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Sun-Joo Shin

Sun-Joo Shin, Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art facebook


1972, Busan


Painting, Sculpture, Photography



Traffic Building, 2015

Oil pastel, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 80.5cm

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The Dark Spot that enables vision

The subtitle of the exhibition, ‘Maniere-noir: Gray Zing(京)’, in itself shows the combination of different languages. This portrays the will of the artist who wishes to convey various layers/realms of art on the verge of painting and photography. The works for this exhibition show Beijing in grey tone as the subtitle suggests. The carefully toned down landscape of Beijing in grey, white and black tones reveals historic and old buildings such as the Forbidden City, and old residences which carefully retain the multiple layers of time to what was once a factory, but is now modern art studios which protrude mechanical Sachlichkeit.
All of these chosen places emanate a simple yet strong impression. This is mainly because of the site-specific features of those places, but also because of the abstract features of dark black (somewhat feeling like velvet) and a carefully captured angle after an analytic scrutiny of the site. The general tone of the art was carefully directed, created by needle scraping on an oil-pastern drawn area. This produces a supplementary effect on the strongly protruded composition and color field. 
This exhibition shares works that were previously shown in the ‘Maniere-noir: Beijing Photos’ exhibition in 2009, but this year’s exhibition is more inclined to the drawings and painterly procedures of the art. Shin Sun-Joo studied both painting and photography, yet Shin subtly expresses her affection toward painting which requires meticulous and careful touches, rather than photography which simply plays the role of medium or tools in her works.
While still maintaining site-specificity, we can see the painterly game which contrasts black and white with a tint of psychological tension. Those landscapes are barren, quiet and serene. The buildings have been substituted by a white, grey and black color field, yet we can still trace the flow of air in between buildings, endowing latent movement in this midst of stillness. 
   Shin’s works depart from a landscape which is very vernacular in terms of site-specificity; however, it is noticeable how she geometrically divides the fields. Shin carefully orchestrates the composition even when photographing the site itself. Her work [Two chimneys](2011) shows two interlocked buildings in different tones, and achromatic colors. It is appropriately displayed in [MK2 Art Space](2010). It shows somewhat abstract and geometric features of the composition. The lower part shows black, added with the shades of light (in white tone), grey sky, and various other grey-tone buildings. The actual place/site undergoes modifications for the sake of the abstract balances of the scene. The [hmmmmmm...Imaginary Reconstruction](2011) captures the front of the highly functional site (without any superflousness), like some factory; and Shin placed a reverse side of the other scene as well. Shin is loyal to the front-facade-ness of classical arts and frequently shows contrasting composition, for example, with doors. 
Those frontal and contrasting features along with black/grayish tones allow audiences to be deeply immersed into the works. [Sunjeongmun’s順貞門](2011) work presents a building placed within an arch, and its architecture structure embraces a white sky section. [Old house in Beijing University](2010) shows a door inside a black-door. The closedness of the site is further protruded by the black color that emphasizes the frames of the door. Her work, [Gap](2010) or [HeiQiao Studio no.1](2009) illustrate a screen, seemingly locked by the heavy lock despite an adherence to the perspective methodology. 
The sky itself is a crack laid in between artificial structures in grey-black tones. However, in the process of unfolding dialogues between the light and darkness, the closedness is only a precondition to the openness. The projected contrasts of light and shade shown in Shin’s works are being merged into the subject, landscape, while telling the drama of light and dark. In a civilized world, light is generally regarded as obviousness or indisputability, and darkness is often regarded as chaos. This is why light is often understood as the metaphor of truth or enlightenment; however, light remains in the realm of background which emphasizes darkness. While the photography captures and fixates light on the photographic paper, painting is the achromatic color plane field, painted or raked by meticulous hands. The black color seems like a bottomless cave or abyss with its opaque matiere rather than being a transparent feature.
This is the realm of the so-called black hole, rapidly absorbing our gaze, yet our gazes soon wander on the screen without finding an anchoring spot. This is because of the concurrence of instantaneity of mechanical time and zeitlichkeit (temporality) produced by movement of physical eyes. There’s no difference in closing or opening eyes in this dark realm. Such a model of visual perception, still loyal to the Zustandlichkeit (presence), collapses in the nearest place. This unseen realm resembles the Platon’s Khora concept. Platon asks in Timaeus how we could see the holding place that draws perpetual substances, and still invite the game of creation, while still lacking forms and visibility. 
The answer for this question would be that our perspectives toward such objects lie in a realm that we do not see, and what we cannot see. In other words, in the realm of the blinded spot. John McCumber in his states that we would not be able to see the constructed vision around the blind spot, but it does influence the scope and forms of the visual field. Shin’s works show something that we are not able to see, i.e. constructed vision near or on our blind spots. This is identified and explained by the words of Hans Blumenberg ‘light as the metaphor of mighty truth’ and Derrida’s ‘rupture of violence of time that give rise to metaphysics’.
According to John McCumber, what Platon meant by blind spot is the sun that we could never directly face or see. And this is why and how the blind spot could structuralize the fullness of substance which goes beyond the realm of form itself, or its existence. In Shin’s works, the object of vision is not the presence, it is ‘trace’ (Derrida) rather than some form. 
  The vision structuralized around one’s blind spot is the open vision toward the trace itself. The black, covered and filled with the thick and dense pigments, ironically seems like the space of emptiness. As it is possible to have vision emanated from the blind-spot, the real could be born from this space of emptiness and nothingness. Such spots of darkness structuralize the reality within the work itself, and yet, endow inner consistency toward something that is the real.
When such fiction disappears, the remaining reality loses its potency. This is the same as the ‘an utterly dark spot’ mentioned by Miran Bozovic. In his ‘An Utterly Dark Spot’, Bozovic discusses the reality of the invisibility in the midst of a panopticon-like universe that is filled with entirely transparent light.  Here, the panopticon is that of Jeremy Bentham. According to Bozovic, certain fiction (imaginary, non-existence) of such an utterly dark spot that could gaze at all prisoners, activates the panopticon. Shin’s works illustrate that observatory gazes could be cited as models for this, especially her work [Summer Palace](2009) in which the contrasting landscape’s center is filled with (or opened with) black color.
The concept of Panopticon is related to the modern society’s political and economic structure. At the same time, it could be a significant model for visual art since it connotes the impetus of power (authority) by showing what is lacking. The gaze of the surveillance is further expanded to include the non-visual realm, overcoming the limit of visibility. 
The monitoring lamp room reveals the watcher only in black silhouette as if illustrating the fact that it is the tool for representing the gaze toward the all. The blackness in Shin’s works is more close to the model of opaque shadow, rather than transparent mirror. The mirror model which prevailed art since the Renaissance era, gave rise to a reproduction of space, in a way that the space is constructed/born from the center then spread to the peripheral in an organic order. Others that do not correspond to such order were defined as ‘mal’, absencent and lacking. 
However, in Shin’s works, such dark shadow-like blackness vitalizes this realm of chaos and non-orderliness. Victor Stoichita in his argues that the first reproduction was produced from a shadow. In other words, the birth of artistic representation was from the negative. Plinius in his Naturalis Historia said that painting was first born when an artist drew the borderline of the human shadow in lines. When a painting was first born, it included the absence of body, as the projected form’s existence.
In this sense, the similarity and likeness between shadow and actual object is decisive. The photography is often regarded as an index that designates the physical relevance toward an object. In Shin’s works, blackness encroaches the index, as an allegorical resemblance. As the black squares of Malevich, Shin’s works show her instinct toward anti-representation. Victor Stoichita illustrates how Malevich’s black square was first conceived by the stage curtain. The curtain veils something, instead of representing, yet it enables representation by hanging. 
The blackness in Shin’s works renders the meaning structures as undutiful and obscure. Previously, those meaning structures enabled representation like some blackness within a black square. Or it could be described as a projected shadow converged with the conventional means of perspective, as of ‘drawing with shadow (Stoichita)’. The medium of photography in the contemporary art became the vanguard of mimesis, yet, the photography dismantles the power of mimesis when it is in its peak. The blackness in Shin’s works resonates mysterious serenity, achieving classical balance, as a platform that restores the hand that shapes manual space rather than a finger that shapes optical space (Deleuze). This in turn restores the wild habitat revived with the ‘the Virtual’, bestowing vitality to weakened painting. 

Seon-yeong LEE (Art Critic)