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Individual’s dreams and despair inside a structure

Jungi Gim [Art critic]

Gyung-su An, who has been drawing ‘The Once Little Prince,’ the problematic character drawn to derive the structural difficulty of the society through an individual who wears a plaster cast that imbeds the wound while at the same time guarding the wound, shows off a new work that shows that character in a new kind of environment. The once little prince is a cast-wearing, mature, inexperienced boy that has a future. The cast that appears in his work is like a trauma, an external mental wound that cannot be shaken off. It is an indispensable structural device, that, even though he wants to take it off, must be worn as a part of his body to protect his wound because without it, the wound would be exposed. The cast that shelters his body, arms, and legs has turned into the body itself from an structural device outside the body. Through the inversion phenomenon, in which a body’s outer structural device replaces the body, he acknowledges as one entity the outer something that infiltrates a human being’s interior. He extends the body to the structure of the society. The once little prince that appeared in the earlier work, a person with a cast stuck to his body, is a character that shows the traces of the structure carved into an individual. The character of the new work appears in a situation, a playroom, set up by the author from a more comprehensive viewpoint.

In his latest work, Gyung-su An shows the individual’s shape in a structure in a more descriptive situational set-up. The individuals that he speaks of are beings with disabilities. Disabilities here include not only physical disabilities but structural disabilities also. Physical disability and disabilities, like mental disabilities, that are mediated through an individual’s bodily structure, are not just one person’s problem, but have amplified implications as a social disability. This problematic character set-up starts by talking about an individual’s lackings. It also contains a certain cruel pessimism about a meaningless, worthless, empty life. He does not try to hide this pessimistic worldview. He does not stop at looking into a person’s interior but describes with an pessimistic and dreamy attitude the social structure that ties up an individual. This does not mean that he is trying to reveal the society’s image. Rather, he merely draws the structural shadow that covers each individual. He means to see the structure of the society that is carved in individual’s body. He wants to see the structure through the body. In other words, he talks of the society by painting the individual. To be successful with this strategy, he does not see the reality as a fragmentary and momentary array of events, but as a very systematic structure.

The series of objects and scene set-ups that appear extensively in the new work speak of the approach for such a structure. ‘Playroom: Gloomy Objects,’ the voluminous work drawn by attaching four huge panels, is a surrealistic world of dreams and phantasms that has characters and objects in a line. The once little prince that appears in this picture is maintained as a polite character. This is very different from the background and the objects for setup. The run of ink, the delicacy of small characters, and the repetition of soft lines combine to form a distinct contrast of the character with his surroundings. This picture drawn on laminated paper has at the same time a very exquisite depiction of a character and broad divisions outside it. This use of color-field composed with primary colors is a striking change from An’s previous works. It is a distinct contrast from the private exhibition that only drew character portraits with plaster casts. His earlier works are mostly composed of gentle curves with the thin coloring of Indian ink. The background was either omitted or merely a support that expanded the characters. In contrast, his latest works are attempting an active description through space composition.

The problem with this picture is the situation logic suggested by the setup of characters and objects that occupy the space. The background, which is divided in large chunks, is composed of the floor, walls, and sharp spaces behind them. The walls of red color acts as the dominant color that determines the color of the entire picture. He finishes the coloring of these background colors with some taping work to be a very distinct division of space. As the title ‘Playroom’ shows, the space set up by the artist is filled with play things and toys like the roller coaster. Between the long pipe that hangs from the left to the right appear the plaster casts, which appeared in the previous ‘Once Little Prince’ works, as independent objects. The bear dolls scattered on the floor are mixed with lumps of the casts that used to cover necks and hands. There is a sewer with a lattice on the floor, and the fake window on the wall that does not let any light in suggests interruption of understanding. Here and there are things like the palm of a hand and primitive organic matters.

The characters positioned in the middle of the surrealistic arrangement of these objects are all staring into the empty space with sunken eyes. This character wearing the space suit is the once little prince, the imaginary character recreated by Gyung-su An. This character wearing the space suit with the plain glass on his face is a weak individual that has forfeited himself, imprisoned in a structure. This is the individual as monad, the smallest unit that cannot be divided any further. There is no networking for an isolated individual. He cannot communicate with his exterior no matter how hard he tries. He appears as a weak individual that longs to communicate with the exterior, which is possible only by an infinite, absolute being’s power. It is here that shows why An’s picture is pessimistic. He does not speak of hope. He viciously pains despair. Showing the end of the despair is not his work. To go one step further, his picture that shows the individual’s despair in a structure is extremely ideological. He makes visible his world view about individual and society. Through his iconic setup of space and situation, he thoroughly compresses into a world of ideas the image of oneself, one’s surroundings, and our societal structure. The world of ideas that he has created is pessimistic, dreamy, and at the same time deeply drowned in the despair of exclusion and severance.

However, the interior of Gyung-su An who draws these very gloomy objects has, past the despair, a very optimistic aim ultimately. An artist’s heart may not appear directly in his work. In this case, we must acknowledge the detachment between the artist and his work. There are two ways to explain this. One is to interpret it as the artist’s strategy, and the other is to see it as merely a difference between the intention and the result. In my opinion, An chooses the former. It is because he very elaborately takes a structural approach when dealing with individual and society. ‘Playroom-flying,’ which deals with structure of pleasure, reveals clearly An’s strategic choice. This picture, which has on its left and right a few play toys of animal shapes with springs, has in its middle the once little prince seated on a seat that protects from the speed and danger of the play things. Play things provide temporary pleasure, but it is merely a structural pleasure operated by the system. This implies concealed and disguised exclusion and severance. The once little prince that gets on the ‘tool that provides artificial excitement’ reveals how our lives are laid in a structured space like a play thing that systematically provides pleasure.

There is a picture in which just a character appears without a particular situational setup. It is the once little prince wearing a space suit. On his head, he has a hose connected to somewhere for communicating with the outside. But the naked characters around him still suggest a situation in which communication is not possible. Even in the situation where two once little princes appear, the hose connected to each other’s head implies a communication limited to the monads, rather than a communication with the outside. The characters around the play thing that has an elephant on its hips are dynamic bodies that seek to search and grope in the sense of changing one’s direction. The appearance of the nude characters that show various forms of movement, distinct from the standardized character expression of the once little prince, foreshadows a certain kind of change. On his work note, there are sculptures of the once little prince descending in parachute and plaster casts descending in parachute. Through an esquisse like this, he is investigating the mass submission to the orders of the system and his, their, and our existences who are compelled to sacrifice themselves.

His workroom is in a basement located on a residential street of Ilsan. Working in this space of what he calls ‘secluded underground life,’ he is building very private ideas of the world. The once little prince in his picture partly resembles the artist of early thirties. He started to draw because he liked drawing, and from his twenties has been living in the world as a painter subject. He teaches painting during the day and works on his paintings during the night. He spends the whole night filling his canvas with shapes, colors, compositions, and narrations. To him, painting is the sole outlet for expressing himself. After all, isn’t a work of art a conversation with oneself before it is a communication with the outside? It looks like that for now, Gyung-su An will be elaborating on the pessimistic ideas of the world. I believe that will be true for the time being. I think it will be helpful to him to see the end of the despair. The reality is not permitting him to bring into his work the dynamics of the life outside his workroom. Therefore he will, for the time being, probably be digging into his interior deeply based on the ideological understanding of the world. Let’s not talk about such boring sayings like ‘bringing out hope by talking about despair.’ If there is an end to despair, he will see the reality once again. He, who says that ‘system maintains security and order in human being’s life,’ knows that already. He knows that at the end of ideas there exists grim reality once again. What is left for him is the process of reaching the end of that despair.