“My intention is to decipher the message of the universe delivered by the wind which has been engraved in wood grains like some secret codes, and then visualize it.”
In the transcendentalist tradition of landscape painting, it was believed that the mind should not be considered to be separate from nature, and those painters attempted to create art showing or even inviting a union between the mind and nature. Science and its method seemed to call for a division and the union sought was, therefore, not mediated through the intellect, which allowed for the desecration and exploitation of the natural. Yet, we cannot deny the effect that our experiences and knowledge of nature have on us when we attempt to feel what the transcendentalists have always promised. When Walt Whitman wrote about abandoning the lecture of the learned astronomer in favor of gliding out into the “mystical moist air” and looking up “in perfect silence at the stars,” was nature going to silently infuse him with an awareness divorced from previous experience and knowledge or was his experience of the sublime going to be brought about through what he knew or wished to know about the world in the presence of the world?
Some interesting little boxes created by Wheiza Kim at Suechung Koh’s Gallery d’Arte can be considered a response to these questions. Over various landscapes she has the painted grids or lattices of windows, which are partly open, having lifted that segment of the landscape higher than its adjoining parts, creating a void. Looking into the void one sees a little area inhabited by figures reflected back to one through a mirror. So what does it mean to have a window that can be opened in these landscapes? What is that window, where does it come from, what does it reveal?
Kim, herself, told me she would like to offer the concept of a Möbius strip – that type of long strip which you slightly turn and attach end to end so that if an ant were to begin crawling on the strip it would cover both the front and back side in a theoretically endless loop of a journey. To me the windows opening the perceivable screen of nature might represent our discoveries and insights into nature through cognition and experience – ranging anywhere from the insights of Spinoza to the insights of Schopenhauer - and this means that in our attempt to get the message of the universe, the underlying essence of the world, we are directed back into a greater exploration of our own cognition, motivation, desire and emotion. We enter a type of Möbius strip process taking us outside and inside and back again, perpetually.
Kim explained that according to Zen masters, to attain a peaceful state, your mind has to be like a mirror, otherwise the mind becomes susceptible to a type of ‘attachment’ thinking or desire, which leads to emotional agony. Along with the little figures one also sees one’s own reflection through the open window, thus becoming a part of the piece of art. To Merleau-Ponty a subject looking at himself in a mirror experiences a ‘troubled form’ of self-knowledge in that he/she perceives him/herself from the perspective of the other and realizes the form of socializing coercive force used and sometimes embraced by the individual instead of a type of inner change and development which engenders its own momentum through self-observation. Schopenhauer believed the intellect to be a mirror to the ‘will’ allowing one’s will, itself, to move toward a greater sense of self-denial. To me, the mirror in these pieces by Kim questions the extent to which the external mirror of troubled identity or the inner mirror of cognition motivates self-development and change and to what extent change through the external mirror may actually be possible as well as the capacity of the will or aggression to ‘recognize’ itself and initiate its own change merely based on recognition of itself.
Among other pieces in the show are those in which Kim works with the natural grain of the wood to create landscape-like images. These pieces are often made to look like traditional Asian folding screens where mirrors stand in place of the hinges. Other works explore the symbolism of the triangle in relation to stupas, yoga and urban life. The triangle, of course, is one of the oldest symbols and may have taken its form as an abstraction of a mountain. In ancient times mountains were sacred areas and the higher you climbed, the farther you distanced yourself from the effects of others and the closer you approached the spirit realm. In Sumeria the upward pointed triangle represented ‘the masculine’ or an active principle of desire seeking its conjunction with the fulfilment of the feminine.
The triangle is, in itself, a little allegory (beginning, middle, end) encompassing the transience of movement or time with the permanence of change. In the inner core of these triangle pieces are three mirrors which create complex visual patterns, the mirrors representing the minds of three people – the very basic number of people, for instance, in computerized game theory experiments to approximate a basic social unit.
The show closed on Tuesday January 26th, but Suechung Koh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about viewing or purchasing Kim’s work, more of which will be on display soon in LA.