JINTAEG JANG: Why don’t we start the conversation with your early works? You lived and worked in France for quite some time.
HOH WOO JUNG: Works I created until I came back to Korea in 2017 mostly dealt with the feeling of anxiety. The anxious feeling resulted from a lack of communication experienced in a foreign land. I tried to relieve the angst by looking into the news about Korea. I started to collate these information that were dispersed fragmentarily online.
JINTAEG JANG: It seems like the collected information in your early works accumulated into telling a single event. Several images from the news are appropriated as reference, and thereafter a singular and complete narrative is produced as a result. Later, similar kinds of work appear in the form of collage.
HOH WOO JUNG: I encountered these events as fragments reported through Korean media. The entirety of these fragments almost felt as if it were abstract because of its inscrutability. Concrete images composed the collage work I created at the time, but the sum of all images on a plane did not seem to resemble any comprehensible form. I myself wanted to create an image that was meant to be unidentifiable. That was also my impression when I was searching for the news.
JINTAEG JANG: You had a solo exhibition called Social Fiction at Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art Project Gallery in 2017. Along with the word “fiction” used in the exhibition title, there were illustration works on display. What is the significance of the two elements, fiction and illustration, in your work?
HOH WOO JUNG: Images in the exhibition could be read as a form of fictional narrative, but it was not my intention to convey the specific social issues to the audience. I intended to leave an impression how it is “impossible to comprehend” and hoped the audience would have a similar impression. The use of illustrative images come from my long held interest in comics and traditional forms of print. I was particularly fond of the black and white comics because of its striking contrast between the black and white.
JINTAEG JANG: I think we could name the series of works that came before 2017 as the “collage series”. These collage works are characteristic of creating a big gap between the position of the audience and the artist himself. In other words, the works do not narrowly allude to a particular event, but allow to examine the framework of such events by the gap—a certain distance from the subject.
HOH WOO JUNG: Even though producing an image in my previous works started from actual events and issues from the society, they were not a persisting theme throughout the whole artistic process. I was concerned with the thought that I may be dealing with such events and issues lightly in a consuming manner. The physical distance and the fact that I was not directly involved in them were also the reasons behind this thought. I was rather more interested in the moment of constructing a collage of images or simply creating an image or a screen than the event itself.
JINTAEG JANG: Some works have their background erased, which also means that some works reveal the collage form a little more directly. Particularly in Defrag (2017), it is notable that numbers of iconography are presented in a scattered manner. I assume that there may have been a situation where you accidentally created several patterns or connected individual events through personalized curation when you unfolded the cluttered thoughts on a vast wall.
HOH WOO JUNG: Defrag was created by the end of 2017 after I came back to Korea. I thought that unrolling images, images of memory or afterimages that linger in my mind, onto the wall would be helpful to understand myself better. That is why I used this method of unraveling objects, drawings, and scribbles that I was fond of at the time on the wall.
JINTAEG JANG: Tower of Notion (2017) was created around the same time. It is a figurative painting that seems to imply the upcoming transformation of the image you explore. It could be seen as the last case of the collage series and, at the same time, the beginning sign of the later series of abstract paintings. This work shows a proclivity of showcasing a sort of ‘non-narrative’ with a figurative form. If your early work was initially focusing on what to draw, after that decision was made you then commit to creating white paintings. What was the reason behind choosing the color white?
HOH WOO JUNG: White, in general, reminds us of its meaning as ‘blank space,’ ‘negative space,’ ‘state of emptiness,’ ‘unengaged,’ etc. My intention was to rethink this general notion around the color white. At some point adjacent to this intention, I also thought about what it means to be unseen.
JINTAEG JANG: The question of what is in ‘existence’ comes after in contrast to the question of ‘absence,’ which is represented by the color white. If we follow the logic that white is the expression of ‘absence’ then the color black would be the expression of ‘existence.’ However, your white paintings reverse this general perception of black and white by using black to express ‘absence.’
HOH WOO JUNG: The viewer of the white paintings would first notice the fine line depicted on the surface. If the painting is seen more closely, it would be visible that the white area was ‘painted’ on the picture plane. The black line and the white plane are eventually all perceptible by the eyes, i.e. visible.
JINTAEG JANG: Making the plane perceptible by the lines could be found analogous to the act of measuring a bodily shape through a shadow.
HOH WOO JUNG: That’s right. Light and shade played a major role in sketching the framework of my works. The interest in light and shade transmitted to the interest in line as I aimed for a more simplified expression.
JINTAEG JANG: After all, reconsidering the notion of visibility by reversing the representation of visibility and invisibility seems to be the aim of your white abstract paintings.
HOH WOO JUNG: I think that working on a piece is a medium to reveal the thoughts I have at the time. The works I presented at a group exhibition The Unstable Objects (2019, SeMA, Nam-Seoul Museum of Art) could be understood in a similar context. There were works that converted a space into a form of supporting structure.
JINTAEG JANG: Titles of your works are quite informing. It designates very discrete and direct indications to the intended message about the work. This directness is amplified in your most recent solo exhibition HOH WOO JUNG: Shade Left Behind(2020) held at Songeun Art Cube. Now there is color in areas you consider as the lower background. This further clarifies the message that the white-painted surface may be the icon instead of a background.
HOH WOO JUNG: The thought that painting could only be a visible thing after all became a triggering idea to these works. If the previous works explored the notion of ‘invisibility’ or ‘absence,’ recent works carry a premise that I wish to convey my thoughts through pictures. The color white used as a metaphor for invisibility is simply visible in the end. In this context, works introduced in the exhibition at Songeun Art Cube contain color as a signifier of the background and this background came forward in full measure.
JINTAEG JANG: You have traversed between the figurative and the abstract, the two very disparate spheres of expression. Focusing on the relation or the relative conditions between visibility and invisibility seems to have formed a unique strand of image that is both figurative and abstract.
HOH WOO JUNG: I agree. The thematic focus has shifted from the uncertainty of existence to the uncertainty of perceiving an existence. This change seems to have triggered the advent of the image that could be construed as both figurative and abstract.
JINTAEG JANG: The works we discussed in this exchange makes us reconsider the general standards we have toward the issue of existence and the formal relationships that symbolize existence. It is particularly interesting that the works present themselves in a reversal manner. I look forward to the further endeavours to present ‘absence’ or to reshape the relation of ‘existence’ and ‘absence’ through your work.
(Translated by SEOJIN YIM)