs to help her edit images that belong to natural cosmology. But what seems first like a contrast between technology and the world turns out to be a unity in which differing points of view are subsumed within the province of art. Jeong’s grand claim addresses her audience through the power of the imagination, which may be invoked by an outlook that is technical as well as cultured. As the programming for images has become more and more subtle, and more easily available, its use results in work that not only reflects the growing sophistication of technology, but also the inspired impulses of the imagination. Additionally, making videos or film has been democratized-the technology is available to everyone. Jeong’s art, then, is achieved by skills common to anyone who makes a movie with a video camera and edits the film with a computer.
The question whether art can be strengthened by technology seems a bit beside the point, for we already have artists such as Bill Viola and Gary Hill, who create stunning video works that connect nature and culture in brilliant fashion. Jeong works in a similar way: nature is imaged by low-tech procedures that emphasize an intuitive esthetic intelligence. In fact, it is interesting to see that two of three recent pieces by Jeong incorporate nature into a realm outlined by technology. It would seem, then, that the artist herself has deliberately mixed categories of expressiveness, so that her work is at once old and new. It appears to me that Jeong’s resourcefulness as an artist stems impressively from her willingness to work with several kinds of media at once; in the installation entitled Uncanny Garden, she incorporates flowers-bits of genuine nature?into schemes that at first seem dominated by video images-pictures mediated by technological processes. At first glance, it seems as though Jeong is contrasting different kinds of communication.
But in Jeong’s art, nature acts as a bridge to a spiritual unity that tends to exist primarily as experience or in the imagination. It is a primal origin of metaphor, so that we cannot conceive of a lived coherence without it. Jeong presents a visual imagery meant to transcend the means responsible for making it. Nature is referred to in no uncertain terms. In Uncanny Garden, her projection of video images onto two connected walls collapses the length of an entire day into an experience lasting only three and a half minutes. The real flowers inject reality into a fleeting demonstration of extended time; Jeong will make no attempt to care for the flowers for the duration of the exhibition, saving the remaining, surviving blooms for transplanting into the backyard of a friend from Brooklyn. As she comments, “I was wondering how plants would survive a change between artificial circumstances and the internally set clock of nature.” But while Jeong is interested in seeing whether the plants would live in an artificially lit environment, she also gives us the experience of an entire day compressed into a duration of less than four minutes, in which the light of the sun plays a major role. The conflict between artifice and reality is expressed as a screen projecting the sun’s illumination and an actual garden; however, the final experience is that of survival and transformation: those flowers that continue to exist are planted again in an outdoor field. The experiment is successful in that the process of life continues, even if damage has been done.
Crazy Moon, Jeong’s experimental single-channel video installation with four monitors, shows a moon dancing in a line or arc that defines itself in relation to the center created by the monitors’ display. For this work, Jeong shot a full moon at night and then edited the image with the software program Final Cut Pro. To create the dancing image, Jeong herself danced with the camera while shooting the moon. It is easy to think of the moon as an overwhelmingly romantic image, in Asian painting as well as Western art; the experience of Jeong’s moon links it to these traditions of painting, despite the fact it is a video work. The moon on its travels creates many kinds of shapes, the result of its flight across the screen. The monitors approximate the sky, although in a thoroughly non-natural manner. Again we find the ideas of being and seeming beautifully implied in Jeong’s imagination; she attempts on a regular basis to join the poetic to the electronic. Both conditions delineate a shared reality, in which technology exists to transform the artwork whose image is based upon nature. Jeong speaks to our increasing dependence on digital electronics, which artificially influence?even to an extent control–our environment.
In a third piece, Vice Versa, Jeong dizzyingly shifts from digital print to painting and back again. In two small double images, she begins by taking a photo that she then digitizes by scanning into the computer. Then she paints by hand over the print taken from the photo, at which point she scans the painting, printing the newly scanned image. The results are nearly indistinguishable from each other, although Jeong frames the images so that they are not oriented in the same direction. The pictures themselves, striking abstractions composed of massed colors, are beautiful in their own right, but the complexity of their origins lends them a conceptual acuity that is very much of our time. Compared with Western painters, Asian artists are sometimes freer in the custom of making copies; the notion of individual creativity is subsumed within a general, less rigid ideal of originality. Jeong creates images that critique the notion that a work of art is exceptional, irreproducible. As an idea, this postmodern concept sees the copy as equal to the content of the original, a position illustrated by Jeong’s art. In her final pictures we see a digital image of an analogue image painted on a photo that has been scanned-an image of an image of an image that is so subtle that any version of it can hardly be told apart from its progenitor. The work more than suggests-indeed, it embodies?the concept that all art takes part in mimicry; and that it does not matter whether the source of mimicry is artificial or genuine: everything is spurious in terms of its beginnings.
For some of us, Jeong’s literal and metaphysical machinations may appear a bit biased toward a reality based upon technical novelty. But it is more correct to say that Jeong uses the computer as an earlier artist might use a palette-it is a tool for expression, not an end in itself. It is to Jeong’s credit that we do not experience her work as a technical triumph, but rather as a representation in which what is shown and the way it is shown are one and the same. Jeong articulates a language which is not reductive but which, instead, synthesizes a union between that which is artificial and that which is genuine. We expect to be alienated from the artificial, yet that does not happen in Jeong’s art; rather, she finds a point in common in seemingly opposed categories of knowledge. (This is usually the aim of any good artist, but in Jeong’s case the methodologies have been divorced from their visual consequences.) Jeong thus brings us closer to the contemporary world, in which the line between our technology and ourselves seems fainter by the day. She looks to the future, combining means of expression that are not dialectically opposed but instead mutually supportive. Thus, she seeks to ally our search for knowledge with our passion for experience, helping us in our endeavor to make sense of the world. Her videos comprise a vision enhanced by nature rather than a view enhanced by technical processes. She is truer to tradition, to the older method of painting, than we might think.
Jonathan Goodman is an art writer who specializes in contemporary Asian art. He has written reviews and articles for Art in America, Sculpture, and Yishu. He is currently teaching at Pratt Institute and the Parsons School of Design in New York City.