Since the very beginning of his career, photographer Bae Bien-U’s (°1950) preferred object has been the nature of his home country, Korea. He has never, however, considered nature to be a mere object of beauty or research. For Bae, taking a picture is much more than making a literal representation of a passive object. The object is not something that needs to be captured for the sake of a piercing gaze. On the contrary, Bae feels obliged towards it, adopts a humble attitude and allows himself to be absorbed by it. He intends to eternalize on film a brief feeling of oneness with his object – or rather with its emotion. In fact, the one and only “object” of his photographs is a universal, emotional condition of oneness, of perfect unity with nature of which he himself is a part.
Bae Bien-U goes back to the same places over and over again, in order to photograph different parts of the same landscape. Photography for him becomes a ritual, a meditation. This ritual approach intensifies the relation with his object and helps him to find its true meaning, its essence. It brings him to another dimension, in which he can communicate with his surroundings without the objectifying boundaries of time and space. Bae Bien-U’s observations do not stick to the surface. He does not make images with his eyes, but with his entire being. His artistic process stresses the boundlessness and permeability of nature. The result of this process is much more than an image: it is a flash of the infinite void.
For his exhibition at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, “Counterbalance”, Bae chose to return to his favourite place, the forest in the mountains of Kyongju, where pine trees surround the royal tombs. Pines carry a long tradition in Korean culture. The energy of life is believed to pass through them and that's why they are important in many rituals of life and death.
At once vibrantly energetic and comfortingly still, the pine forest is a harmonic paradox. It appears to be peaceful and in perfect vertical balance, yet its surface hides a chaotic constellation of swarming roots and the swaying crowns shade the sky above. The forest is a kind of in-between space in which one experiences a mysterious equilibrium that is the result of a permanent process of balancing and counterbalancing between two states of being.
When Bae Bien-U presses the shutter, he captures this invisible process in a split second and condenses it into a photograph. He directly materializes his own experience of it. His photographs confront the viewer with the meditative stillness of the pine forest in which the potential of transformation is always very much present. This sensation is enforced by the harmonic proportions of their frame and by their large size which allows the viewer to almost step into the work and disappear in it. Bae Bien-U’s photographs extend beyond their frames. They are in permanent, boundless expansion, just like the nature they (re)present. In a dimension of oneness with nature, the viewer will experience a horizontal equilibrium complementing the vertical equilibrium of the trees.