Dusky photos that mimic paintings
The walls of Hakgojae, a gallery on the art street east of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, are filled with what look like sansu, or traditional ink paintings of mountains and water unique to Korea, China and Japan. Perhaps it is fitting for these paintings to appear at Hakgojae. The gallery’s name means “a house for studying the old.”
However, a closer look will reveal that these are not actually traditional ink paintings. They are large-scale photos of winter mountains with dark trees covered in white snow.
These striking images are part of photographer Kwon Boomoon’s solo exhibition, entitled “Boomoon, Sansu & Naksan,” that starts today.
Kwon told reporters last week that he would wait for hours fighting against piercing winds and snow to capture “the moment when my physical and mental encounter with the world materializes into an image.”
He pointed to the dark trunk of a tree, which was a small detail in a 3-meter-long photo entitled “Untitled #3721, Seorak,” and implored reporters to look at the image carefully. “Please, look at how the falling snow draws diagonal lines against the trunk. I waited for that moment,” he said.
These details are what separate Kwon’s photos from sansu, where details are skipped from time to time based on the artist’s intentions.
Still, Kwon’s photography has many things in common with sansu. Neither controls the viewer’s eye, unlike traditional Western landscape paintings, which aim to draw the eye to the artist’s focal point using perspective and other methods.
“It is now commonplace for pictorial images to be a visual experience imposed by a controlled transmission system,” Taro Amano, chief curator of the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan, wrote in the exhibition catalog. “[Kwon] is attempting to circumvent this environment and present the image itself in its proper form.”
According to Kim Ai-ryung, an art critic who directed the show, this leads viewers to see Kwon’s images in the tradition of wayu. Wayu means “lying and going sightseeing” - in other words, viewing a sansu painting at home, and through it, enjoying a virtual tour of the mountains and water.
In this way, Kwon’s photos are part of the Eastern art tradition but also reflect Western art influences, such as the paintings by the German Romantic landscape master Caspar David Friedrich. Kwon’s “Naksan” series, which are images of a sea with snow falling in it, will remind viewers of Friedrich’s paintings. They are hung on the wall of the Hakgojae annex.
*The exhibition runs until Feb. 27. Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Go to Anguk Station, line No. 3, exit 2, and walk for 10 minutes. Call (02) 720-1524, or visit www.hakgojae.com.
By Moon So-young [firstname.lastname@example.org]