Reversible Time and the Remains of Daily Life - Yoo Geun-oh (art critic)

While Korea and China were using sundials, the world powers of Europe began using mechanical clocks, which is the predecessor of today’s clocks since the 14th century. Although there were differences in time divisions, there was not a great difference in the concept of time between the East and West. Though all civilizations may have had their own unique method for measuring the concept of time as well as their own standard or way of use, there is no mistake that there was a universality of time within their civilization. However, the different time divisions between different regions and nations created numerous problems. Therefore, the need for a worldwide time standard became obvious. A standard time was first ap! plied in 1912. However much this system was practical, not everyone was satisfied with it. There were still various issues to be dealt with. Newton’s absolute and objective measure of time was being questioned. Durkheim claimed that time was begotten from social relativity and attacked the concept of time concentrated in Europe and also opposed Einstein’s theory of irreversibility of time. Moreover, debates of whether time is physically homogenous or heterogeneous continue and furthermore, the conflicts between the inconsistency of public and private time are yet to be resolved. In result, in modern practicality, time’s social, ph ysical and psychological relativity has been negated. The reason why time is mentioned in so many different perspectives is because I have found that there were many relations between time and the paintings of Choi Wool-ga.


Belock is a Russian anarchist that appears in Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel, ‘The Secret Agent’. His mission in England is to explode the Greenwich Astronomical Observatory, which is the prime meridian. The prime meridian signifies the authoritarian element of official time and therefore there is no better target for anarchism to Belock. Through this, Conrad expresses in extreme the conflict between official and private time. Ironically however, the art c! ritic Nakahara Yusuke has compared Choi Wool-ga’s paintings as that of an ‘anarchist world’. What Nakahara means by the anarchist world is that the various images on the canvas totally ignores the importance of the differences in size and the standards of comparison, as if they were espoused in total disorder. However, it can be interpreted in another way. Though Choi Wool-ga had no relationship with political anarchy, he seems to bring the issue of time artistically.


Then what does time mean to Choi Wool-ga? To jump straight to the answer, time is heterogeneous and reversible. His paintings show that time is tangled up between the past, present and future. Hence, the past sometimes passes ahead the present, while dreams and anticipations of the future sometimes infiltrate into the past. For example, the painful past is transferred into the present and is vividly expressed as if it was currently happening. Meanwhile, the current day is broken into fragments as if it is vaguely remembered; creating a sense as if it was something that has yet to have occurred. Becoming free from the strict order of time represents that one becomes oblivious to all senses even it is only for a brief period. In this case, when the daily occurrences are observed, its main essence quickly disappears leaving behind only the skeleton, and though much e! ffort is made to grasp the essence, it is of no avail. Therefore, the canvas of Choi leaves only the gaunt skeleton, which is absolutely normal. This is the method of existence for Choi’s paintings. Most paintings occur in a flat space and therefore it is difficult to draw the delight and dishonor of past experiences, emptiness of lost time and feelings with other objects or animals. However, as if Choi sympathized with Marcel Pourst’s words of ‘the existence of man which takes up a spot, or in other words, a larger place than the limited spot allotted within sp! ace (….), to draw an existence that takes up the dimension of time’. Therefore, attempting to recover the spatial matters of what is drawn is a wasted effort. Only expression methods using lines can defeat the desire to occupy space and only sectors such as alarm clocks, stars, flower vases, fruits, cats and dogs, tables, televisions, old radios, etc. can occupy irreversible time. The reason why he uses rough drawing methods is his effort so that those things are not kept at its mere physical form.


Dials of a clock appears regularly in his paintings. This shows that it takes up an important role. It is clearly expressed that existence and time meets. However, there is the need to take a closer look at the clock face of the alarm clock. It is somehow different from the common clock face. It not only ignores the order of time that follows a chronological order, but it also ends at 13 and 14 o’clock. In its surroundings, lines which tick as if to be an image of the sound of a clock are rampant. These images are not mere mistakes or images that coincidentally appear as a method of free expression. In reality, nobody can become free from the rules of time. It is the fate and trap befallen upon mankind. Furthermore, it a flow ! that cannot be controlled and it is a sad desire. However, images oblivious of this type of official time makes traditional time such as continuance and divisions disappear as well as getting rid of the spatial boundaries. This is not the absurd thinking of creating non-reality through reality, but instead is the apparition of Einstein’s reversible space in time. Consequently, his painting is fixed within a unique écriture in spatial time. His drawing of petty daily life ventilates us from our languid routines in life, but also brings out the audience’s artistic senses in hidden objects and occurrences that we! always live with but never see or feel. We can presume that this type of thinking that Choi has was acquired while working in Seoul, then Paris and finally in New York. We are able to detect the relevance between time and space here. When flying from Seoul to Paris, we are able to experience two days in one. This is where official and private time collides in conflict. As seen here, the face of a watch can show a definite time and a calendar records each and every day accurately, making it without a reason for doubt of the universal time. However, the psychological private and personal time can exist in a wide array of ways.


Various elements coexist in two different characteristics within the paintings of Choi Wool-ga. This is represented by the innocence of children and the perceived world of adults. It is represented by primitivism and modern compositions. It is represented by heterogeneous drawings and a homogenous color of the canvas. It is the range of completion and incompletion. These are contrasting elements that is presumed to be unable to mix. However, as if everything was to be valued, these harmonize in the canvas of Choi’s. In short, this can be said to be temperance and freedom. Furthermore, not only is there visual aspects, but audio aspects are included as well. This stubborn relationship has a strange implication between the autho! r’s passionate fervor and unusual sense for formative arts with that of daily life. When tracing back on his work, we can find that the floor of his paintings are evenly layered with carefully selected colors such as white, black, blue, red and gray. It is then followed with objects and animals that are drawn freely as if it is out of his instinct or as if he just did not care how it was painted. These pictures seem like magnified images of dessins of once-too-many told stories drawn by children in their notebooks. At times it seems ridiculous and sometimes it seems to be that of disturbingly exaggerated graffiti. This vivid and gleeful, sometimes loyal to the primitive act of drawing, sometimes simple or at time unique, sometimes as if its writing in a journal, but always inconsiderate of gentlemanly art is where we can find the few ba! sic values of Choi’s paintings. These are characterized by a clean spirit, freedom, vast creativity, transcendent technique, purity and artistic energy.


However, these alone do not explain in full his paintings. If it did, his works would be recognized merely as art brut, primate art, graffiti or figuration libre. By thinking outside of the box or scrutinizing his perspectives particularly in his latest works, we can see the difference. The color planes that seem to be tightly knitted together intrude the screen everywhere and reverse the feelings of old. These color planes can be understood in two different ways. The first is that the colors are free-wheeling and restricts the somewhat disorderly drawings in order to act as a constituent of tension and relaxation. The other is that these color planes resemble a sketch book and acts therefore as a drawing on a canvas or pre-figuration. In other words it takes on the role of restoring the work to its preparatory phase before it was complete. In more accurate terms,! it is not something that is incomplete or non-finito, but creates a feeling of something that lacks completion. This is not an insufficient expression but is an extreme vibration that can only be boldly expressed with incompletion. In other words, the most basic will of the creativeness in his works are directly indicated to us. In actuality, this is not entirely unrelated to the fact that Choi Wool-ga’s works are compared to ‘anarchist worlds’, ‘basic genuineness’ and ‘primitivism’. In addition, his screen continues all the way to the sides of the thick canvas, and expands his world to allow interpretation of a 2.5 dimensional world. It cannot be restricted with a frame and therefore glorifies the freedom of his painting which cannot be suppressed or subdued by anything.


The author says that ‘people forget the fact that they live only a day’. The intention of this is to dispossess the mythical privilege of time which contradicts reality and it attempts to make its audience think in retrospect about daily life which has become mystified. Quoting from Roland Barthes modern myth is ‘everyone expects it and forgets about it’! . He states that it is seen as something natural and obvious, so that nobody thinks twice about it. The paintings of Choi Wool-ga do not directly bring up social issues, but it may be more introspective than reality. Petty objects and pets in daily life such as fish tanks, fish, cats and dogs, cacti, liquor bottles, cars, watches, watermelons etc are not normal in his perspective. In his perspective, daily life falls out of our view as soon as it stars, and attempting to speak on behalf of it is just too commonplace. Therefore, it is not important to try to construe the world of objects and people on a small space as that of a canvas to him, but instead existence at the moment within an object of the world is what is imperative. The forms which have been almost disintegrated into but a sign that strips daily mysticisms actually reflect the rejuvenation of the forgotten history of daily life. Each of Choi’ s works epitomizes his daily life. In addition, we think about our daily lives through that of the painter’s. The real value of Choi’s paintings is that it is released from the unanimated restrictions of daily life and confronts it with a living, breathing life. Passing that of a representation of an object, we can come to know that his lines and colors are not restricted by formalities and we can feel the great artistic energy in his paintings. Choi Wool-ga’s paintings, which extract our ubiquity for human life to breathe ! life into it, are actual traces of his own energy.

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