Exploring ritual through repetition
To Koreans, on the other hand, it is a familiar image that can be seen in jesa, or memorial rites, in which the country’s Confucian tradition and Western culture of mourning clothes are mixed.
Still, the images of a man kneeling and bowing in Moon’s small oil paintings, now on view at alternative space Sansumunhwa in southwestern Seoul, are enigmatic even to Koreans, due to their empty backgrounds, calm grey tones, and, most of all, repetition.
“The act of repetition comes from my recognition of limitations in both bowing and painting,” Moon, 49, told the Korea JoongAng Daily, at the alternative space last week.
“I regard my paintings as a slow and quiet resistance to inattention, to spectacles and to the fast pace [of contemporary life],” the artist continued. “I would finish a series of paintings of one bowing pose and go to another pose when I came to think I had done enough.”
Moon, born to a Catholic family, immigrated to Canada in the 1980s with his family, and now works as professor of art at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In childhood, he would observe the jesa of his family, which both had Confucian and Catholic elements.
“I was fascinated by the rites, in particular, by the solemn and silent atmosphere during the act of bowing,” he said.
Moon’s 2015 note reads “I am seeking some sense of order particular to my own hybrid kind of upbringing in both the Confucian and Catholic orders in South Korea.”
BY MOON SO-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
The exhibition runs until Aug. 19. For details, visit sansumunhwa.com.