In Search (Again) for a Fundamental Question in Choi Woolga's Works - Lim, Chang Seop Ph. D of Literature/ art critic

What means that we live? There is a moment when I fall all of a sudden into a skepticism about the fact that I am really living. As a phenomenologist mentioned, I may just imagine that I am living, but it is comprehensible that people like to avoid answering the questions requiring tenacious thoughts, feeling limited for their ability.

Like such questions above, cognition for historical or personal understanding of painting behaviors may well be evasive. Expressing elegantly, the behaviors of producing the art works, more easily speaking, the labor of painting need to be questioned seriously in terms of how it should be defined, and such a question should be answered. However, despite such a stubborn request for the answer, it seems to be more and more avoided today. The evidence for such avoidance of the answer may well be found in the works which dismiss the fundamental question about life and art but only pursue superficial and ordinary senses. Today, only the works seemingly suitable to well-decorated living rooms or those eligible for the lobbies of tidy new buildings are produced, and only such works are sought for. Today, I have no idea or standard of how to accept our reality that the expectation of the works shocking my brain or shuddering my heart is dismissed as refusal of our modern modus vivendi.

Choi Woolga's works interest me first not because of the forms composed by the lines filling the canvas but because of the method of revealing them. He over-paints the white base color on the canvas painted in diverse colors. Then, he draws the forms with lines on the canvas to reveal the gorgeous base colors hidden below the white base color. Such a technique as reveals hidden or past events into the present behaviors seems to be the most fundamental production method for Choi Woolga's works. However, I cannot but raise a question about the fundamental method or revelation of the past.

Frequently, we believe that since the flow of time is linear, future is uncertain but the past is certain. Future has still to come, while the past has gone by. Such a belief may be a basic faith or common sense. We perceive that we know all about the past because we have experienced it. However, we need to change such perception because our knowledge may be defined differently. If knowledge or cognition about the past is same all among us, this common sense is correct. If everybody recognizes the past in the same way, the record about our human past must be the same one, being not different. 'History of Chosun dynasty' must be one, and 'history of Koryo kingdom' must be one. 'History of Korea,' 'history of China' or 'history of the United States' is sufficient of itself as a single history. However, in reality, there are various books of history for a nation. And the past unknown will continue to be reproduced from new perspectives or in new dimensions. A man's behaviors or a nation's behaviors are intermingled with numerous people's or nations' behaviors and interests. Depending on how such behaviors and interests are understood, the past or the history would be described anew. Accordingly, it can be said that our past still remains unknown as much as our future.

Upon reviewing Choi Woolga's method of art production taking out the base color onto the surface, we may feel that such a method is a fundamental question about our modus vivendi and flow of the past. One of the effects of Choi Woolga's works is awakening us to reconsider about our cognition that we know all about our past or the time passed by. Probably, he does not draw the time of the past but may produce his own unique 'double meaning-images' for the fundamental question about our behavior of understanding the past.

The traces of the time passed by protruding out of the base canvas are not stereotyped forms or objects. These weakened medicinal forms float in the space of canvas comfortably like children's scribbles. He floats the lines because he feels neither obliged nor a sense of mission to depict the objects as real as possible. After all, a painting cannot but be a plane represented. As long as paintings are drawn on a plane, they cannot but be representations regardless whether they depict reality or non-reality. Accordingly, 'realism' of painting or the realism defined as real depiction of reality according to our common sense or interpretation of our fine art history cannot but have the contradiction containing distortions fundamentally. It is an irony caused by the relationship between two-dimensionality of paintings and three-dimensionality of reality. At least in the history of the Western fine art.

However, in case of the Oriental paintings (in terms of the geographic scope), there has been no brutal attempt to turn the paradoxical contradiction into an orthodox theory, however hard the Oriental painters have tried to imitate the reality. The perspective invented by Brunellesco and Alberti is a good example of such brutal attempts. The perspective depicting as larger what is nearer and as smaller what is farther must distort reality or facts. An object farther is not actually smaller than an object nearer, and a road farther is not actually narrower than a road nearer. Rather, it may be larger or wider. The perspective betrays reality or actuality as such. It is a self-evident fact but for those who do not doubt whether their life itself may be imaginary. Such an approach of depicting reality as perceived would lead to another distortion. However, we cannot find in the Oriental painting any of those various technical or painting techniques ranging from the Greek theory of imitation to the realism in the 19th century.

Then, how can we redefine realism correctly if we should do? The phenomenologist Husserl argues that what is visible is always only a part. He contends that the whole is not grasped by itself but a phenomenon generated from viewer's mental synthesis. If we do not rely on Husserl, such phenomenon has been confirmed by scientists or biologists. We can take an easier example. A cone looks like a triangle when viewed from its front. It looks like a circle when viewed from above or below. If we limit our cognition to such directions, we cannot grasp the cone wholly. Accordingly, in order to grasp the cone correctly, we should select not a single but many viewpoints or a proper point allowing us to view its various aspects simultaneously and thereby, recognize it comprehensively in our brain. In this context, the argument that the cubism championed by Picasso or Braque is more correct realism does not much sound stubborn.

Time and cognition, and their forms implemented on the canvas, namely, pursuit of realism about the past is the core of Choi Woolga's painting style. As mentioned above, anybody cannot perfectly understand what is hidden or the time passed by. Our memories are differently recorded depending on the relationships of interests. I am not sure whether Choi Woolga records his own memory or some perfect one, but if we understand that a painting is about painter's story, it would not much be unreasonable for us to understand that he has been creating his own realism.

Today, even if we live a hard life, it may not be that our peripheral senses have been dull. Rather, our decadent and playful nerves seem to be sharper and shaper over time. However, such phenomenon is not true in our life. It is not a fundamental look of our life. It is just a transient phenomenon. If a painter is affected by such a transient phenomenon, not agonizing over his or her consciousness, his or her paintings would not be called realism. If we should not labor hard to find an answer for ourselves, our behaviors of painting or art activities would lose their meaning.

The labor or behavior of art attempting to show realism about his past days through paintings are never in vain. For there is no life that is so trifle. For there is no past time that may well be insignificant enough to be dismissed.

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