Imagining a marriage of literary and visual art

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Imagining a marriage of literary and visual art


Byen Ung-pil’s “Self-Portrait as a Man - 6♥9,” oil on canvas. Provided by Interalia Art Company

The exhibition “In Spite of Art,” running till April 1 at Interalia Art Space in Seoul, tackles one of the most often attempted, yet difficult challenges in the realm of culture: to create an ongoing dialogue between art and literature.

Pieces by five Korean visual artists correspond to the writings of their literary counterparts. Each member of the pair inspires fresh work, pieces that embody the influence of their partner.

The participants’ artistic imaginations are challenged to the utmost as artworks are transformed into poetry, and written pieces are re-created as images.

Writers Kim Min-jeong and Shin Yong-mok, among others, took part in the project, with visual artists including Byen Ung-pil, Lee Gil-woo and Lee Sang-sun.

The respective artists’ portfolios influenced their partner’s choice of medium for each written or visual artwork.

The result is an organic, creative fusion of visual art and literature, as each pair approached and reinterpreted the other’s works, personal memories and emotions.

One notable product of this challenging, intimate process is the collaboration between Yoon Jong-seok and the poet Lee Won, titled “Hiding in Flowers.” This acrylic painting aims to preserve a slice of the past, brimming with memories of a jacket that the poet’s father wore. Against a dark background, the clothes are arranged in the shape of an animal’s face.

Another acrylic painting, “Flying Wildflowers,” produced by Lee Sang-sun and Shin, emanates warmth and youthful joy through the faces of two small, mischievous boys. Tiny, delicate white buds fall to the ground gently like butterflies.

Representative of time tossed into the air, the lines and colors attempt to preserve an “eternal now,” or time solidified. Among the millions of faces that exist in infinite worlds, the characters etched into the painting become the products of an inevitable time and truth.

As revealed by these finished products, art takes on many strata of meaning as words are reborn from images, and new images again blossom from the literature created.

In a way, the works are derived from the urge to understand and unite human language and images. The pieces struggle to erase the gap between language and visual art. In particular, the artists desire to elucidate the difficult, vague concepts of modern art by representing them in print.

The exhibition makes it clear that these individuals successfully delved into the artistic matter, content and soul of their partner’s works.

By refusing to categorize their work, these artists show that their pieces no longer belong to distinct genres. As these creators see it, an image can never remain simply an image, for it will always contain an inner narrative, just as a written work is composed of a thousand or more images.

More than anything, this exhibition invites viewers to appreciate and celebrate the potential strength and underlying meaning behind a marriage of the written word and visual images.

Literature disseminates verbal communication, broadening the sphere of life. Similarly, visual images wield the ability to communicate and convey truths. Even with the medium of language, images exert an influence equally powerful as language, for they penetrate to the heart of the truth, plain and simple.

Then, where are humans situated between language and art? At first glance, they appear to be two distinct facets. Yet, the contributors to In Spite of Art speak the message that they are at once the same, inseparably interwoven in our society.

As In Spite of Art teaches visitors, to paint is to write a story on canvas, and to write is to create a picture splayed across pages.

*The “In Spite of Art” exhibit runs until April 1 at Interalia Art Space, in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. Admission is free. Go to Samseong Station, line No. 2, exit 5. The gallery is closed on Sundays and public holidays. For more information, contact the gallery at (02) 3479-0114, or visit

By Moon Dan-bee []
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