Fragmented existences of contemporary people

Fragmented existences of contemporary people

Somi Sim

Kim Hyoung-jin’s paintings are characterized by geometrically divided canvas screens of human figures. The figures are comprised of and conglomerations of various geometric shapes yet still depict the everyday individuals in random postures: a person reading a newspaper on the train, sipping coffee in a café or applying make-up. They all have different poses yet resonate a similar ambience; they are all deeply immersed in something, yet they emit a somewhat solitary sense of loneliness.

In his works, people gaze within or beyond the canvas, with a tinge of isolation immanent in every individual. The characters do not interchange gazes and are only indulging in their own world, similar to the contemporary flaneur who is isolated even while situated with others. Confronted with a surge of spectacles in the contemporary era, one is isolated as an individual and regards and accepts this as a part of the contemporary life. The withdrawn feeling of an individual, even when placed amongst people or with others, is now so common, and many regard this as universal and normal.

Kim’s works focus on painting’s figurative aspects rather than focusing on narrative perspective. Kim’s emphasis on figurative approach protrudes actual existence and presence of an individual placed in the world. Those numerously different, geometrically devised shapes comprise a human figure yet still divide the screen canvas. Geometrical composition and fragmented human figures are now very familiar from the art history context, and we could easily regard and define his works with the now very familiar –ism.

However, Kim’s subject matter is unique; people leading their mundane lives, i.e. placed in existential situations. Kim adopted this figurative method as a metaphor for further delving into his own unique theme which will be discussed below.

Before going into the formal aspects of his works, we will have to point out his use of uncommon material. His major motif is brown-ish geometrical shapes; they are all individually unique and share a similar ambience, giving a holistic feeling to the canvas. However, to our surprise, the material he uses is instant coffee, i.e. paper is permeated with coffee. He meticulously controls the density of charcoal and coffee, obtaining delicate and subdued colors and can even portray melancholy and rough textures. Along with the emotional subtleties of colors, interestingly, the material he uses, instant coffee itself, oscillates the feeling of contemporariness.

To the average person today, instant coffee is reminiscent of busy urban life, yet coffee also endows some sort of relaxing moment. Likewise, coffee has this dubious character; arousing inner instability and connoting an obsessive mentality. Yet it embraces and consoles such obsession or addiction. From Kim’s screen, the color tones of coffee allow us to penetrate the inner landscape of the figure portrayed, and the gaze toward the canvas is transformed into a gaze onto ourselves, the viewers.

The emotional landscapes of modern people are more dramatized with his figurative lexicon along with the material and subject matter. Kim’s first solo exhibition, ‘Illogical Tangram’ (2009), first clearly declared the geometrical figurative method that he adopted. This motif is based on China’s traditional Tangram play method in which 7 different fragments make up one set, yet it is possible to come up with 1600 or more different and new designs.

Despite of the formal restrictions on Tangrams, Kim traverses various formalities and seeks variations in this method with his works, cleverly playing with the artistic potential of this technique. Kim formalized all those borders and equivocal restrictions given to contemporary people then recomposed them. Such a formal aspect allows the viewer to ponder on the artist’s self-reflection as the artist himself is living in this contemporary world as an individual. Prejudices and restrictions, regardless of one’s desire, clothe the individual, and they are fragmented to small pieces then become the controlling, dominating and dividing factors of forms.

Those overpowering social frames are divided and expressed as lines and facets, and they are relevant to worldly and earthly prejudices, bigotries and prying eyes that dominate individuals and set down boundaries. Kim deconstructs and dismantles such fixed overpowering forms that are acting as shackles for the individual. Kim creates human figures by combining such deconstructed geometrical shapes, and they reflect insecure inner mentality, exposing normally hidden existential agonies.

Kim’s second exhibition, “Invisible Anxiety,” further accentuated the existential substance of human beings as shown in his first solo exhibition while rooted in Kim’s figurative method. The subtitle for this exhibition was ‘Invisible Anxieties’ and ‘Paradoxical Expectations’ with an aim to further scrutinize existential situations of human beings as placed or driven to the extreme or restrictions.

The term ‘Paradoxical Expectations’ was created to refer to the two-fold status of humans who long for communication with others alongside the private fear of such encounters. Kim uses the word, paradox to connote this fear for such longing. Human beings lead insecure lives overshadowed by obscure anxieties, yet still maintain high expectations for the hope of tomorrow, even feeling helpless and powerless with the fear for the absurd reality.

Such contradictory situations are easily spotted in Kim’s recent works, with changed formalities. Compared to his previous works that divide human figures with lines, recent works show geometrical shapes that segment yet compose human figures. The human figure is made up of numerous fragments, like some puzzles, ready to be deconstructed. The inner sentiments and landscapes are created upon/in-between those fissions and re-creations, alluding to insecurities and expectations of an individual while still maintaining tension.

This exhibition shows Kim’s attempts to unfold his own comments on others and social relationships whilst embracing previous mentioned existential issues. For example, only one of his works, , features two people, unlike other works that show one solitary person. We can see two business men confronting each other. We can sense the psychological tensions of these two profit-seeking business-men who are about to shake hands after a deal. The hand-shaking moment is fragmented yet reveals the upcoming relationship of these two. This discloses the paradoxical character of relationships which claims harmonical co-existence yet still retains the aggressive confrontation of individuals when facing others.

The fragments produced from the relationship of these two emit and embody the influences of these indivisible tensions and binding forces of two people. The psychological spaces unveiled with the cleverly designed architectural corner on the canvas further theatrically dramatize the whole scene.

The lighting projects a meticulously calculated canvas frame. This lighting effect thoroughly isolates the human figure on the canvas from the real world, theatrically directing one’s feeling of existential dilemma. The carefully designed artificial and overtly excessive lighting exposes the character’s dark side and desire to meditate in silence. The absolute solitude and insecure mentality give rise to oscillations of to those fragments, and reveal one’s psychological fitness, reminding us of the extreme fear for human existence. From this, one may obtain courage to face one’s fears from the vanity of life, like some absurd plays, and many identify themselves as those fragmented, torn individuals.

– 2011 –