After the Exhibition…
I have been to ‘Boan 1942’ several times before. Every time I took a step, the floor squeaked; the walls were so old that dust was falling out from them; the traces of division are left behind only in the pillars. This place, with such old features, didn’t seem like a perfect place to house contemporary artworks. When I heard that Hwang Wonhae, who had mainly focused on painting, was showing her works at Boan 1942, I was a bit worried to be honest. However, upon stepping onto the exhibition she had worked on for so long, I realized that I had been mistaken.
Boan 1942 used to be a motel. It was divided into two stories, each with several rooms. The size of each room was about the same or a bit smaller than a typical room that we live in. The audience is to view the works within a scale that is rather familiar. The artist made the best use out of the small and separated space, adding variety to the exhibition. All the works presented are new. All the works from the rooms reflected the theme of the show in a coherent manner yet were each unique in their material and installment.
The closest room from the 1st-floor entrance holds Crack-ing which visualized the way cracks are made. Some parts of Hwang’s works are embedded between the pieces of wallpaper that are mostly old, peeling off or faded. The varied landscape realized on the canvas is in part torn out. Hwang has contemplated the landscape of common urban buildings where various architectural styles are mixed together. Her persistent interest unfolds in Boan 1942 via experimental means of a direct harmony between the existing space and the works.
Reconstruction is installed in the room on the other side. Hwang Wonhae’s impeccable acrylic paintings are hung on the neatly prepared wall. The skyscraper, a mishmash of minimal windows and the ‘dancheong’ pattern, seems like an exaggerated figure where layers are added onto it according to human’s desires. A part of her own image is printed out on a film sheet and attached to the window that connects the inside and the outside of the gallery space like a piece of translucent laminating film. Through this approach, we are reminded that an imaginative scene Hwang creates which includes the people in the café on the opposite building, casually enjoying their time, resonates within the timeline of the present time.
Flake is installed along with the stairs that connect the far end of the hall of the first floor and the second floor. She stepped out of framing imagined landscapes on the canvas, square and standardization, to making her own canvas that would demonstrate each figure in a dramatic way. The canvas obtained not only its own form but also the freedom in its presentation. Her shaped canvases were put on pedestals facing different directions instead of leaning safely on the wall, presenting the audience with multiple possibilities in viewing the show. While her past works were based on the canvas, new works from this show go beyond the restrictions of the plane. For Hwang, space itself serves as the backdrop while several shaped canvases are displayed along with other objects, putting forth her world of imagination in the three-dimensional space.
On the second floor, Waving Façade is put up on the left side. It is an image printed on a sheet of film, hanging on the wall. Hwang employs various references that include collected images and pictures she has taken, processing them with tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator to reconstruct the virtual space on the computer. This work seems to bring the whole process into the gallery space, unfolding additional layers of Boan 1942’s old architectural element, the artist’s sketch, and the distinct pattern of the film sheet.
Between the Lines the most reductive of all the works in terms of its geometric figures and colors. Other paintings embody more hints toward the architecture’s forms while this very work only combines partial forms of the architectural components such as the crossbeam, pillar, and eaves. The virtual tower, built up of elements without their functions seemingly removed, demonstrates the potential of its form, distancing itself from the preexisting references. The color-field painting hung on the entrance of the air walk to Boan Books, accentuating such characteristics. The pastel green and orange start from the plane, expanding towards the wall, displayed objects, and to the whole space.
There is no work less significant than others, but it goes without saying that two rooms on the right side of the second floor are the climax of the show. Here, Phantasmagoria, bearing the same name as the exhibition, and Boan Inn 1.5 pyong are installed. This work, sized 291cm in width and 162cm in height, links together two canvases and incorporates various elements discovered from traditional and contemporary architecture as were the case with other works discussed above. At a glance, it seems like a very concrete and available space, but when you take a closer look, it would be apparent that it is an abstract mass made up of a combination of heterogeneous elements. Absence of all living things including humans contributes to making the space within the painting look desolate and simple. A careful look would reveal that the landscape embodies not only heterogeneous references for the form but also varied means of expression. The single painting holds the matt surface as well as the painterly touches that demonstrate the motion of the brush. The inconceivable are juxtapositioned and the oppositional values, impossible to reach a compromise in reality, are ‘in unity’ in some sense in Hwang’s work.
Boan Inn 1.5 Pyong seems to be realizing Phantasmagoria into a three-dimensional form. ‘Dancheong’ is a form of decoration on the traditional Korean wooden house with multiple patterns and colors such as blue, red, yellow, white, and black which are the basic shades. Hwang’s interest lies not only in contemporary architectures but also in traditional Korean architecture, carrying out a partial recovery based on the illustrated guide albeit not on an actual piece of wood. Dancheong represented in the gallery space is what she has been drawing repeatedly in her works. Frames in different sizes are installed in the room, on the wall in wooden framework to represent dancheong. The natural light coming in through the window as well as the colorful light coming through the transparent sheets in color fill the room, constructing Phantasmagoria within the space. This look was well-suited as the show didn’t take place at a white cube with precise edges. Old hanok building’s roof and the neon window are on view out the window, making up a bizarre scene. The floor plan that Hwang designed is drawn on the tracing paper, installed on the back of the room, illustrating how much the artist had to struggle for the site-specific work appropriate for this space.
Hwang once said that she didn’t have anywhere else in mind for the show except for Boan 1942. And this show was only possible because it was Boan 1942. It embodies the traces of its history intact while looking upon the contemporary café and the roof of hanok and enjoying the geographical benefits for being situated right across the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Hwang has invested in demonstrating the mixed aspect of the architectures that illustrate heterogeneous temporality while living in a rapidly changing Seoul, but it seems like she had faced a turning point through the site-specific works within the Boan 1942. She not only crossed over to the space from the plane but also discovered a new potential by directly communicating with the space. Furthermore, there is a room to venture into gradual abstraction toward colors and lines. For all of us, the architecture and houses are imperative spaces and there are countless artists who deal with them. I am curious of the direction that Hwang’s distinct qualities and perspectives would take in the future.