Portable Landscape - Baroque Imagination
2011-04-24 08:45:09 , Sunday

Artist Lee Min-ho dreams of deviating from everyday scenes. I first met her one year ago at a gallery in Sokyeok-dong, Seoul. Her landscapes, rendered through enlarging, reducing, cutting, and overlapping urban and natural scenes, described her inner state. The landscapes, wholly revealing her life, were delicate variations of her memories and everyday scenes, while exploring an exit. Lee’s work can be interpreted as custom-made landscape transforming everyday scenes into ‘portable landscapes,’ with a dream for eternal odyssey, beyond contemporary humanity’s obsessive desires, lives within it. The landscapes she presents with this exhibition are also scenes added with baroque fantasies.

The landscape she pursues is not mere scenery, but a voyage with adventurous spirit. Contemporary people live their lives captivated by their dynamic imagination, while their fragmentary thoughts disappear, and they feel a vacancy, and blankness. Inspired by a Peter Pan-like desire to fly off, Lee adapts and dramatizes modern landscapes, and recomposes fragments of our contemporary desires. Filled with baroque irony, each artwork on display is more familiar it seems, than modern portraiture.

Allegorical Baroque

The origin of the term ‘baroque’ refers to an ‘irregular shaped pearl,’ so it began with a negative meaning; that something is overstated, distorted, and devalued. Typically though, it is characterized by extraordinary, dynamic expression. Especially in art, where baroque means something grand, complex and virtuosic, deviating from typical regulations and proportion. In respect of this, Lee’s work diversely employs Baroque motifs in colors and ornament.

In Portable Landscape III N7, N8, and N16, for example, a red curtain covers an entire canvas, with a small gold-colored frame on its back, within which a modern bag appears, encapsulating another landscape. In this work, red and gold colors prevail; perhaps, the ‘studium’ and ‘punctum’ Roland Barthes mentioned in his Camera Lucida coexist.

“The studium is that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of various interest, of inconsequential taste. ---- Photography is dangerous, and the stadium returns photography to society by codifying it. ---- The punctum is details, that is, a partial thing. An example of punctum is to reveal myself when pierced in a defenseless state.” (Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes)

Baroque-like expressions of space, intense colors, and rich embellishments seem like a ‘studium’; an arrangement of baroque codes, while the space within the frame appears as a ‘punctum’, like a scar in our mind. Like a spear, the space hits our eyes, makes us imagine, and can be an exit for desire. Details that look like afterimages of a common urbanscape can be interpreted as ‘punctum,’ when left in the heart for a long time, or in a passageway for escaping daily routine. Like a key in the film Matrix, the passageway meant spatial and temporal movement. The red curtain, gold-color frame, space within a frame, images seen behind the curtain, an image within another image, and a portable bag, are all devices that have different meanings from those of a typical Baroque apparatus. Her’s is allegoric baroque.

Baroque and Postmodernism

The asymmetric, dramatic features of baroque bear an obvious resemblance to the diverse aspects of postmodernism. Postmodernism’s disruptive, hybrid aspects, such as fragmentation, diversity, and hybridity, share the same methodology as baroque’s abnormality, weirdness, overstatement, and excessive adornment. Postmodernism is so closely associated with baroque it is like the re-arrival of baroque. While in Lee’s work baroque elements draw our attention, postmodern aspects that show an irregular, incomplete style, as a thinking system perhaps, also appear in her work.

Portable Landscape, inspired by her baroque imagination, can be interpreted as holding a double meaning. Exhibited works look like photographs provoking a baroque atmosphere, along with allegories derived from the red curtain, but they maximize diverse aspects of contemporary society, while consistently maintaining her baroque imagination. Relativism – rejection of an absolute - and destructivism are features of contemporary society and are extremely baroque. Baroque can be reevaluated as a hybrid phenomenon of contemporary society, blending historicity and modernity, and not as a return to the past. In this context, Lee’s work is seen as a variation on humanity’s insatiable desire hidden behind a flamboyant, baroque stage. Therefore, Lee’s work cannot be categorized as landscape photography. Her work presents vestiges of human desire, not landscapes.

For a while we can dream of a different tomorrow, from familiar, friendly images, offering a passageway to get rid of desire - a ‘desiring machine’ perhaps. As another interest in and amusement from our appreciating Portable Landscape, we can think about its next destination. Perhaps, Lee’s upcoming odyssey.

Uncertain Identity Photo – Non Facture by Jung Hyun
Portable Landscape - 바로크적 상상력 - 신혜경

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