with works by Mun Hee HUR
Facing impossible, hidden things.
HUR MUN HEE's paintings are a narrative like a scene of a fairy tale and, at the same time, ambiguous like a riddle. Although they form specific background and shapes, their descriptions of every situation, in fact, are dotted with ambiguity that is quite close to anonymity. The themes she has dealt with are time, memory, a secret, a house, and an island?they are mainly an individual's private experience and uncertain emotions aroused by these topics. This, as the surrealists did, focuses on the double consciousness of an imperfect subject through reality and subconscious, or through overlaid images of the past and the present, of life and death. In this exhibition, The Island, Hur Mun Hee expresses her memory, surreal imagination, and compulsive regression through her characteristic calm attitude. As suggested by the title of the exhibition, the artist, who grew up in Jeju, has claimed this island her home and place of living, her major artistic fuel. This rouses psychological experiences and a surreal imagination accumulated in the specific geographical condition which is an island.
HUR MUN HEE's work often employs things like toys, houses, dolls, and music boxes. In the work The Dreaming Island (2016), for example, a toy house, which fills up the canvas, occupies the background in a manner of setting a stage. This model, which detached one side of the wall from itself in order to make the interior of the two story structure fully visible, projects its line of vision towards the inside from the outside. In other words, it is a toy enjoying imaginative play, while one can peek inside and toy with it. In her painting, however, a girl from the back engrossed in something inside the toy house is unrealistically depicted. To the sitting girl, whose body is stuck between the floors, this "empty house" is still a toy model. Yet, this site of playing, in reality, is mingled up in an imaginative space. The girl, who can neither stand up nor turn her back, being enclosed in the house appears to be immersed in a play as if to forget her isolated state. This scene is reminiscent of the play of "fort-da" which reveals the subject's obsessive double consciousness that seeks to overcome the feeling of isolation and loss in reality. As a young child with the experience of parting with his or her mother, who is essentially 'the other being', the play repeats the act of throwing a skein of thread toward an empty door (fort/there) where the child's mother had been and then bringing it back (da/here) as a way to overcome his or her sense of loss.
The space in the artist's work maximizes the surrealistic imagination in which the intrinsic feeling of isolation in reality and the imaginative play function as a substitute and ambiguously overlap. What intrigued me even more was the fact that the imaginative house being the background of the work the Dreaming Island is, in fact, part of her collectibles that occupy her studio, that it might be a clue to her unconscious impulse to constantly create surrealistic space as a shelter while forgetting reality as the young girl in her painting. So, the double consciousness present in the Dream Island becomes more evident in a place of reality which is occupied by an imaginative space such as the girl's toy house. As if looking at a precariously balanced house on top of a boulder, it comes to share uncanny sentiments that can hardly be explained amid the countless borders in reality.
In this regard, the work Remote Island - Empty House (2017) has a similar structure. A woman wearing a seashell on top of her head is standing alone on top of a boulder by the sea. Compared to the previous work with the same title, Remote Island - Empty House (2013), the background and structure of the work mostly remain the same, but the girl in the center is replaced with a young lady. It is reasonable to assume that with the same background the past and present overlap; dream and reality, life and death, loss and desire are endlessly intertwined, as if they all collide with each other. What had been hidden begins to faintly emerge from that intersection, something equivalent to magic in reality.
Facing the invisible
Like a riddle blinking with invisible signals, the work from the Island-Wind Blanket (2015) is filled with ambiguous signs. In the work, there is a dormant boat that seems to have been wrecked in the middle of a bluish barley field where clear wind is blowing, and the interior of the boat is fully visible. However, it is difficult to notice the invisible signals sent from the dormant space with the eyes accustomed to a sense of time and space in reality. To prepare a sizeable surface, HUR MUN HEE connects four canvases. Ironically, however, those canvases can never become one. In other words, she constructs a surrealistic fantasy that is divided and overlapped in the ambiguity of perspective which cannot be accessed through linear space or seen through a single point of view. The idea of facing something invisible is paradoxical. Perhaps, it is her intention to try grasping the impossibility of facing the invisible through her juxtaposition of the bare space depicted in her work and perspective.
In the two piece series Times in Asleep (2016), the rupture of the gaze constantly reoccurs. In remembrance of her late dog, HUR MUN HEE seems to have mulled over a juncture where she could confront “the presence of absence.” In the work, she sheds light on invisible things that avoid each other’s glance while being fully present in that empty space. It is the same for the Old Forest series. The old forest that testifies to the layers of time and space is, in fact, obstructing the view of reality and of what lays beyond it. At the same time, it further widens imaginations about the invisible that might exist beyond the boundary of a reality and beyond. Hence, HUR MUN HEE’s work gives an impression that the artist’s thought of facing hidden or invisible things?an impossible task in the first place?is candidly present in her work.
-Ahn, Soyeon (art critic)