Groping Eyes

2021. 4. 8 – 5. 29 CHAPTER II

Hojeong Hur (Writer & Curator)

There is a painting that has too many things to read. Too many are the eye-catching images you might know: press photos, SNS feed, classic masterpieces, scenes from movies, outfits from famous brands, symbolic gestures, and letters. These overflowing “readings,” however, might be either read or unread depending on the pre-knowledge, pre-experience, unique feelings of each viewer. In this sense, Chae Eun Rhee’s paintings share the same situation that contemporary images are in – where the cultural norm of literacy scarcely or randomly works because of all those countless (im)possibilities of reading. Some images immediately gain “popularity,” or far-reaching recognition, but regarding the image literacy it never works the same, varying endlessly with class, gender, age, region, affect, presence of and difference between physical, psychological groups. Paradoxically, too many readings in the paintings result in “blindness.” The figures covering their eyes in Rhee’s paintings could indicate ourselves, blind before the image crowd.

Then there is a figure in the middle of the canvas with eyes wide open. Standing in the people with closed, lost, or covered eyes, she alone glares at the painting itself, the viewer at the opposite side, the space, and the society. Some might have noticed that she is IMMA, a virtual girl having millions of followers. The non-existing girl keeps her life in optimal state in the social media ecosystems. Her unreal life gets more real with personality, shape, lifestyle that everyone desires, thrusting the new dimension of virtuality into the heart of reality. While the images in Rhee’s paintings represented by IMMA require certain kinds of literacy, they make “holes” through which imagination and reality can cross dimensions using each other as a medium. The green screen(Chroma-key screen) and the curtain, for instance, are the holes, which are independently presented in Rorschach Vista (2021) and 40x40cm paintings in this exhibition. Among those small paintings, Green Blot (2021) comprises of Green Blot I with figures implying birds painted in color extracted from the green screen and Green Blot II printed from the pair. The “green” reminds of the Chroma-key screen on which any image can be put, and the “blot” refers to visual stains with no specific shape that can be overlaid with whatever you want to see. Facing the works are Dancers (2021) and The Reproduction of Vanitas (2021) – parts of the previous work of Rhee’s and the old Dutch still life painting respectively. They are individual images separate from the original whole, leading to arbitrary projection, misreading, and even illiteracy in a similar way seen from Green Blot.

Then, how is “blind reading” of the pieces of virtual images connected with the methodology of montage, which has been often mentioned about her paintings? It could undoubtedly be applied to describe her new works in that a bundle of images are assembled and arranged in a canvas. However, the method works in a different way this time from the filmic editing or narrative making, and underemphasizes its temporal factors involved in the dialectics of images. It rather focuses on the inevitable flatness in the paintings. In other words, Rhee concentrates on the planes and the colors of image itself, not the temporal dimension of moving images, completing the montage in her own way. She deliberately crushes down the figures and abandons details to unveil the property of flat, sticky paints, presenting the fragments of images as actual “fragments.” The raised paints on the canvas form a network, a screen, and a huge curtain of images and intervene the borders between virtual and reality, vision and blindness, literacy and illiteracy. At this scene of exhibition, with thickly stained layers of images, a passerby, or a viewer, finds one’s way with groping eyes.