Ji Hyun Han Giving a very definite term for it, I feel it gives it somewhat a boundary to work within.
By Mary Truong October 20th, 2020
When Ji Hyun Han describes her art objects as an exploration of the ambiguous territories of painting and sculpture, I am reminded of Mike Cloud’s theory on the boundaries of different media. For Cloud, sculptures occupy “real space;” they exist in the way that furniture or living things might exist as things in a room. Paintings, on the other hand, are part of the “sacred” space of the wall, a domain shared with windows and doors— things that Cloud claims are “portals.” Han constructs frames that she suspends from ceilings that the viewer can look through, and she often refers to these quasi-paintings as “windows” (in one instance, literally salvaging a window).
“It doesn’t have to be so divided into just painting and sculpture. It’s about the whole experience…”
Han’s artworks clearly make reference to paintings through their rectangular frames and their suspension in the air. If they were placed on a pedestal or sat on the ground, these objects would seem more like boxes than windows. Yet Han's art objects are still distinctly architectural in the manner of sculptures: Han intentionally positions her work in the middle of the room so that the audience can walk around it and physically experience how the art interacts with its surroundings. Han says, “Traditionally, if you look at Renaissance paintings, what they wanted you to see was this frame or this window to look into where there is a narrative…” Instead of a narrative, Han is interested in framing the environment, so she creates transparent windows that the viewer can look through.
Han’s interest in ambiguity relates to the experiences she had as a “Third Culture Kid” who moved from South Korea to Abu Dhabi to the United States. While living in different countries, she found that there were strong divides between different cultures and that many people would attempt to characterize her through restraining categorizations. Thus, it became important to Han that the works she made were not a point of separation between the audience members; rather, the windows’ transparency allowed viewers to be conscious of each other and allowed a form of interaction. Moreover, the ambiguity she felt in her identity through her changing environments allow her create artworks that defy straightforward labels such as “sculpture” or “painting.” Han is not interested in segmentation of straightforward classifications; she looks for gray areas.
Although Han’s past has influenced her to push against the boundaries of painting and sculpture, in the past, her works’ formal aesthetics read into Western painting (including Mondrian). More recently, Han has incorporated traditional Korean aesthetics and design to visibly reveal her background. She acknowledges that using these designs will likely influence viewers to assign to her work preconceived ideas of what being Korean means and may limit their understanding of the art, but she notes that it can also create conversation about what it means to be Asian outside Asia. Even if the viewer may not fully understand the context in which Han creates her work, she hopes that they leave with a new memory or experience.
In representational paintings, it’s easy to craft narrative using symbols and imagery, and the audience can be transported into the narrative using artistic tools like perspective. In a sense, Han creates narrative as well by using a frame as a portal, and the “sacred” space of the wall is replaced by the consecrated immediate surroundings of the window. Across the window may be the other’s gaze, and in this case, the story Han tells revolves around the collectivity and disunity of us.
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