Acts for Painterly Seeing

— Soyeon Ahn (art critic)

— Translation: Habin Yang

1. Canvas Piercing

Jiyoung Yoo’s canvas has been pierced from the very beginning. It may sound absurd, but it is true. Her canvas that was used as a support for paintings was not flat—at all. It does not conventionally show so-called two-dimensional flatness. Instead, her works have been continuously featured with random experimental units as if Yoo tried to prove her assumption that paintings rather “contain” images and substances than “support” those “on” a flat surface. In her two solo exhibitions Spilled Water (2018, Rainbow Cube) and One After Another (2019, Alltimespace) she has been boldly conducting “experiments on a thought process by overlapping seemingly irrelevant relations or trans-positioning propositions (see: artist statement)” under the pretext of (re)exploring the prerequisite of contemporary paintings. Yoo’s experiments on supports in paintings that started from random thoughts have converged into three-dimensional attempts to pierce the inside of canvas frames.

The artist has built methodologies in works by using some formal apparatus that aims to call out and fix flexible substances with continuous flow such as liquid, time and thoughts as a reference, and comparing them with paintings. For example, Yoo chooses very specific formal "frames" like cups, clocks, and manuscript papers as a series of systems that separates and represents inherently inseparable and unfixable liquid, time, and thoughts, and tries to overlap them with the canvas supports in her paintings. As Yoo explores how these inseparable and unfixable substances could exist in the reality with detailed forms, her fundamental assumption trying to infer formal logics on how paintings fix images and substances on canvas reveals itself in comparison.

Yoo’s first solo exhibition Spilled Water relentlessly questioned formal justification between “water in a cup” and “spilled water”, focusing on the relations between water (content) and cups (forms). On the other hand, in One After Another, a second solo exhibition, she observed how meanings are organized according to the selected forms of canvas and images while exploring various grid structures. During these processes, the artist gave her undivided focus on piercing the inside of canvas. This attentive focus can be also found in her A Little Artificial Arrangement in Her Garden (2017), an early work presented as part of her MA degree show in London. In this work, Yoo attached images on the wall in the exhibition space and laid white canvases with holes made following the contours of certain figures on them.

Her act of making holes on canvas lays down an ambivalent elucidation of supports in paintings. One is an emphasis on spatial utility of the grid that is often eclipsed by flatness of canvas. The other is a reestablishment of holes which served as uncertain boundaries on the canvas surface as one of prerequisites in paintings. The hole originally refers to actual ones that Yoo has created based on some systems in our real lives, but it also means boundaries among images and brings refreshment to fabric weaves. In other words, as we cannot fill water in broken cups, images cannot be accumulated on a pierced canvas with holes but appears as if Yoo is conducting magical experiments of relocating three-dimensional subjects to painterly illusions by transforming these holes into other girds.

2. Image Stacking

Yoo uses various motifs. Eggs, cups, citrus fruits are one of her frequent motifs and they are cast with plaster or used as an image in photos. While pursuing the radical attempt of piercing a canvas, she overlaps a linear arrangement system such as a calendar or manuscript papers on a flat surface of canvas. “Inside” such painting supports with ambivalent characteristics, she locates multi-dimensionally altered images. One of her previous works, Bric-à-Brac (2019) complexly overlaps the supports and images. From this work, it is hard to tell which one supports countless images or devotedly constitutes a painterly space as an image.

Through her works, it can be inferred that while taking the relations of cup-liquid, clock-time, and language-thoughts as an example Yoo has realized that it is impossible to distinctively draw a line between a canvas, a support of paintings, and images, contents of paintings. In some ways, it might be a painterly error that already lurks on the surface. The motifs (eggs, cups, and citrus fruits) are clues that suggest justification of the error. Egg-shaped white plaster casts that are often featured in her works are one of the examples. The oval surface of an egg was echoed in egg whites and yolks as if it suggests a fractal structure. It seems that Yoo regarded it as an overwhelming maximization of the supports that penetrate the images. The similar pattern appears in the shapes of citrus fruits and cups filled with liquid. Simply put, images placed and arranged inside of the canvas supports recreate another form over and over, and the vice versa is valid as well shown in the overlapped images of the pierced empty canvases. 

This painterly relation has made Yoo have a new link by renewing the relation between the supports and images in paintings. Ambiguity in boundaries after images slipped out from painting supports made its debut in Spilled Water. Template of Hope (2018) that reminds us of images of stickers fully exhibited debris-like equivocal overlaps created on the boundaries in terms of separating forms-content and canvas-image. By leaning pierced canvases on a wall, Yoo makes us re-imagine the substance of painterly spaces that trespass the painterly illusions that she has been exploring.

3. Attaching on a Wall

Yoo explained that Cupboard (2021, ThisWeekendRoom), the third solo exhibition was “to ask a question on utility of paintings by overlapping ‘image-support-exhibition space’, a serial structure in painting, with a grammar in arrangement found at ‘home’, the most familiar place for most of us.” (see: exhibition plan) While observing relations between images and supports, she has focused on a junction where the two are crossed and break away. By doing so, it seems Yoo treats an actual “space” as an environment for the supports and images.

The title literally suggests how the exhibition is presented, starting with arrangement of objects and it overlaps with conventional arrangement in residential spaces at the same time, thereby explicitly telling us a connection point where the triad of the image, canvas and wall are met. For example, a support of a big canvas served as a medium to bridge a wall and images. A gird “space” that she always explores finally gets a more-structured context due to a shelf with a size of wall and decorative interior arrangement. It may appear that characteristic elements in our residential space such as a bathroom, kitchen and living room are brought into a canvas. By doing so, Yoo strives to focus on a potential in paintings to continuously rearrange relations between a canvas and an image based on the reference of the functional arrangement at home.

Is this a possible mission? From the very first solo exhibition, she has recognized an error of the format in “a cup with a hole” and focused rather on a paradoxical characteristic in a medium that is visualized when normative formats disassembled. If someone asked, “can we fill water in a cup with a hole”, it is obvious that we could only give a predictable answer “we can’t” considering what happens in our three-dimension reality. However, Yoo took one step further. She thinks what the broken cup or a pierced canvas could do when it cannot contain its content or a single image. Cupboard looks like a process of finding an answer to the question, and it reminds us of the appearance of a ghost of the painting which went back to the “wall”.

Before working on a large canvas, the artist draws a scene that looks like interior design with Photoshop and uses it as an esquisse. While some elements from her drawing are to be finished with accumulated oil paints, some others are attached or placed as modified objects on a canvas. The canvas is a “space” where numberless grids are overlapped from the first place, and it creates a painterly space where boundaries of two- and three-dimensional grids are tangled. While having the perfectly same size as a wall at home, it re-emphasizes an attempt in paintings that shows off visual flatness in three-dimensional time and space.

It, Ironically, leads to further reinforcing painterly experiences through a sculptural intervention such as the egg cast which maximized the surface and outlines of the figure. Yoo often cast three-dimensional objects, cut out the figure and left only the outlines, or transformed them into photo images and converged them with the supports. These attempts may have driven an impulsion of paintings to get closer to the wall. This is because visual experiences in frontality speak out exceptionally louder in actual effects of real materials.