–Choi Jaehyeok (Curator of SOMA)
Flaneur is a French term meaning "a person who literally strolls in a city", but this is not a stroller who leisurely lounges about the streets. The flaneur means one who explores diverse aspects of a city, observing with their eyes and thinking with their head. This term was also used by Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher in his book The Arcades Project. He perceived it as a cultural act by an active observer of a city. Hwang Wonhae’s work is also inspired by her observation and contemplation of the city. Hwang, since the age of 20 when she went on to university, has lived and worked in many areas of Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, taking Hongdae and Sangsu-dong, Seoul as a base of her activity. Urbanscapes and environments she came across in the period when she studied art and developed as an artist were enough as the subject matter of her work.
Urban images have long been subject matter for the artist. In her previous pieces, Hwang made an attempt to conjoin and rearrange past and present architectural factors in space, overlapping and synthesizing urban geometric elements and patterns. In this exhibition, she concentrates primarily on emotional and subjective interpretations and represents drawing elements rather than utilizing superficial urban images. Areas such as Hongdae, a neighborhood near Hongik University, Sangsu-dong, and Hapjeong-dong in Seoul, where Hwang has lived and worked for many years are at the zenith of consumer capitalism. A shop that didn't exist yesterday starts its business today and a store with 30 years of tradition suddenly disappears. Such shops are going out of business or being established day by day. These areas have a placeness that is prone to rapid change. Fluid persons, flashy signboards, and towering skyscrapers compete to occupy limited land and altitude. A city is thought of as a dynamic, interesting space while it is also a place that its fragments are in one’s memory. The urban landscape changing by the minute exists as an image in each person’s memory. Hwang overlaps and expresses such images in abstract painting. Light reflected onto the glass of a high-rise building, the shimmering surface of the water on the ground after rain, and an unclear image reminiscent of a city shrouded in mist overlap in semitransparent layers in Hwang’s work. She portrayed the layers of emotions and memories of a cityscape that rests on a certain rule and flexibility in abstract painting.
The ‘module’ in the exhibit title Modular Vision is a standardized unit for a certain rule. A motif of Hwang’s work, the module starts from a ‘square’ shape that draws a distinction between windows and other spaces. In Streaming, work on show at the entrance of the gallery, a drawing on the wall is linked to the modular structure of a canvas. It brings to mind the silhouette of mountains seen among buildings which is a salient feature of the city of Seoul. Sheet, work on display on the opposite side reminds viewers of a black-and-white garden in a thick dark fog. Urban images are mixed up with natural images in a wall drawing made with an airbrush. In this exhibition, she tries to expand her images to the entire space of the gallery, not just confine them to a square canvas. The most characteristic material utilized for works on show at this exhibition is ‘screen tone’. Screen tone is a sticker-type sheet for applying textures, patterns, and shades to drawings. Used mainly for published cartoons in the past, this is an element to lend three-dimensionality to two-dimensional cartoons. Hwang means to three-dimensionalize urban images in her work portraying such images on a flat surface and intends to bring about this cubic effect in the viewer’s perception, employing a variety of techniques and materials such as drawing, airbrush, semitransparent sheets, and screentone. This has been completed inside the space of the venue. Her Modular Vision is one of the modular illusions.
The period in which Walter Benjamin commented on the concept of the flaneur was when Paris was transformed into a modern city by consumer capitalism in the 19th century. An arcade referring to a shopping mall stands for a place where the phenomena of industrial capitalism such as trends, consumption, and advertisements take place. Hwang who has lived and worked chiefly in the areas of Hongdae and Sangsu-dong, the hotbed of Seoul’s consumer capitalism, produces her pieces through her emotional approach predicated upon their regional hallmarks. An artist is after all one who represents thoughts and feelings engendered by his or her life or environment through images. And this process is accompanied with a diversity of concerns, conceptions, and reinterpretations. The artist’s energy, which remains on a square canvas, expands when encountering drawing elements packed into the exhibit space, suggesting that appreciators can see and contemplate a city in a completely new light.