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Membrane - An Gyungsu Solo Exhibition - The Membrane in which Osmotic Pressure of Sensation Occurs

Sohyun, Ahn (Art Space Pool Director)

The "What"

“I am no longer curious on the "what” he is painting.” This is what the art critic Hyunju Kim wrote about An Gyungsu. This, of course, was written implying that the critic who had long observed the artist now knows very well what kind of choices the artist is going to make; however, it suddenly occurred to me it may also mean that it may be a line which best summarizes the characteristics of An’s paintings. The author had wrote, “I am no longer curious on the “what” he is painting”, instead of “I am no longer curious on what he is painting.” I found this expression to be the key hidden underneath the foot stones.

“What” does An paint? Of course, it is not very difficult to grasp the represented objects in his paintings. The stones, forest, trees, buildings, empty lots, etc. These places actually exist in reality and most of the titles are kindly named after the objects. The artist even goes as far as bringing the painting back into the place in which it had become the object of the painting, take a picture, and show it to us(Clearing, 2015). Hence the viewers were to speculate whether there is any special meaning on the other side of his representation, he himself brings and puts the objects in front of our eyes through language and photographs. Why, then, had An painted such things? Because the everyday is special? Is it to praise on the humble things? Is it sympathy for the old? If you detect such tedious warmth from An’s eyes, you are too optimistic. The gloomy concrete buildings over the bush which looks as though rust would stain(Supermarket, 2016) and the neon ornaments of the flowerbed covered with garbage(Eve, 2016) are depressing to the extent that they seem like landscapes of fin-de-siècle or ruins. However, when looking at the artist’s dry interest on forms, which can be seen in Pink Compass(2015) or Filled Hole(2015), it seems that to tie his many art works into the emotion of melancholy is an over-simplification. Then, why has An chosen such scenes?

Let us ask the question in a different way. Would it be possible to call that which An is painting the “what”? The conventional eye usually cuts out objects from the background, and we call the cut-out “what” the “individual”. We easily understand the individual as a matter enclosed within a frame of a certain form and that the world is constituted as these individuals are listed and they meet one another. However, at the place in which An’s eyes had stopped, it is not the individuals that come into our eyes first. In Clearing(2015), the point making the biggest visual difference is none other than the line that crosses obliquely across the painting and the part where the smooth plane and the rough weeds divide based on that line. With this limit line in the middle, both sides possess different intensities. There shows to have differences in the amounts in all: evenness, artificiality, and firmness. As these differences experience certain actions (for instance, the action which the seed of weed squeezes into a gap and grow) for a certain amount of time, they then become clear. Therefore, if I were to go back on describing the process of which this landscape had entered into An’s eyes, as time flows, due to the repetition of a certain action the difference becomes clear, which becomes the limit, and due to the limit, he then has come to pay attention to the individual and its environment. Consequently, landscape was not constituted as an impressive individual to begin with, but rather, as the landscape came into An’s eyes, it is then that the individual has started to stand out. This is when the individual finally becomes an individual within the relationship with the environment based on the limit. Properly speaking, this is not called an “individual” but an “individuation”. There has to be a yellow in order to become a black line(Black Line, 2015), and the existence of grass is revealed by having distinction with darkness(Grass Night, 2015). With the limit in between, this side and the other side possess a difference in status, and when they obtain individuality through their opponent, in biology, the penetrable limit is not called the limit but the membrane.

The Various Coordinates of the Membrane

When the artist said he had decided to call the title of the exhibition “Membrane”, I was very surprised and pleased by the appropriateness, and I hardly felt the need to explain the ideal implications in concept to the artist. It is because the membrane in An’s paintings already unfold along the various axis of coordinates; the artist perceives the properties of the membrane sensitively more than any other biological, philosophical and aesthetic explanations, and he had been reading the membrane from various perspectives.

First, he perceives all of his paintings as membranes formed by endlessly transmitting his own senses to parts of certain landscapes. This is best shown in the photographs of which he had taken after bringing the paintings back to the relevant places after he had painted them.

The process of becoming a part of the landscape after going back to the landscape which had been a painting pays attention on the place. Eyes do not stay inside the painting itself but expands to the place, shaking the place. Becoming a part of the landscape and be placed temporarily by becoming an incongruous layer, yet not adding any meaning beyond it, is, although it may be fragmentary, a small attempt which tries to maintain the relationship between the two in its entirety.
-From the artist’s notes

At the beginning, I had shown my concern on the photographs which An had taken that they could be misread as a beginner’s agony on the genre of the so-called photography and painting or be mistaken for being something of which the artist shows off his own skills of representation. In fact, there were cases where people doubted that An’s paintings focus on ‘painterly techniques’. However, as it can be read in the artist’s notes, he is not conscious of the photographic media but it seems that he was searching for the simplest method that can show the relationship between the original landscape and his canvas. Although his paintings resemble parts of the landscape, they possess those which had been extracted from the landscape by creating consistent osmotic pressure of senses only, or the opposite, which is, although they are absent in the original landscape, they possess certain elements added by the artist himself(typically the paints which he had splattered on the paintings). With the so-called “canvas” membrane in between, there is a temporary difference in status between this side’s experience on his paintings and the landscape of other side. Like all painters, An is also, as he must do so, concerned with the question on what is painting in this era overflowing with visual representational media. However, rather than agonizing on media pushing away painting, he seems to be merely focusing on the relationship of his paintings with the world. Even though all of his works are each single membranes, characteristics of the paintings as such membranes are well shown in the scenes that are up-close as seen in Steep GroundV(2015) or Column 2(2015).

Another membrane which An detects can be shown where two heterogeneous spaces are adjoined within the canvas. The artist frequently paints scenes where spaces of two different senses meet. Besides Black Line or Grass Night, mentioned earlier, in the series of paintings related to “airstrip”, there appear membranes in between spaces. If we recall the time when an airplane drops its altitude, there is a moment which the mottled-looking ground suddenly divides into the airstrip and its surrounding(Airstrip 2, 2015). If you look at the airstrip landscape unfolding beyond the airplane window when the landing airplane runs above the ground at a rapid speed, it seems as though two smooth planes are coming together, having the membrane as the limit, and then, as the airplane slows down, the difference in texture starts to get bigger(Airstrip 1, 2015). Even when the red circle marks, which are marked on the airstrip so as to become the indicator of landing, look as though they would pop out from their surrounding environment(Pink Compass, 2015), the membrane as the limit stands out. This applies to the smooth pillar, iron bar, broken cement plate, the hole, etc., placed in the middle of the barren background(Iron Bar, Iron Pillar, Broken Stones, Ramrod Hole, and Filled Hole(all works of 2015)). The membranes here are not always smooth. The limits are, at times, rugged, and appear and disappear in temporary lines.

Another instance which An pays attention to the membrane is the circumstance which numerous membranes are piled up in layers on top of the canvases. These multiple membranes were especially visible in the recent paintings which had been finished in 2016. In Rooftop(2016) and Supermarket(2016), membranes formed of bushes or trees are overlapped with the membrane of buildings, and the coarse membrane of Curtain, made up of electric wires gathered together, lies on top of the construction curtain membrane and the building membrane (which we cannot tell how much it has been completed) hidden behind it. In Eve, the membrane of light created by miniature light bulbs of five cardinal colors, the membrane formed with entangled branches, the membrane of a road, and even the membrane made up of garbage overlap each other. What is interesting is that these membranes are not always distinguishable from one another in terms of space. There are times when you cannot even read the coordinates as they are recklessly jumbled up in space. An enables these membranes, occurred by creating a visual osmotic pressure, “to be seen”, separately. Such membranes are best shown in Still-life(2016) where all sorts of garbage and junk, which seem to have accumulated after being drifted in, are tangled up. As we stand in front of this image where we just cannot separate in terms of space, we face the membranes with holes all over them, which had been extracted with colors and textures only.

Sometimes, there appear the various membranes mentioned above all at once, White Ones(2015) being the most representative case. There is an ambiguous membrane that divides the top and the bottom of the painting and above the dark part of the painting at the top, there is something white floating about. As always, to ask “what” that thing is is not important, and here the force that goes beyond, pushing through the membrane, is, again, the vision. Eyes actively cross to and fro the vector, extracting the membranes.

The Various Coordinates of the Membrane

As I observe the artist frightfully clinging onto painting in a persistent and sincere way, I feel sorry and pity that I have not possessed the critical competence that can locate his paintings at even a corner of the big question: What is painting, today? However, as I have mentioned above, An seems to be concentrating on the relationship of his own senses and the world, and does not seem to care one bit as to where his paintings should be located within the history of painting. Moreover, because of this attitude of his, we can at last sense “what” painting is. Unlike other media that had survived, denying the last movements of art one by one, painting survived by its own, distinguishing itself from the world. If we were to see it this way, could the reason why this old media survived the hectic era of media explosion be because it had not solidified into the ‘individual’ that protects itself with hard shells, but accepted the temporary, fluid and loose regulations that have constantly been empowered and proceeded to ‘individualize’ that differentiates itself from the environment? An’s paintings may be functioning as a part of a cell membrane that quietly yet busily filters and extracts the senses during the individuation process of the so-called media, “painting”, which maintains life on its own. And, I believe that the osmotic pressure of his senses is filtering the nutrients for the survival of painting.