Time Passes by in the Stones and the Paintings

Yuki Konno
Art Critic

A lot of time passes by in stones. When we see a stone rolling by the river, we imagine where it came from and how. We induce the passage of time that the stone carries by observing its shape and scientifically analyzing its ingredients. Stones not only record natural phenomena such as weather and tectonic movements but humans. A dolmen is a stone that is a natural object that has been erected and enshrined by humans. It is full of mysteries like how the large stone was transported and what purpose it was used for at the time. Just by looking at its unadorned appearance, you might think that it is a being of lesser presence, or being one with nature. However, the large, motionless figure has a solid quality that does not exist in humans. As Mircea Eliade says, before humans even touch or hold the stone, it strikes[1]. It is safe to say that it is thanks to the strike that there were people who brought these stones and enshrined them and that we still visit them today. It is a lump of unknown power, and the unknownness was regarded as a special force that they could accept and have. When you think about it that way, dolmens record human history in the form of natural objects.

Hyunho Kim also probably sensed the strike and transferred them to paintings. In his solo exhibition The Stone that Brushes the Sun… held at The Necessaries, the artist’s interests are directly applied in the paintings of dolmens. He went on a field trip and observed the dolmens in person, and he visualized it mainly through paintings. The show includes paintings of the artifacts, their magnified surface and a shadow reflected on them, a video showing the making process of the paintings, and a print that traces the surface of the dolmens which turned out to look like handwritten letters. However, some people may be puzzled by the fact that the background information of the rocks is not clearly made public. You may get this feeling as you realize that no information is given regarding where the stones are located and their history. However, the pursuit of an artist is not to specify their locations or identify their constituents but to capture the flow of time that the dolmens are containing. Here, the artist’s approach to the stones is to draw and trace the dolmen’s trajectory. Just as ancient people once discovered a stone, moved it and enshrined it, the artist brings the stones he witnessed into the series Stones That Speak for Themselves(2023). The stones that brought both shock and fascination to the eyes of the artist while traveling all over the country have reached the exhibition hall, the space that holds paintings.

While Stones That Speak for Themselves is an overall image of a dolmen, the series Stars at the Time (2023) is a painting that magnified a part of the stone. The details make a seam that bridges the human gaze in two directions: towards the ground and the world we live in. The surface is reminiscent of the night sky when viewed from a distance, but when you get closer, the texture stands out. Like a three-dimensionally drawn ridge, the surface of the work begins to appear (again) like a map of the world we live in. Just as the power of the dolmen is believed to lie in a place that transcends humans, the paintings are directed to space that transcends humans and the earth. Stars at the Time starts from the detail of a dolmen and presents the universe seen from the ground and the ground seen from above. Kim has left a line as a painting and in the painting and it connects the sky and the ground. The connected are humans and the transcendent beings. In this regard, if the expression ‘vibration of energy’ is appropriate to describe Kim’s work at all, the energy is not perceived in the painted object itself but in the presence of humans and transcendent beings, between where we are and where we are not, creating a thrill.

Kim’s paintings present a map of the world we live in and simultaneously connect and expand towards both sides of the sky where we do not live in but are influenced by and often look up to. It can be summarized as the artist’s capability to accept the strike from the stone through paintings and radiating the energy visually. The power that we sense from the stones that transcends humans leads us to space and the earth. In other words, the stone that attracts human attention leads our gaze to a vast area beyond them. Such is the same now as it was then, just like how artists capture the image and people see the work. A lot of time has passed and the same applies to the stones. The expression of time being engraved in stones is both practical and metaphorical. The dolmens not only hold the time before and after it was displaced but also the humans’ visions who discerned its spiritual power. Although literally we refer to the artifacts as ‘deceased’ stones in Korean, a lot of time passes and lingers here in the perspectives of the stones and people. The two video pieces introduced in this exhibition, Reception (2023) and Engraved Stars, Embossed Stars (2023), feature the making process of the work, but they are not about simply revealing the inner story of the process. Just as the location or composition of the dolmens is not of the utmost significance, what is important to the artist is the process of following the time that flows and stays in the stone. As emphasized in the video, Kim’s approach to the series is to draw lines and comprehend time, rather than making geopolitical, scientific approaches. Layers of time, not a specific point in time lie as and in the paintings.

[1] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, trans. Rosemary Sheed, Sheed & Ward, Inc., 1958, p.216

related exhibition: The Stone that Brushes the Sun…

Artist Statement: Night Holding Space Even at Night

The meta-approach to painting itself and the conceptual expansion of the Korean painting material are fundamental questions to produce endless avant-garde and sources of my work.

Night Holding space Even at Night

At dawn when all the lights are off, I often go up on the roof and look at the scenery of the mountains around me. As looking at the mountain scenery looming in the dark, the hidden sensitivity of vision is revived, and communion which cannot be done during the day begins. And in the space where the visible light disappeared between me and the mountain, a hidden infinite narrative in my unconscious is arisen.

In 2020, I began to summon nature in paintings, as feeling nostalgic for nature caused by social distancing. Most of the utopias depicted in Korean paintings contain nature. Since Korean aesthetics embodied in my mind, it is not a coincidence that nature has emerged at that time.

The Mother Nature, painted by mixing heavy body medium with black and white acrylic paints with a matière, has a body and appears in front of me as a real object. A thin layer of carbon black paint is applied over this flat object containing the still image. When darkness flows between the irregularities, time flows again, and the painting has the same status as mine.

This is the second part of “Grim Research”, following the first part of the painting study “The Summon Project” which records the time spent with summoned painting what participants want to face in person. And it is my answer about what the object called painting is at present.

Relate Exhibition : Night Holding Space Even at Night

Shadow and I – About the Summoning Art of Painting

criticism of Hyunho Kim’s work

Yeji Hong  Art critic

Images are all over the place. Adding another one does not make it any different. We cannot fathom what filled their heart when the first image was ever created back in the old days. Their thoughts and feelings sank into the grave as dust, and their relationship with the image faded. The story that conceals all these secrets, or the myth surrounding the origin of the image, is scattered like shards and awaits posterity. Can we ever revive the senses that were shared in the very beginning?

Hyun-ho Kim’s “The Summoning Project”[1], recalls an old article that implied the magical function of image. Gaius Plinius Secundus, a great Roman statesman and scholar, excavates the origins of painting and sculpture at the same time, mentioning a myth in Natural History. Butades of Sicyon, a potter who dwelled in Corinth, and his daughter hold the clue. Butades’ daughter was in love with a young man who was going abroad indefinitely. Before parting, she drew in outline on the wall the shadow of his face thrown by the lamp. Her father pressed clay on this and made a relief, which he hardened by exposure to fire with the rest of his pottery; and it is said that this likeness was preserved in the Shrine of the Nymphs …[2] This is the plot of the myth.

Although Plinius does not directly explain it, Victor I. Stoichita, author of Short History of the Shadow, interprets the implications of this myth hypothetically. According to him, the origin of the image should be sought “in the interruption of an erotic relationship, in a separation, in the departure of the model”. In that sense, “representation” is a sort of “substitute” and “mnemonic aid” of the person, making the absent present. In this case, the shadow’s resemblance (similitudo) to the original plays a crucial role.[3] In the myth introduced earlier, both the shadow and the image created according to it resemble the lover. The real shadow accompanies the one who is leaving, while his outline, captured once and for all on the wall, immortalizes a presence in the form of an image, captures an instant and makes it last.[4] At this point, Stoichita emphasizes “verticalizing” the shadow. In the spirit of Greek art, “the shadow recumbent on the earth” has to do with death. Therefore, tracing the shadow of an erect person is a wish for the person to be forever ‘upright’(not recumbent), so that he or she is ‘alive’.[5] The image drawn by Butades’ daughter can be interpreted in the same context. Meanwhile, it is worth paying attention to the latter part of this story. The shadow is innately a double un-realization — it reduces the being to its look and projects them onto the wall. That is, the shadow becomes “the other” of their body like a spectre. Butades once again “realizes” what had been unrealized by “endowing this fantasy with a (new) reality”.[6]

Stoichita explains that the dialectic of the absence/presence themes implied in the birth of image is interspersed throughout art history. The theme has been visualized in various formalities, from drawing the outline of a shadow to coloring, to giving a sense of shape.[7] Regardless of the specific expression or material, the act of creating an image of a subject and relating with it is based on a fundamental understanding of life and death. Above all, an image brings comfort to those who are left behind, by calling formissed ones to the real world.

In the context of the origin of image, we can read the meaning of Kim’s “The Summoning Project” in depth. While studying abroad, the artist, unable to attend his friend’s wedding, sent a life-sized self-portrait to South Korea. The painting attended the wedding as a substitute of the artist, sat at a table with other guests and took a group photo. The friend responded with the documentation of it, which is the beginning of the project. He realized that he could endow an absent one with a real body in the form of painting. Afterwards, Kim worked with participants, thereby expanding the project. Participants talked about the person they wanted to meet, and the artist made paintings that resembled the missed ones by extracting keywords from the story. The paintings on frameless canvas were transformed into objects that could be hugged and worn, such as cushions, blankets, shoes, and bags, after consulting with the participants. In exchange for the artwork, the participant sent photos and videos of the time spent with the summoned beings. Surprisingly, the documentations show how the paintings mingle with people like a living being. In The Summoning Project: Seo Injoo (2016), for example, the whole family sits around a table and chats with their deceased mother. The memories of each person are reeled off as they face the summoned mother – not recumbent but upright.

The subject of summoning is not limited to people. The body of work “Night Holding Space Even at Night” which started in 2020, summons nature to the here and now. The working process is as follows. As a sketch, nature is dead asleep. The tendons of the mountain range hang lifelessly, and the flow of the waterfall is still. The nature that appears in lines without its original color is in an un-realized form. Kim then makes matière along this outline. Bumpy textures are created with black and white acrylic mixed with heavy body medium. Its shape gradually stands out and begins to gain tactility. When thin carbon black is applied on top of this, the paint oozes through the irregularities and the volume is revived. Nature that was still begins to move. In the video piece which documents the process of resuscitation, the artist’s body and canvas are about the same size, and they stand facing each other. Nature is summoned to this side of the world and becomes realized in real time — just like when the shadows reflected on the wall acquired a body.

The prerequisite for summoning is the insurmountable distance between the subject and the artist. It is the gap that opened up as they left, the absence of the subject. Therefore, the essence of painting that summons lies not only in the completed image but what motivated the artist to paint it — the uniqueness of the relationship between the subject and him. Let’s go back to the process of painting like we rewind a video, to the first moment he picked a brush. The painter is about to miss or lose something. The sensory data that constitutes the subject matter scatters rapidly. The artist’s eyes move busily in the air, and his hands follow the trail from a step behind. The gap widens between the mind that is attached to the subject and the body that is distant. The movement that intends to traceshadow is as desperate.

It seems that Kim was sensitive to the essence of painting from early on because his insight for the act of painting itself is reflected in his earlier works. One day, as a Korean painting major, he gets a strange feeling about a paper that was pasted on a drawing board. When a finished painting is removed, brush marks remain on the drawing board, and he thought that the marks were rather close to the truth. Starting from this trace, the artist worked to revive the existence that he intended to capture in the first place. Viewing this realization through the lens of the aforementioned shadow leads us to wonder what is ‘the object that has left’ from the drawing board. Firstly, it is the person he wanted to paint, and secondly, it is an image, or a shadow, of the person. If so, the marks left on the board after removing the finished painting are ‘the shadow of the shadow’. What is recorded on this bottom layeris none other than the truth of representation, a fundamental paradox that the artist had to face. Kim has been holding on to this question for a long time, and Geurim Research is an in-depth journey to search for the answer.

I imagine the myriad of shadows the artist must have encountered while painting — a being that has lost their body, a being that remains only as traces and silhouettes, and someone whois alive only in the heart. A painting depicting a subject matter that sways in the light and evokes sorrow is not a plainsurface. It is a body that has been summoned by the desire to regain it. This body bends the physical reality between the shadow and the painter. It emerges as if it challenges the limits of space and time. While constantly transferring and painting, we wait for the countless beings that the artist will summon. Right where you stand, the lost heart and the midst of endless darkness is where these beings will reach.

[1] “The Summoning Project” is a series of work that explores mediums that Hyunho Kim named “Geurim(painting in Korean) Research”, and it is divided into two parts. Part 1 (2015~2017) summons a person who the participants want to meet as a painting and develops it in two or three dimensions. The time spent with it is archived in photos and videos. Part 2 (2020~) is a work that summons nature in the form of paintings with bold textures, and it views nature as the object of nostalgia during the pandemic when it is difficult to go out. According to the artist, the painting is not simply regarded as a still image, but as a “real object” with three-dimensionality and tactility.

[2] Victor I. Stoichita, Short History of the Shadow, trans. Anne-Marie Glasheen, London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1999, p.11.

[3] ibid., pp.14-15. emphasized by the present writer.

[4] ibid., p.15.

[5] ibid., p.16.

[6] ibid., p.17.

[7] ibid., p.7.

Translated by O Woomi Chung