The subtitle of the exhibition, ‘Manière-noir: Gray Zing(京)’, in itself shows the
combination of different languages. This portrays the will of the artist who wishes to convey
various layers/realms of art on the verge of painting and photography. The works for this
exhibition show Beijing in grey tone as the subtitle suggests. The carefully toned down
landscape of Beijing in grey, white and black tones reveals historic and old buildings such as the
Forbidden City, and old residences which carefully retain the multiple layers of time to what was
once a factory, but is now modern art studios which protrude mechanical Sachlichkeit.
All of these chosen places emanate a simple yet strong impression. This is mainly
because of the site-specific features of those places, but also because of the abstract features of
dark black (somewhat feeling like velvet) and a carefully captured angle after an analytic
scrutiny of the site. The general tone of the art was carefully directed, created by needle scraping
on an oil-pastern drawn area. This produces a supplementary effect on the strongly protruded
composition and color field.
This exhibition shares works that were previously shown in the ‘Manière-noir: Beijing
Photos’ exhibition in 2009, but this year’s exhibition is more inclined to the drawings and
painterly procedures of the art. Shin Sun-Joo studied both painting and photography, yet Shin
subtly expresses her affection toward painting which requires meticulous and careful touches,
rather than photography which simply plays the role of medium or tools in her works.
While still maintaining site-specificity, we can see the painterly game which contrasts
black and white with a tint of psychological tension. Those landscapes are barren, quiet and
serene. The buildings have been substituted by a white, grey and black color field, yet we can
still trace the flow of air in between buildings, endowing latent movement in this midst of
Shin’s works depart from a landscape which is very vernacular in terms of sitespecificity;
however, it is noticeable how she geometrically divides the fields. Shin carefully
orchestrates the composition even when photographing the site itself. Her work [Two
chimneys](2011) shows two interlocked buildings in different tones, and achromatic colors. It is
appropriately displayed in [MK2 Art Space](2010). It shows somewhat abstract and geometric
features of the composition. The lower part shows black, added with the shades of light (in white
tone), grey sky, and various other grey-tone buildings. The actual place/site undergoes
modifications for the sake of the abstract balances of the scene. The [hmmmmmm...Imaginary
Reconstruction](2011) captures the front of the highly functional site (without any
superflousness), like some factory; and Shin placed a reverse side of the other scene as well. Shin
is loyal to the front-façade-ness of classical arts and frequently shows contrasting composition,
for example, with doors.
Those frontal and contrasting features along with black/grayish tones allow audiences to
be deeply immersed into the works. [Sunjeongmun’s 順貞門](2011) work presents a building
placed within an arch, and its architecture structure embraces a white sky section. [Old house in
Beijing University](2010) shows a door inside a black-door. The closedness of the site is further
protruded by the black color that emphasizes the frames of the door. Her work, [Gap](2010) or
[HeiQiao Studio no.1](2009) illustrate a screen, seemingly locked by the heavy lock despite an
adherence to the perspective methodology.
The sky itself is a crack laid in between artificial structures in grey-black tones.
However, in the process of unfolding dialogues between the light and darkness, the closedness is
only a precondition to the openness. The projected contrasts of light and shade shown in Shin’s
works are being merged into the subject, landscape, while telling the drama of light and dark. In
a civilized world, light is generally regarded as obviousness or indisputability, and darkness is
often regarded as chaos. This is why light is often understood as the metaphor of truth or
enlightenment; however, light remains in the realm of background which emphasizes darkness.
While the photography captures and fixates light on the photographic paper, painting is the
achromatic color plane field, painted or raked by meticulous hands. The black color seems like a
bottomless cave or abyss with its opaque matière rather than being a transparent feature.
This is the realm of the so-called black hole, rapidly absorbing our gaze, yet our gazes
soon wander on the screen without finding an anchoring spot. This is because of the concurrence
of instantaneity of mechanical time and zeitlichkeit (temporality) produced by movement of
physical eyes. There’s no difference in closing or opening eyes in this dark realm. Such a model
of visual perception, still loyal to the Zustandlichkeit (presence), collapses in the nearest place.
This unseen realm resembles the Platon’s Khôra concept. Platon asks in Timaeus how we could
see the holding place that draws perpetual substances, and still invite the game of creation, while
still lacking forms and visibility.
The answer for this question would be that our perspectives toward such objects lie in a
realm that we do not see, and what we cannot see. In other words, in the realm of the blinded
spot. John McCumber in his states that we would not be
able to see the constructed vision around the blind spot, but it does influence the scope and forms
of the visual field. Shin’s works show something that we are not able to see, i.e. constructed
vision near or on our blind spots. This is identified and explained by the words of Hans
Blumenberg ‘light as the metaphor of mighty truth’ and Derrida’s ‘rupture of violence of time
that give rise to metaphysics’.
According to John McCumber, what Platon meant by blind spot is the sun that we could
never directly face or see. And this is why and how the blind spot could structuralize the fullness
of substance which goes beyond the realm of form itself, or its existence. In Shin’s works, the
object of vision is not the presence, it is ‘trace’ (Derrida) rather than some form.
The vision structuralized around one’s blind spot is the open vision toward the trace
itself. The black, covered and filled with the thick and dense pigments, ironically seems like the
space of emptiness. As it is possible to have vision emanated from the blind-spot, the real could
be born from this space of emptiness and nothingness. Such spots of darkness structuralize the
reality within the work itself, and yet, endow inner consistency toward something that is the real.
When such fiction disappears, the remaining reality loses its potency. This is the same as
the ‘an utterly dark spot’ mentioned by Miran Bozovic. In his ‘An Utterly Dark Spot’, Bozovic
discusses the reality of the invisibility in the midst of a panopticon-like universe that is filled
with entirely transparent light. Here, the panopticon is that of Jeremy Bentham. According to
Bozovic, certain fiction (imaginary, non-existence) of such an utterly dark spot that could gaze at
all prisoners, activates the panopticon. Shin’s works illustrate that observatory gazes could be
cited as models for this, especially her work [Summer Palace](2009) in which the contrasting
landscape’s center is filled with (or opened with) black color.
The concept of Panopticon is related to the modern society’s political and economic
structure. At the same time, it could be a significant model for visual art since it connotes the
impetus of power (authority) by showing what is lacking. The gaze of the surveillance is further
expanded to include the non-visual realm, overcoming the limit of visibility.
The monitoring lamp room reveals the watcher only in black silhouette as if illustrating
the fact that it is the tool for representing the gaze toward the all. The blackness in Shin’s works
is more close to the model of opaque shadow, rather than transparent mirror. The mirror model
which prevailed art since the Renaissance era, gave rise to a reproduction of space, in a way that
the space is constructed/born from the center then spread to the peripheral in an organic order.
Others that do not correspond to such order were defined as ‘mal’, absencent and lacking.
However, in Shin’s works, such dark shadow-like blackness vitalizes this realm of chaos
and non-orderliness. Victor Stoichita in his "A short history of the Shadow" argues that the first
reproduction was produced from a shadow. In other words, the birth of artistic representation
was from the negative. Plinius in his Naturalis Historia said that painting was first born when an
artist drew the borderline of the human shadow in lines. When a painting was first born, it
included the absence of body, as the projected form’s existence.
In this sense, the similarity and likeness between shadow and actual object is decisive.
The photography is often regarded as an index that designates the physical relevance toward an
object. In Shin’s works, blackness encroaches the index, as an allegorical resemblance. As the
black squares of Malevich, Shin’s works show her instinct toward anti-representation. Victor
Stoichita illustrates how Malevich’s black square was first conceived by the stage curtain. The
curtain veils something, instead of representing, yet it enables representation by hanging.
The blackness in Shin’s works renders the meaning structures as undutiful and obscure.
Previously, those meaning structures enabled representation like some blackness within a black
square. Or it could be described as a projected shadow converged with the conventional means of
perspective, as of ‘drawing with shadow (Stoichita)’. The medium of photography in the
contemporary art became the vanguard of mimesis, yet, the photography dismantles the power of
mimesis when it is in its peak. The blackness in Shin’s works resonates mysterious serenity,
achieving classical balance, as a platform that restores the hand that shapes manual space rather
than a finger that shapes optical space (Deleuze). This in turn restores the wild habitat revived
with the ‘the Virtual’, bestowing vitality to weakened painting.