The exhibition features works in a variety of mediums – painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, film and video – by five artists: Bae Youngwhan, Michelle Charles, Koo Donghee, Shimpei Takeda and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The artworks have been selected for their power to suggest a variety of familiar yet elusive experiences that lie just beyond the boundaries of perception. A thread of recurring themes and references runs through the works, inviting viewers to enter into the dialogue that connects them.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s short film Ashes (2012) presents a vision of a world seemingly close at hand yet achingly out of reach. It was filmed with a Lomokino analogue camera – an inexpensive, hand-cranked 35mm movie camera that shoots 20-second film clips. Ashes opens with relaxed, home movie-style shots of a young man walking his dog in the Thai countryside, a girl riding a bicycle, a father and son whizzing by on a motorbike and close-ups of farm animals. Suddenly, the scene shifts to an unidentified city whose streets are filled with anti-government demonstrators. Then, just as abruptly, it shifts again to a lush green jungle setting. Halfway through the film, the opening sequences appear again, and Weerasethakul, in a voiceover, explains how the work arose. In a dream, he sought to capture some of his own dream images. “I reached out for a 2B pencil. I drew a picture on paper, my back to the dream. I kept turning back to look at the large images, trying to copy them, to mimic the colors. The picture I drew turned out to be of my hometown…I kept drawing and looking back, worrying that the floating dream would disappear. Then, the colors slowly disappeared. The dream turned black and white. I was sorry. I tried to remember the colors. I knew then that the dream was in color. My drawing was of my hometown in Khon Kaen.” In the film’s concluding moments, fleeting glimpses of the artist’s friends and scenes from his everyday life melt into a barrage of fireworks that illuminates the nighttime sky. A visual tour de force, Ashes effortlessly weaves together the mundane and the extraordinary.
Bae Youngwhan’s Ten Thousand Years’ Sleep (Black) of 2010 consists of a set of black-glaze porcelain objects arranged on nine shelves in a plywood artist’s box. The porcelain forms, created by the spontaneous kneading motions of the artist’s hands, call to mind the rolling hills and valleys that figure so prominently in traditional Korean painting—and are still visible in the landscape surrounding Seoul. More surprisingly, these darkly gleaming forms also correlate with the undulating lines of the artist’s EEG (electroencephalogram) chart, which he often exhibits with this sculptural work, along with pen drawings based on his brainwave patterns.
Since 2012, Michelle Charles has produced a series of mesmerizing paintings, ink drawings and camera-less photographs based on the motif of crystal balls. These works bear out the late Dore Ashton‘s observation that Charles’ art has principally to do with the volatility of memory, and with its unpredictable residues. Her black-and-white camera-less photographs, made by a process that Charles prefers not to divulge, appear to result from what one might guess to be the application of a chemical-laden brush to a photosensitive support in a darkroom. These almost-photographic renderings of crystal ball-like orbs startle with their fluid forms and perplexing hints of dimensional illusion.
Koo Donghee’s video work Static Electricity of Cat’s Cradle (2007) is a meticulously staged enactment of an unusual aerial coupling by a young man and woman. We see the young man wearing pajamas and holding a candle, enter a darkened room that quickly proves to be a theatrical set. He carefully climbs onto a creaking, expansive spring mattress. A young woman, also in pajamas, is sleeping there, surrounded by objects that include a makeup kit and a plush toy. While she continues to snooze undisturbed, he attaches hoist belts to each of them that are part of an elaborate web of ropes, hooks, and pulleys. Soon they are both jerked awkwardly into the air, the young woman still sleeping, in a kind of parody of a dream of flying. As they rise and fall in space, with their arms extended longingly toward each other, a rear-screen projection presents footage shot from an automobile gliding through anonymous urban vistas and past the low hills around Seoul. Eventually they manage to come together and embrace for a few seconds. In the work’s final moments, the camera pulls back to reveal the artifice of the stage and the hoist apparatus. With the young couple still dangling in midair, a cowboy-hatted stage technician nonchalantly switches off the projection and brings the illusion to an end.
After Shimpei Takeda moved back to Japan from the U.S. in 2014, he began to reexperience the gradual change of the seasons and to observe his natural surroundings more carefully. “I became fascinated by the techniques and materials used in arts and crafts that spring from a close relationship with the natural environment,” he has written, “such as natural dyes, pigments and natural glazes.” In his recent “Glaze” works, he has set out to devise a comparable approach using the materials of camera-less photography. He describes these prints as gelatin silver photograms, but the process that he uses to produce them is unique. “In this series, I capture natural processes, such as falling rain, melting snow and ice, or changes in the moisture content of soil, directly on photographic paper, exposing it under the sun, then using a chemical process to ripen it. Black and white photographic paper is normally monochromatic, but through exposure to daylight, it gradually changes color. Leaving it outside for anything from a few hours to months, the paper shifts to blue, pink, or purple. These differences of color are created by temperature, humidity, chemical substances in an object, and the amount of ultraviolet light. The raw images take on rustic colors – reddish brown, brown, or khaki – through a process employing specially prepared chemicals.” This process that he employs to make these mysterious, softly luminous works, he feels, “is very much like making ceramic glazes.”