2016 Between Reality and Virtuality : Jeong Soyoun’s ‘Some Landscape’

Between Reality and Virtuality : Jeong Soyoun’s ‘Some Landscape’

Kim Young-ho
Art Critic & Prof. of Chung-ang University

Since she presented <Hallmark Project> at Tenri Gallery, New York in 2010, Jeong Soyoun has sticked to the medium, canvas painting. Since 1997 when she made a debut with ‘A House of a Doll,’ she had long been indulged in objects and video installations. Then, she returned to the canvas painting all of a sudden for some reason. Jeong Soyoun majored in painting at a college in Korea and flew to New York to study ‘Communication arts’, and then, returned home to study art further; she acquired a Ph. D. with her dissertation about ‘Art technology’. In this process, she may have become familiar with the virtual realism as well as the virtual reality derived from digital imaging, game engineering, computer graphics, and the like. Anyway, she seems to have found an expressability at another dimension where the canvas painting encompasses the digital media. Thereafter, she has fused digital technology and manual work for paintings, which has allowed her to walk on a new road, perpetually representing the real and virtual spaces.

Jeong Soyoun’s canvas painting unfolds a gap between reality and virtuality. An accidental union and unexpected cross-encounter between the two domains allows for recomposition of the method of appreciating the paintings as well as our visual sense. The images borrowed from not reality but photos or illustrated book comprise her canvas primarily. The examples are the card images of Hallmark Inc. in US featuring girls’ dreams and memories, and such character images as Mickey Mouse and Barbie Dolls. Furthermore, diverse images such as animal or plant images and architectural models are positioned on her canvas. The artist stores those images on her computer monitor to recompose them through a digital imaging work and then, move them carefully onto the canvas by hand painting. Those virtual image or the prototypes of her painting will be reproduced by her computer to be implanted onto her canvas; in short, she has introduced a dual borrowing method. In this process, the artist could make a new semantic map where reality and virtuality are in harmony. Then, she named such unfamiliar landscape series <Hallmark Project> and <Neverland>, respectively.

According to her work note, the <Hallmark Project> series “talk about dream and reality or inserted images and actuality”. On the other hand, She explains about the <Neverland> series; “they are about unrealistic forest of signs. They are another reality where both dreams and reality are disintegrated. They are a Black Hole existing between them.” As such, Jeong Soyoun’s painting works show us a world of another dimension encompassing the virtual landscapes where time and space are intermingled and mixed. Her world that looks uncertain, obscure and fugitive strains or discomforts audience’s visual senses, because it has been formed of heterogeneous things. Hence, the dual borrowing method adopted by the artist shows the concepts of both virtual reality and virtual realism. Jean Baudrillard’s book ‘Simulacres et Simulation’ published in 1981 and translated into Korean in 2001 provides for a ground to interpret Jeong’s works.

Jeong Soyoun requests the audience to read something invisible from her canvas painting. We need to pay attention to her statement that her <Hallmark Project> series disclose the vain and cruelty under the layer of our senses which wraps around the world of the fairy tales. On the other hand, her <Neverland> series that show animals and plants of diverse climate zones intermingled on a canvas contain her ironic statement about the world where they can hardly get along well with each other.

<Some Landscape> series that she shows at this exhibition reflect artist’s view of the world or her subjective view of the world, following her <Hallmark Project> and <Neverland> series. Those appearing in <Some Landscape> are desolate urban landscapes unfolded below a blue sky. The soft but intense lights pouring down between the clouds are depicted brilliantly but realistically, featuring the white city as a fantastic world. The urban buildings are as much white as the plaster sculpture, while hills or mountains that are depicted with the curved lines of a precise contour look artificial. In contrast to the sky depicted realistically, the buildings are depicted intentionally as artificial models. The result is that the two dimensions or reality and virtuality act onto the painting to make audience’s visual senses unfamiliar.

In ‘Some Landscape’ series, Jeong Soyoun divides the landscapes of architectural models into two categories. In case of first category, the artist configured images freely on her computer monitor before painting them on the canvas, not depending on any architectural model of a certain city. In case of the other category, however, the artist photographed the model of a certain region or ‘Anapji’ Garden in Gyeongju, a southeastern city of Korea, and then, implanted or drew it intact on the canvas. The former is a virtual landscape not existing anywhere in the world, while the latter is a pseudo landscape moulded from a prototype model of a certain region. In both cases, what the artist intended was to urge the audience to pay attention to the possibility of multi-layered interpretations for the world where reality and virtuality are interfaced. If the former is a question about the relation between the reality with no prototype and its model, the latter is a question about the relation between a real garden called Anapji and its model. As such, the artist applies the architectural models to guide the audience to a world where reality and virtuality are intermingled with each other. What we meet there is a world of an unfamiliar but familiar landscape that may be called virtual or pseudo landscape.

At this solo exhibition, Jeong Soyoun presents two more experimental works predicting her future works. One is a ‘Post-Neverland’ series containing the landscapes on the round canvas with its diameter as large as 120cm, and the other is <Tobias’ Cafe> borrowed from the German artist’s architectural spacial work. <Post-Neverland> series follow up her <Neverland> series presented at her previous solo exhibition. This round canvas work nicknamed ‘Crystal Ball’ contains the animal and plant images from her previous works as well as her new architectural model images. The images contained in the ‘Crystal Ball’ are objectified enough to draw audience attention like the images trapped in a magic crystal ball. The artist treated the surface with the crystal gloss varnish in order to improve the effects of the crystal ball, and thus, the space in the canvas guides us to a psychologically illusive arena beyond the optically illusive one.

<Tobias’ Cafe> depicts a space unfolded beyond the rectangular window punctured in the center of the canvas. This art work using ‘some camouflage patterns’ was borrowed in terms of insight from a part of the cafe in Venice that Tobias Rehberger designed; He is famous for the creative architectural spaces. In the spaces beyond the windows on the two canvases are positioned a huge labyrinth floating over the sky and a village landscape being unfolded below the hills. What Jeong Soyoun intended in this painting is said to be an exploration of the problem of inside and outside, namely the boundary between indoor and outdoor. According to artist’s work note, “this work draws outdoor into indoor only to blur the boundary between inside and outside, while combining the two to expand the space of our everyday life.” The image of the sky hung at the left edge of the window suggests that the two spaces are combined.

As reviewed above, Jeong Soyoun’s <Some Landscape> is a virtual landscape with no prototype or a pseudo one for a prototype. Therein, is positioned a virtual landscape represented as a real one as well as the landscapes resembling their real counterparts. <Some Landscape> series that reveal such complicated and confused spaces suggest artist’s another perspective into the landscape; it has long been artist’s motive of research. The artist accommodates the nature of the canvas painting as an art of illusion but raises a question again about the nature through the digital imaging. Meditating on such promised contradiction and ironical situation developing on her canvas is not different from meditating on the reality we face now.

According to Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacres never cover the truth. The truth covers the fact that nothing exists. Simulacres is true.” Jeong Soyoun’s canvas painting reflects the reality that the gap between virtuality and reality widens, while contradiction and irony are ubiquitous. I feel that in her painting work the world of ‘Nirvana’, the utopia of the Buddhism breathes. In the world of Nirvana, we could be freed from the shackle of our reality to be awakened of the real being. In other words, we may well be able to face the gap between virtuality and reality and thereby, let ourselves remain in the nature. It implies a free will, and finding such a free will in Jeong Soyoun’s art works sure will be significant and interesting. (Nov. 2016.)