on SoHyun Bae

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Configuring Wrap

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““““““““““““““““The painted shards are “wrapped” as in the practice of common women of the Josun Dynasty who gathered up bits and pieces of existing cloths to create patchworks (bo-ja-gi) large enough to wrap gifts or to cover individual lacquer dinner tables.

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— SoHyun Bae

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SoHyun Bae’s Wrapped Shards canvas is space, visible and not quite visible — access to something unknown, yet pushing into the known before our eyes.  What kind of space — inner, outer; historical, cosmological?  A window or an unnamable opening? An other dimension or a rediscovered realm?  Specifying it is risky. Yet standing before such intensely wrought image activity — soft gradations of migrating blues, grays and related pigments, the textured surfaces of saturated rice paper (shades of white slip on early Korean pottery), the viewer feels the pull and tries to get oriented.

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What is the scale of events?  There are certain pointers.  The size of the canvas, usually five to nearly seven feet square, roughly matches the viewer, and yet the visual “action” suggests something much greater. The image sometimes seems recognizable, as in Wrapped Shards: Egg Woman II (2003) — abstracted woman with basket of eggs on her head — thus a human scale and window-on-reality view.  Yet the shifting image (doubling? dividing? shaking? reuniting?) is contained in an oval background shape like a huge hidden head, pushing scale to the “colossal” (cf. Bae’s earlier series, A Woman of Josun Dynasty: Colossal Head I-VII, 1998, not on view).

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A centered head as interior container, even its vestige, implies a vessel of the quasi-archetypal female, in part ancestral presence, wherein a trace of the divine feminine (the Shekhinah of Kabbalah) shows through, as if emerging from the ground of layered color.  Behind the “image” there is further reality, a near-entity inside the painting, gazing back at the viewer as if through one’s own eyes, displaced, oneself now suddenly the “interviewer” contacting an other realm.  The play of unsettled but persistent imagistic action is ambiguous (ambi-valent): are things coming apart or together? Falling or rising? Both at once? The woman (precariously balancing eggs) is inside an egg-like head, related to the ancient Korean tradition of burying the placenta wrapped inside a jar (itself “meshed” in red earth) inside another jar; and this earth-seeding/bleeding action suspends in a field of shattering shards.  The artist’s interest in Lurianic Kabbalah and the Breaking of the Vessels suggests a liminality both personal and primordial, the destruction/creation of our reality, now, the eternal instant after the ever coming apart.

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This slowed, strangely erotic movement of particles seems not frozen but in a state of silence so definitive it can only be known spatially, through a seeing that reverses everything. Image continuously pulls back to abstraction, disengaging the memory of form, recovering the action of image-formation in rising from the chaotic ground. The space is finally neither figurative nor abstract but configurative, like the beginning of the world and of the work — the art, the seeing through, the viewing that attracts it all back to itself.

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Written for the 2005 exhibition Wrapped Shards, Skoto Gallery, New York City. © 2005 George Quasha.

The SoHyun Bae 2003 work shown above is Wrapped Shards: Egg Woman II,  rice-paper and pigment on canvas, 81 x 60 inches. © 2003 SoHyun Bae. All rights reserved.

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