The Order in the Chaos, and the Chaos in the Order (Lee Jin Myeong Former Director of Art Research


“Chaos is an order not yet discovered, while the order is a chaos not yet discovered.” The former part of this declaration is about a modern belief. The chaotic phenomena obstructing the order. For example, phantom or mystery or darkness of superstition would be penetrated by the lights of reason to be guided to the world of order, according to the modern belief. The former part of this sentence is about the despair of the modernism. The more the order is given to the global phenomenon, the better the academy is reinforced. The more the rules are sophisticated, the world is more chaotic, although the belief is more lucid. Here, we could not but make a selection. One alternative is to more sternly and sophisticatedly weave the net of the rules achieved by the modernism, as the Frankfurt School sociologists and humanities scholars argue. Another scholars argues a shift from the modern paradigm. They are the so-called post-structuralists and deconstructionists, both of whom are the so-called post-modernists. However, both of them have lost their basis considerably in academic or science circles. Since the humanities and the science seeking for truth faced difficult situations, the small waves of pluralism would be conspicuous for a while, and then, the history of intelligence or the main stream of academy has been barren. Humanities can no longer talk about the human beings, while the science has changed from search for truth to manufacturing of truth. Arts has joined such a trend in many respects.

Artist Wool Ga Choi has worked, continuing to oscillate at the ends of the two pendulums or light and darkness. The fact that his series of artworks are represented by white and black may well be understood in such contexts. The statement that Artist Choi keeps in mind cautiously like a topic is about the contemporaneity beyond modernity. We are yet to see an optimal terminology about the contemporaneity. It seems to be not sufficient to express our age with post-history or pluralism.

People can look squarely at all things in the universe. We can look at them via some medium, Abbild or frame. Earlier, Hegel declared, “At the beginning of the world, only a single person was warranted for his freedom. Later, only a small group of people would gain freedom. All of a sudden, every one would be free.” Hegel saw to it that only a king was warranted for his freedom. The frame assuring such a freedom was the divine right. The combination of arch-priest and king would lead the world. Later, a few bourgeois would gain the freedom. The means for their freedom were the tool ‘reason’ and the bourgeois capital enabled by the reason. If the world should advance as expected by Hegel, every body should be free. A great many people believe that such an age of freedom would be ushered in. However, we live in an age of chaotic absurdity rather than live free. Artist Choi defines our age as a gray zone encompassing freedom and absurdity. His world of art starts from such a definition.

Artist Wool Ga Choi pastes the tick paints on the canvas. Mostly, he uses white or black paint. As soon as the paint has dried out, he scrapes the surface of the canvas with a point tool and then, pastes the color again for a drawing work. The layer of the painting is not so thick. The painting reminds us of Bangudae Rock Painting. Choi’s given name Wool Ga implies he was an Ulsan citizen, and therefore, Bangudae may have influenced his spirit of art much. Sometimes, the rock painting reminds us of children’s graffiti painting. Just as the goal of children’s drawing lies not in poiēsis but in mimesis or emulation, so artist Choi pursues poiēsis to its extreme end. Poiēsis means ‘making something’, and thus, it may well be a basic human competence reacting to the world. To be more specific, it means a creative activity of sympathizing with each other and giving a meaning to each other through shaping and art-making. Then, poiēsis is a continued chat-up with the world, meaning a general sensitivity blooming therein. In the poiēsis created by Wool Ga Choi, general sensitivity and implications are full.

The ordinary materials emerging in artist Choi’s world of painting are simplified by the linear painting, and his canvas is full of the shapes known to every body. The figures are deployed left-side or right-side or sometimes in the center. Then, his canvas would be full of dogs, birds in cage, fish detained in a narrow water bottle, tap, vase, flower, clock, lamp, furniture, insects, water melon, banana, strawberry, and sometimes numerous eyes. In view of context, they seem to be not related with each other. However, if you look at them closely, you would know that they are connected with other. The probability that the figure is the artist himself is high. The dog may well have been his only companion who spoke to him during his long and solitary life in a foreign country. The fish detained in the narrow water bottle and the bird in the cage must symbolize the deprival of the freedom. Sometimes, his canvas is full of the water flowing from the tap. The tap symbolizes a minimum energy breathed into the artist. The flower in the vase metaphors artist’s yearning for aesthetics, while the clock signifies his will to keep time on the canvas eternally. The electric lamp is the light that protects him in the darkness of the age, and such fruits as water-melon, banana and strawberry symbolize artist’s life not withered but fresh. The canvas full of such seemingly irrelevant things is full of artist’s stories indeed. Moreover, such meaning schemes are deeply related with the forms.

The meanings of ‘the Order in the Chaos and the Chaos in the Order’ are discussed as above. We may define the modernism as a process towards an order. However, as the order begins to be settled gradually, the invisible chaos would be back again. The attitude of admitting the chaos of the world and receiving it is called ‘post-modernism’. The artist Wool Ga Choi endeavored to find the dialectic of the two or ‘order’ and ‘chaos’ in his most secret and candid life. The discovery of an order in the chaos is the mission of modernism. The secret or modernism is armed with the agenda ‘purity’. On the other hand, it constructed a formidable power called ‘reductionism’. In addition, it judged the art circle with the grand epic ‘essentialism’. In terms of philosophy, the essentialism is an attitude of urging us to answer the question ‘What is the Essence of Painting?’ Only the artist and his or her art that explores the essence of the medium painting or sculpture were regarded as meaningful. While the essence of painting lies in flatness, that of sculpture lies in materiality. In contrast, modernism reduces everything to the essentialism, while exerting violence over the artists or their art that are off the reduced purity and thereby, exclude them from the sanctuary.

The three elements of the modernism discussed as above were expanded to their vertexes, while being encroached on by the elites of the Western white people’s nations. The artists from the non-white nations developed the term ‘non-Western modernism’, but they are mostly ostracized to the peripheral areas. From the violence hidden behind the purity of modernism, various critical thoughts sprouted and bore fruits. They intentionally shook the major premises of modernism such as originality, purity and essentialism of the media in an effort to surmount the boundary of modernism. They resisted the order pursued by modernism, by claiming for borrowing, repetition, stealing, mixing and eclecticism. The so-called logic of post-modernism started from here. Such a logic was championed by the young artists who had been aware of the despair of the modernism pursuing an order, and spread world-wide as a global campaign at the substrate of the liberalism in 1960s and 1970s. The problems of this new wave that could accommodate a variety of tendencies and forms, looking squarely at the problems of the modernity, were the lacks of originality or purity or the aesthetic grounds. All in all, the modernism expelled numerous new forms and thoughts out of the holy sanctuary, while pursuing the order in the chaos, and in this course, the post-modernism was generous enough to embrace the chaos enhanced in the order. Thus, the post-modernism would suffer from the skepticism in terms of the aesthetic authority. Wool Ga Choi’s world of painting was born to solve the problems of originality and magnanimity simultaneously.

Choi’s world of art is 100% about his own story. Woo Ga that implies that he was from Woolsan was indulged in modernism before he left for France to study art more. His work ‘Agonizing People’ produced in 1984 expressed the people suffering, being incessantly sunk in the blue paint of thick matiere. In his 1993 work ‘A Game at Night’, too, the contrasting primary colors and eclectic compound colors would serve to cycle audience’s eye-sights endlessly. In particular, the thick brush touches and the intense oil bar touches showcase the quintessence of his Expressionism painting. After he moved to an atelier in South of Houston in 2000s, he would depart from the two waves of modernism and post-modernism to ride an independent current. Namely, he endeavored to secure the universal contents that would be popular, although they were about his secret story, and at the same time, pursuing a method of warranting the formally aesthetic originality and media essentialism. Surely, the artist talks about his earlier difficult life, his weary life in Paris and his pleasure of work in New York. He thoroughly disposed what was not his own thing, and thereby, left his candid emotion on the canvas. After all, his painting would develop into an Expressionism art. Nevertheless, he emphasized the essence of the media or flatness at the same time. Altogether, he demonstrated a sense of contemporary magnanimity. Men and dog, ordinary things and animals/plants, and the inorganic things were be unified into oneness with no ontological discrimination, and the magnanimity would replace the discrimination. However, it is now more desirable to discuss the reasons why his works are attractive rather than consume the time on such topics.

The great scholar in the 18th century Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707-1788) once declared “The style is the man himself”. According to him, an artist’s style is the artist himself or herself. It was inherited by itself, while being a personality itself. It cannot be learned and developed. Fang Xiaoru (1357-1402), a Chinese philosopher in the 14th century said, “The person who can well detect a jade sees not its shape but its color. The person who can well judge about people sees not their skills but their spirit. You may well deceive the people about shapes but you can hardly deceive them about color. Skills may well be developed intentionally, but the spirit cannot not be developed.” The viewpoint of looking at the artists are same between West and East. Artist’s competence lies in his or her style, and the style is an inborn spirit. The form of painting being developed by the artist Choi is quite different from his form in 1980s. However, the spirit remains same. Artist Choi‘s style is inborn. According to the people around him, he would never be anxious despite any difficult life. In a shabby studio, he would be happy for the single condition or painting. He always endeavored to surmount himself. At the moment he pastes the colors, draws the lines and makes the shapes, he would be happiest. Without the inborn spirit, such mentality would be impossible. I believe that his spirit would never change. It could not change.

Lee Jin Myeong

Former Director of Art Research

Daegu Art Museum