Carlos Martin Garcia
About works of Eunah Hong
When Eunah Hong moved to Germany from South Korea in 2007, she was primarily attracted by the role of artistic creativity in everyday life; in this move, she above all saw the possibility of taking a position. Since then, with the systemic crisis of models established in the past century, the role of the individual in the public sphere and loyalty to institutions that once represented and controlled that public sphere have been profoundly transformed. The numerous anti-authoritarian public demonstrations that have taken place across various latitudes on the planet over the past five years have changed forever the uses of space and shaped a new perception of the commons. Hong’s painting, in terms of its most immediate impression, its origins in photography, reveals such collective gestures of protest as the fractal image of a great common premise. Demonstrations, central in this group of works, does not present itself as a case method, but reflects a transnational phenomenon that, in a striking manner, the artist points out in two peripheral zones: the southern part of the European Union, where a southern resistance is forming to a Germany encapsulated in the protection of neo-liberal economic policies, and South Korea, which represents the paradigm of Asian democracy when seen in contrast to its northern neighbor. Particular cases, yet identical strategies have entailed a degree of universal equation of protest that unifies and empowers discourses that are often disconnected, but also risks the specificity of each case.
Participating in these various kinds of protest altered Hong’s position in her own existence and in her pictorial work, which reveals a path towards investigating the current role of the masses, be it in the individual activities of the demonstrators, or, in the series Mixings, in the positions of the tourists who stroll about harmlessly on one of the patios at the Alhambra or among the customers in a Korean market appearing entirely natural before the Munich station of Feldmoching, alien to their new placement. In all of these, Hong dilutes the identity of the subjects by transferring, with an intentional imprecision, the photographic trace from the paper in color outlines, saturated to the point of making them maintain their individuality, despite losing their individual traits. Like a rough sketch, where a certain degree of distillation of detail and abstraction can be perceived, the previous work on paper situates her paintings between a documentary chronicle and the fantasmatic air of a frozen televisual image. This tactic is radicalized in a recent piece dedicated to demonstrations in front of the grounds of Seoul’s Blue House, the seat of the South Korean head of state. In her prior drawings, the mass remained reduced to a vague layer by way of the rapid lines of the ballpoint pen that seem to negate the human presence to the point of converting it into a mere plane of landscape that converts the signs into an ornament, an illegible sign. Hong shows herself to be aware of the responsibility of posing an abstract question, perhaps universalizable, taking concrete situations as a point of departure: the same that placed on the participants of a protest while in a collective voice. This gesture allows the memory of the protests against the massacre of Gwangju, which took place in South Korea in 1980, to seem no less evocative than recent struggles against the vortex of power represented by the Troika.
The most radical form in which Hong materializes this equating of experience in various locales and periods is bilocation: an imaginary or paranormal phenomenon, a creative strategy or literary trope by which the subject is situated simultaneously in two distinct places. This dual experience is a characteristic of the experience of the migrant, the subject that has at least two experiences of territory at the same time. Such a strategy, revealing of the possibilities of a multiple identity, results in a gesture of resistance in a present marked by national reaffirmations and identitarian debates that recall the panorama of the 1980s, or, perhaps even more disturbingly, the 1930s. Using layers that connect remote locations in a suggestive or unsettling manner, remote places where each space functions as a glaze over the preceding, or like a photographic overexposure in which no spatial or temporal hierarchy seems to exist among the distinct planes: indicating the artist’s possibility of maintaining a double position in the public setting, perhaps waiting for others: “I continue working until the layer is occupied by ideas,” Hong assures, as seems to be confirmed before a pile of precarious façades, a mass of anthropomorphic figures flying over city congested with traffic, or a view of Seoul that, by way of overexposure, seems to be reduced to rubble. Emissions of information that are superimposed, grids that obscure just as they reveal, or glazes that embrace unexpected combinations reflect the bilocal existence like the experience of migration, situated between yearning and the future. This double sense of incapacity and possibility is what Hong captures in her experience of Europe during the crisis of the welfare state.
In this way, Eunah Hong’s painting combines an investigation of her own artistic means, the invitation to stop and alter the sequence of images generated by the media, a disturbing immediacy, and the survival of a forgotten aesthetic of a more critical pop. Not a pop art that celebrates the icons of consumerism, but a pop of opposition: one of analysis, simultaneously solemn, sharp, and bewildered, of the end of the world; a pop that takes a stand before the emergence of a mass society that today is transnational.
Carlos Martín García
Trans.: Brian Currid