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KIM Ho Deuk

KIM Ho Deuk, Cyan Museum of Art


1950, Seoul


Painting, Installation



Layered Space-Between, 2013

Installation with cotton(Installed at Nakdong River), 1000x150cm(3 pieces)

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Freedom Attained through Constant Self-Denial

Ⅰ. “Right Here” and Seeking Truth
To an artist, tradition is always something that needs to be broken. As stagnant water is bound to become putrid, tradition is to be inherited but simultaneously overcome. Ho Deuk Kim has consistently maintained this attitude in his artwork, as testified by the progression of his output spanning over thirty years. Having diligently adjusted his sensitive feelers to seek out novelty, Kim is now being acclaimed as an artist pioneering new horizons for Korean painting, an artist who challenges and experiments. In particular, it appears that the effort and passion poured into his projects of the past few years came into full bloom through a 2009 invitational exhibition at the Cyan Museum of Art and a recent exhibition at Gallery 604.
Notably, his exhibition titled, Wave of Mind, Awakening Moment?Feeling Space at the Cyan Museum connotes in the term “wave of mind,” a sense of urgency, or an abruptness or an indescribable condition. The title alludes to a transcendent horizon, a place that transcends any specific juncture bound by time and space as suggested by the synthesis of terms “Awakening Moment” and “Feeling Space.” If we rightly view an artist as someone who uses a specific medium to give form to vivid lived experiences, then the origin of such experiences, including those of Ho Deuk Kim cannot escape the boundaries of real space. If the site where I feel sick is “right now,” or the site where I drink is “right here” the site where I paint is also “right here.” However, the fact that the place I paint is “right now” does not equal that the painting itself originates “right now.” The artist cannot define where it comes from and because he finds himself unable to determine its origin, he despairs and continues with the ordeal of self-discipline. This is all the more acute for a disciplinary artist like Kim, since his paintings seek not the dimension of description, but that of discovery or attainment of universal truth.

Ⅱ. Aesthetics of the Momentary Brushstroke
While seeking out a phrase that adequately represents Kim’s art, I came across the following passage from the Blue Cliff Record: “One must distinguish black and white in a split second and determine life and death in a flash of lightning, (then) he is able to identify himself with the present and reach the summit of a 10,000 feet cliff.” I am quoting the terms “Wave of Mind” “just,” and “as is” from the catalog of Kim’s exhibition at the Cyan Museum. He once mentioned that, “I have always been fond of these expressions. After a serious illness last spring, I began to like one more word, ‘now.’” Therefore, these four phrases, including “now,” are essential for comprehending his work. Among them, “just” and “as is” refer to a particular state of an object or of a situation. A fitting example of their usage would be “Don’t touch it, just leave it as is.” These two expressions represent a spatial quality, whereas “Wave of Mind, Awakening Moment” and “now” denote a temporal quality. Thus, while Kim’s creations can be categorized as Korean paintings rendered in pen, ink and paper, they possess a prominent component of conceptuality.
Kim first grew interested in language around the mid-1990s, when he created Mountain, Tree, Rock (1994). Using black ink and blue and brown paints, he repeatedly painted the characters, “산, 나무, 돌” (mountain, tree, rock) onto cotton cloth. He painted the mountain in letters in place of sketching a physical mountain, which was a conceptual approach to representing an object. Although the painting deals with language, it does not appear to belong to conceptual art in the manner of One and Three Chairs (1965) by Joseph Kosuth. While the American artist juxtaposes a physical chair, a photograph of the chair and a dictionary definition of the word "chair," Kim employs dense ink to boldly paint lines that imitate a mountain onto the left side of the painting, and hints at the locations of a mountain, trees and rocks by inscribing “mountain, tree, rock” over these lines. He drew a conceptual landscape painting, so to speak. Such efforts have reappeared of late after a long absence: the syllables and phonemes “가” “나” “ㅅ,” “ㅏ” are inscribed backwards with his left hand. In his interim time period, he went through phases of dot painting, waterfall drawing, and other projects aimed to empty himself, a strenuous process of self-discipline.
To return to the passage from the Blue Cliff Record, Kim is currently experimenting with the methodology of painting a single stroke, demonstrating the vigorous and magnanimous vitality created by the one-stroke technique. His solitary stroke embodies the aesthetics of the very moment at which the condensed energy of his entire body erupts in focused action. In other words, it is an art of energy created in the moment when “one must distinguish black and white in a split second and determine life and death in a flash of lightning.” Upon accomplishing this, he is able to identify himself with the present and reach the summit of a 10,000 feet cliff. Like master vocalists who attain their full capacity only after a long process of self-discipline, if a painter fails to produce even a single extraordinary work, he or she ends up plunging into mediocrity.

Ⅲ. Freedom Attained through Constant Self-Denial
The waterfall paintings by Ho Deuk Kim visualizes the state of being “on the point of landing a blow with one’s fist under the rib of great foolishness” (Linji Lu). This is a state through which the pictorial ground can reveal a figure, as in the figure-ground reversed relationships of Gestalt psychology, or in the tactics of “looking one way and rowing another” (Tongdian). Thus, to borrow Kim’s own words, it is the state of landing a punch under the rib of great foolishness all of a sudden, or without warning.
According to the artist, Ho Deuk Kim was once nearly drinking himself to death. Anyone who has fallen into a state of serious alcohol dependency knows the feeling. There in the abyss, no sense of specific time and space exists; here is there and there is here; yesterday resembles today and today resembles tomorrow. Upon obtaining such freedom from obstacles, one enters a state wherein one is attracted to nothing and cannot discriminate anything. That is why Kim’s statement that he has become fond of the word “now,” carries such conviction. To quote from the Linji Lu again, this is a state of spiritual realm where “there is neither Buddha nor the law in or out of the mundane world.” Kim’s paintings aim to attain this condition. It is an entirely separate world, both methodologically and qualitatively, from that of minimal painting in the West, which produces a blank canvas after processes of dialectical abstraction of images.
Mu-wi-jin-in (無位眞人) originally refers to a person who has reached the state of freedom from all obstacles, or Mu-ae (無碍), through infinite self-denial. A jin-in (眞人), or true man, reaches a state of mu (nothingness) by erasing all limitations, transcending forms, and engaging in constant self-denial (Linji Lu). Paintings by Ho Deuk Kim show us nothing other than this aspect of asceticism. Through his paintings, Kim seeks a state of freedom from obstacles, or a state of indifference, to exist unfettered by the forms of objects.
The installation Kim presented at the Cyan Museum of Art was a landscape. He dissolved black Chinese ink into a large tank of water and suspended thirty white sheets of traditional Korean paper above the tank, which were then reflected in the water. Each cascading sheet was, by design, placed three centimeters lower than the next. In another work, Kim shaped papier mache into thin, round, flat forms, skewered them with wires, and arranged them within a spacious square framework. Such spatial designs diverged from the course of his paintings to date. An intensely beautiful site, the procession of white paper sheets reflected in the black surface of the liquid in a dim room illuminated from only a single source.
Along with this installation work, Ho Deuk Kim presented a variety of additional installations, including a display of scores of black and white papier-mache pulp forms that were squeezed into clutched hands and released, and a work featuring a stack of dozens of sheets of traditional Korean paper painted black on both sides juxtaposed with a stack of unmodified sheets. These works, which manifest the presence of the viewer’s body by exhibiting three dimensional real objects, may be an attempt to overcome the limitations of pictorial representation. From forms to ideas, and from ideas to real objects and landscapes, Kim’s work is expanding in scope in his pursuit of furthering expressive methodologies.

Jin-Sup YOON(Art critic/ Professor, Honam Univ.)


The Original Vitality in Space - Wave of mind-Awakening moment, Feeling space

Cyan Museum of Art is a very different and unique exhibit area surrounded by nature. The building used to be a suburban elementary school which was converted into an atypical but very attractive space to become the museum. An artist who understands the spatial characteristics of the museum would know how to bring out a dialogue between exhibit space and his or her own artistic creations. Ho-Deuk Kim has an exceptional ability to understand and interpret space. Kim uses all his senses - vision, hearing, smell, touch and all his peripheral nerves ? in his exploration of space like a predator in search of prey. He trusts his instinctive sense of space. Based on his intuition, Kim analyzes the interconnectedness of exhibit space and artworks and eventually transforms the whole exhibit space into a huge artwork itself. Planning this exhibit a year ago, Kim and I agreed to translate his “space playing” on canvas into concrete works in real space.* “Space playing” refers to how Kim behaves towards his own canvas. He plays with space by painting with Indian ink an invisible 「wind」, 「wave of mind」, and a「between」, determining the relationship between the power of the universe and life through the dialectics of filling/emptying, and a surreal theme like「awakening」. He completes his “space playing” with「Wave of mind-Awakenig moment, Feeling Sapce」in the Cyan space. For Kim, space is a medium that reflects his life and makes the present sensational. Kim has fully devoted himself to this exhibit.

Short Pauses and a Long Breath
Ho-Deuk Kim constructs the three-floor exhibition rooms to connect with several short pauses and a whole long breath. This structure shows Kim’s artistic determination of a concise and controlled style; the introspection grows where the intensity has gone, and the introspections attempt to become a powerful ‘chi’, which is the base of Asian aesthetics and thoughts on materials and the world. The core of 「Wave of mind - Awakenig moment, Feeling space」lies in modernized analysis of ‘chi’. Everything is connected as smoothly as water flows in a long breath. Therefore, this exhibit emulates a feeling of indifference but actually incorporates the artist’s delicate analysis of space and a thorough plan under the impeccable process of construction. Exhibit rooms on each floor are divided in terms of “touch”, “see” and “feel”. Kant believed that “the free play of understanding and imagination,” which in other words is extraordinary art, is created upon combining the analytical mind and sensitivity. This seems to have incarnated in Kim’s exhibition. Counterparts such as the heads and tails of a coin or of real and virtual images, plane and solid bodies are also developed in counterpoint in this exhibition. Paradoxically, the contradicting elements as construction and deconstruction, the visible and invisible, mind and body, light and darkness, flow and pause, and instance and eternity, should maintain reciprocal balance instead of checking each other to exist in mutual complement. The artist himself should also be a paradoxical being of demolisher. Ho-Deuk Kim has shown the paradox of creation; a creation that demolishes tradition and the self. Ho-Deuk Kim‘s bout with alcohol is as famous as his works. After his total abstinence from alcohol, his artworks changed dramatically that his fellow artists were amazed. He drunk almost to destroy and kill himself. He strongly protested against classicism in Asian paintings and struggled to relive the quintessence of Asian painting in the ‘present’ art by reviving their lost essence. At the point with a creation forthcoming, his unique company must have been alcohol. Despite the fame in his life, T. Adorno called the early death of Wols “an accomplishment of tragic death of human Wols.” Kim refuses to have such a dramatic ending, and today he enjoys the process of constructing his art world with a life of contemplation by tenderly incorporating and harmonizing tradition and innovation. For him, demolition is both a requiem and prelude. By focusing on the creation process rather than completion, Kim frees himself from the constraint of time. A paradoxical aspect of time is how we feel and think about time. The less we think we have time, the more time tightens, and the more we think we have time, the more time grows. This is because our mindset changes our notion of time. When I visited Kim’s studio in the beginning of this year, he showed me his concrete esquisse that presents how to interpret the whole space of Cyan with what works in each space. Remembering that day, few have been changed from what was shown in the esquisse except a few transformations due to technical problems and the reciprocal connection between works and spaces during a month long installation. Planning the exhibit, I have not visited the artist’s studio as often as this time. However, Ho-Deuk Kim surprised me every time with his mind-boggling ideas, which allow his projects to breathe with space so closely. This was absolutely due to his passion and commitment to visit, feel and embody the exhibit area.

Tactile Space
The exhibit room on the first floor echoes a spiritual resonance as ink and paper vibrate with the theme of “Wave of mind-Awakenig moment, Feeling Sapce.” Kim has been studying the power of life through the series of 「Wind」 and 「Wave of mind - Awakenig moment」. However, he focuses on displaying life itself beyond its power in the three divided spaces. He uses paper and the sense of his hand, instead of Korean paper, brush and Chinese ink. In other words, he projects the actual feeling of the materials and its touch in real space, not simply drawing the countless spots on canvas. This way, the variation of paper and ink transforms into a real handwork and maximizes the combination of space, time and body. Entering the exhibit room, the viewer is drawn to one black dot that seems to pop out of white engraving paper. This black dot, which is a match for R. Barthes’ 'punctum', is not simply seen by a viewer but finds and stabs the viewer’s heart like an arrow from the center of the space. The viewer’s sight follows the zigzag shaped spaces until it reaches the rugged black chunk placed in the center of the two facing walls of the room. On the left side, which is like a long display panel without windows, there are installations made with Korean paper. On the other wall are six plain pieces of paper that are displayed in a line, with seemingly expanding black dots drawn on them. In the series of「Wave of mind - Awakenig moment」and「Between」, which are also called the dispersion and interspersion of dots, the repetitive dots represents an ideological meaning of the birth of a new creature that each dot projects at every moment. On the other hand, the white and black chunk of dots (on the installed piece of Korean paper), which are placed evenly inside the wood frame or on the first floor panel, exist as if they were a living creature. The trace of the artist’s bodily movement is embedded in the property of Korean paper and the chunk of dots is placed in the space configured with wood frame. This, itself, paradoxically becomes another space. The chunk of dots has its different faces and allures the viewers as a captured butterfly fixed on the thirty six wood frames. In a more exact term, it seems to be pinned down on the wood box whose one side is not present or on the wood panel. Infused inside the chunk of dots are the uniqueness and durability of time. Ultimately, the essence of Chinese ink painting is a stroke, and the origin of stroke is a dot. The space, which interacts with the artists, begins from this dot and completes as the space of mind and body. Since last winter, Kim has made over a thousand small Korean paper bodies, compressed with flat dots and the trace of hand. Closing his eyes, he feels the touch of the Korean paper and reaches to the world of idea beyond the visual world. This is the outcome of a spirit reincarnated within a material object. As H. Focillon believed that art was created with the hands, he said, “No matter how strongly a sprit has receptive capacity and an initiative spirit, it will end up with an internal struggle without the hand’s cooperation.” The work on Korean paper can also be done using the superb control of the fingers and the strength of the palm. Likewise, the artist’s paintings on the wall of an exhibition room or on canvas also vividly reveal the secret interaction of the artist’s hand and the surface of the painting. In the process of putting conde on a wall by a hand or of sticking the delicate pigment powder by only the heat of one’s finger tips and palms, the artist’s body and the surface of canvas emulate their criss-crossing inhalations and exhalations. The sense of touch, which is the most responsive sense, is first created by a mother. The pleasure from touching skin spreads from the sensory organs to the whole body, and this shows the artist’s sharp sense as though it were balancing on the sharp edge of a blade. If one axis of the 20th century western art is its progress into dematerialization, Ho-Deuk Kim’s works liberally cross over the realms of materialization and dematerialization. In the works from the themes of Wind/Wave of mind/Awakenig moment/Between, the endlessly repeating dots imply an intention of transform the property as non-existent or non-materialized. In addition, the hundred pieces of black and white Korean paper, fully absorbed in Indian ink due to repetitive brushing, are piled on the floor of the small exhibit room on the first floor. This signifies the property of paper itself. The pieces of white paper were clearly unrolled from a scroll. This is a shift in physical space, which is from the「between」series that interprets the original world beyond the space as a tacit meeting and separation of black brushes. In a dark place that is dimly lit, the integration of black and white pieces of papers seems to buoy slightly above the transparent acrylic pedestals. This visual illusion play dexterously crosses the terrains of real and virtual images, which continues to the second floor and finally climaxes at the third floor.

Visual Space
The only light for both the first floor small room and the second floor is a gleam of dim light illuminating the irregular white dot circles. The flat dots, made with the pieces of Korean paper dough, seem to delicately vibrate neither going upward nor downward on a black pond. Is the artist attempting to reach closer to infinity of the universe through this gravity-free space? He may be. Thirty meters above the black ground, our eyes become familiarized to the darkness from the bottom area, and begin to recognize that the black dots are not thrown on the ground but actually slightly laid on the black wire installation. With the theme “Wave of mind-Awakenig momentshake, Feeling sapce”, the experience and the recognition of the “eye” is emphasized. It is more like a westernized notion advocating the influence of the eye, rather than the Asian concept of seeing. Is Kim merely reminding everyone of the vanishing western debate over creation vs. the plane of illusion Or is he intending to misstate the illusion of three dimensional spaces reflected in a plane? The six black dots on the wall of the first floor are more of an example of an illusion experiment. Using different lightings and shades, the black dots may seem to be expanding and lumpy on the border lines. The darkening of the top two-thirds and lightening the rest of the drawing creates an illusion of depth to a flat surface. The black dots gradually become larger and elated with their strength, creating ritual effects. The dots from Ho-Deuk Kim’s previous pictures connect to another dot and horizontally approach the eternal space whose future is unknown. However, the dots on the second floor do not go beyond their spatial boundaries. The expansion of these dots within a clear borderline makes the viewer see the world of vertical depth. Walking above the ground and seeing the bottom, the viewers experience as though they are sinking down into a world of contemplation, which is an abyss deeper than the surface of the floor. The plane of the vertical is expressed in Gestalt’ psychology term of ‘pregnanz’, which is the sublimated plane. Kim meticulously reverses the premise of seeing with the eyes to the traditional technique of seeing with the mind, succeeding its spirit.

Wave of mind-Awakening moment, Feeling space
Entering the dark area, the viewers cannot but express admiration. Their wonder reaches its climax with the magic of space. Like a symbol of immaculacy, the bright white paper hangs on empty air. Their long shadows are reflected on the pond of Chinese ink. On the third floor, the falling dots from the ceiling to the floor arouse a feeling of immeasurable depth from the shallow but full ink. This reflection makes the narrow and long exhibition room seem wider. With the lighting motive of this exhibition, the reflection creates time and space where the dialects of emptying, filling, real and virtual image continue. It is meaningless to divide the real images from the virtual images where everything succumbs to a state of non-existence. Emotion is created from an empty paper with no materials whatsoever. The absence exists in the ink, hiding itself behind the darkness. Here, Kim is preparing to return all of his works to non-existence. This non-existence is not emptiness but of something that generates the greatest possibility to create every existence. In other words, this is the limitlessness of a borderless of time and space. It seems as though air stops at the end tip of the texture of pieces of Korean paper that consistently drop by three centimeters in every thirty centimeters and meet the surface of the water. The phenomenon of the visible and invisible creates a special organization of time and space, which W. Benjamin likens to a near and distant aura. We are now standing at the center of instant and permanent beings. As if the leaves were shaken by a man’s breathe, the constant vibration of waving water reflects the origin of life, creating a circle of delicate lines on the walls and ceiling. The barely visible and unceasing movement of water implies the providence of letting nature as it is. This has been a metaphorical medium of our memory since the first morning of the world. Upon barely hearing the sound of constantly flowing water, the viewers could freely meditate and retrospect as ambling along or sitting unwittingly in the space sublimated to aesthetics of temperance. On the last day of exhibit, the piece of white paper hung on the ceiling will fall down as falling flowers and sink into the Chinese ink. They shall be assimilated with the Chinese ink completely. From the depths of extinction, absence and presence will coexist. Even the extreme state of non-existence will tell that something is being created and the end has not yet come. The closing of this exhibit will prophesy the completion of life and the creation of a new life, and will be like a ritual that foresees Ho-Deuk Kim’s future art world.

Soyoung PARK(Independent Curator/Art critic)