Layers of Time, Accumulated throuth Pressure
Sun young Lee
Sangsun Bae’s oeuvre is full of dormant possibilities, ostensibly hard to fathom but from which hidden things might emerge when they are stirred. Only the axis of time might be able to bring a change to the relationship between potentiality and reality. Forms drawn on the black velvet background using white gesso cannot be evident at the outset. Only after innumerable strokes are executed can degrees of light and dark be distinguished. The artist applies such opaqueness to our lives and art alike. There is the will of light that intends to expose itself by defeating the resistance of time. On the other hand, there is also the antagonism of darkness that wants to cover all actions with inaction and death. The mutual relation between brightness and darkness is likened to that of memory and oblivion. What is unique about Bae’s work is related to black velvet, which is used as a background. Regarding the material, the artist says, “Black velvet is a medium that overthrows all senses regarding painting.” Blue Chinese ink and gesso are applied onto velvet first, and then lines are drawn using Chinese ink and charcoal, or paints mixed with diluted gesso are applied using a fine brush. Finally, the velvet surface turns into a space in which light and dark flickers after countless repetitions of this process. Initially, the lines begin from figure drawings. The artist expresses bodily rhythm instead of reproducing a human body.
Eva Heller wrote in her book How Colors Affect Your Mind and Your Feelings (Wie Farben auf Gefühl und Verstand wirken) that the darkest black is one that is seen in black velvet and deeper black is seen in outer space where no light exists. The velvet Bae chose as the key medium for her work rather than canvas or paper makes an ideal background in relation to light, like the dramatic action of untying or cutting off knots. The artist’s brushstrokes are countless gestures of interpretation that try to retrieve memories and meaning from the absolute black material. It is a natural connection, given that all life is destined to begin in the soil and return to it again. Painting, as a soundless medium, speaks in silence. An artwork that contains history is not only a living thing but carries the voices of beings that have vanished. As with nature and history, an artwork is also an old text that needs to be interpreted over and over again. Although this work, whose title was once used as the title of the exhibition “Layers of Time,” employs an abstract language of high density, it attempts to contain history and stories.
Bae, who studied in Korea and Japan and is working actively in both countries, once conducted a project based on in-depth investigations into the entangled historical relationship between South Korea and Japan, like difficult knots to undo. Although it is true that that have been countless incidents involving the two neighboring countries, the artist is not concerned with depicting separate incidents. Although it is hard for an abstract language to convey a narrative, the artist left traces of action equivalent to a narrative process by painting countless lines on a non-neutral surface like velvet. They are the traces of the nameless, which can be likened to the footprints left by earthly beings who lived finite lives. These traces are both on the road and off the road. Drawing-based artworks show that drawing is an extension of writing. A story that was written is layered with another story to be written, making it difficult to read the stories in the layers in a clear view. Therefore, it is no coincidence that shapes resembling broken symbols are seemingly drifting on the canvas when seen from a distance. When the surface of an artwork with high density is enlarged and its surface is not blurred, the work seems to lead a life of its own. However, when it is seen at a different dimension, there happens to a repetition occurring over time. Viewed from far away, the history of humans does not differ greatly from that of nature. There may or may not be the meaning of life.
Nevertheless, art deals with a relatively longer time span that includes death. Cyclical worldviews, rather than apocalyptic ones in which everything comes to an end, give some comfort. The abstraction pursued by Bae is an alternative language that involves more realities by abridging the reality, not by excluding it. The dark background is apocalyptic. However, that is not an end but another foundation for life. Just as there is no significant difference between drawing and erasing, disappearing dots and lines are disappearing and emerging at the same time. Feedback is immediately made within vortex-like currents. The artist accelerates time through her work. The lines with the regularly curved sides, which cover the entire surface, are reminiscent of stirring forces. Human civilizations have advanced to achieve life where predictabilities rise but control of fate is diminished. However, civilizations are subject to the increasing risk of disorder as much as social norms are at work. Traces of beings sometimes resemble certain signs. Sangsun Bae focuses on showing the transformative process of signs rather than their fixed forms. For this reason, the signs are not static in her work. They reveal circumstances before or after things become signs. They do not refer to a meaning, but imply a spot where a meaning is formed and ceases to exist.
The countless lines drawn in the background do not make a definite form or are reduced to a singular meaning. Rather, they are left as the traces of creation and extinction. In a work drawn with gesso on a velvet background, which was featured in the 2019 exhibition “Layers of Time” at Gallery Lee & Bae, Busan, the differences in distribution of light and dark on each panel reveals differences in repetition. The lines, which are slightly out of line, are reminiscent of the myth of eternal recurrence. The artist uses the flux of the innumerable lines to represent nameless territory. The fine lines end up with knots. Some knots are cut off or untied, reminding of a human face or body. It might be that life itself , which begins with cutting off the link to the mother’s womb, is the repetition of a process of knots being formed, naturally untied, or adamantly cut off. Bae’s interest in the flow of lines persists in her works, which employ different media such as photos, ceramics, and installations in addition to her paintings rendered on velvet, Her oeuvre extends relationships with the others to historical relations. The artist has collected and interpreted memories of Joseon under the colonial rule of Japan.
Photos and video works created under this theme do not deal with ideological relations between two countries. Rather they work with a themed story of a Japanese who was born and grew up in colonial Joseon, which is beyond his choice. Bae’s works suggest that knots impossible to undo on the international level can be untied on a social or individual level. Through her works with velvet in which countless repetitive images are not easily exposed, the artist sees the fate of the unnamed in history. She intended to convey the voices that ‘sound like an outcry of the living.’ It was a hard task to make the invisible the visible and add words to silence. For the artist, the knot is a metaphor for relationships. However, humans do start their own life carrying the primitive trauma of separation from the mother’s womb. In this sense, life is a series of encounters and departures, that is, the continuity of relationships. There are reasonable relationships or twisted ones. From myth to psychology, the knot has been used as a universal symbol having precondition to untying. To undo a knot requires reconfiguration of the relationship which matters in the relations with others.