I remember when I was interviewed by a curator for the exhibition booklet. I hardly remember what I said, but according to what my friend heard, I consistently talked about my past. I was not very used to being interviewed but I tried to give my best answers. But I guess it was not enough for her. Maybe she expected to draw out a massive discourse on my art work.
I need to talk about myself in order to discuss my work. From the earilier works to the more recent ones, the coherent theme is the ‘anxiety’ which dominated most of my teens and 20s. I remember the anxiety began at the age of 12. I used to stay at home most of the time after school and play by myself. I didn’t like watching TV. All I did was read books or daydream. I often got lost in thought as well. If I had built up my knowledge in literature or enjoyed further contemplation I could have become an author or philosopher. I was just a self-hated skeptical kid.
If someone asks me whether I want to go back to the past, I would definitely choose to stay in the present. There was a constant conflict going on between the individual-self and social-self. Depression and anxiety kept hammering me. On the other hand, I kept my eyes on the faint light of hope, searching for the exit from the anxiety. I reckon the anxiety and depression could mean the struggle to live on.
As I began to work and draw my eyes to the outside world I came to realize that there are others who are not free from the anxiety. Perhaps it is a general feature of contemporary society. There should be a certain reason why the word ‘healing’ has become one of the key words these days. Maybe it cannot be defined until this generation passes away and the next generation comes.
I was often asked if I was healed by making art work. Spending plenty of time to think about the anxiety and expressing it through painting doesn’t actually remove the anxiety from me. Now I can only step back from what still exists there.
Anxiety visits me all the time. No, it stays and takes a part of myself, always ready to arise. When it arises, first I protest against it. But soon, all my strength is gone. It seems as if all of my sensories are switched off. An opaque filter covers my vision. I become so blank that I can mindlessly step on a plant which has broken through the asphalt road and grown; a phenomenom I once adored and praised.
This world is full of massive information and material. It accelerates consumption, forces absorption of knowledge and makes one partake in self-censorship. The media keeps telling stories of success and advises us to become better looking to be loved. Even people like me who don’t have TV at home get to watch it in restaurants or terminals... It’s everywhere and I find myself persuaded by what it tells me.
How about the Internet? We can spend a lifetime staying at home. We can grasp not only daily necessities, but also worldwide news, contemporary theories and new ideas in our room with a few clicks. We can make a new relationship and maintain the old ones through SMS.
But why do we feel more emptiness in this abundant world? Why do we feel uncomfortable in this convenient world? How often do we really think about ourselves during the day? I am shocked how people fix their eyes on their smart phone even while they are sitting at the same table at a restaurant. I don’t mean to criticize or blame them . I just wonder, when do we have time to face ourself if we constantly inject all the irrelevant information into our minds ? Conversations between people not only share thoughts of one another, but also are a way to look into oneself through the eyes of others since we are all reflected in one another.
Suicide rates are rising and more people suffer from depression and visit fortune tellers these days. They are worried about the future and not satisfied with the present. These worries visit everyone at one time or another; They are not from outside but from inside. If we don’t have our own time to think and confront them, they will grow bigger and finally swallow us. We need to focus on our thought process to grow our thinking ability. It is hard to concentrate and absorb into a thought even for someone like me who relatively has more free time. In my teens and 20s, I turned my head away from the anxiety and depression, which was left like a tardy assignment.
My work is based on the struggle not to avoid the anxiety. Sometimes it overwhelmed me, sometimes I tried analyzing it to find out where it came from. Sometimes I go back to my childhood where it all began. I have always wished I could be able to get rid of it. It was painful for me to face it. Everytime I believed that I had gotten over it, it appeared again in a new form. I also tried to generalize it.
I am still in the middle of it. However there is a certain change in me. I have accepted the anxiety and depression as a part of myself, not as something to eradicate. It is impossible to remove it and each of us recognizes it more or less with our own sensivity. This might sound too simple and trivial. But I needed to come through all the way to get this simple truth. I got it not from some books or quotations but from my own experience. We can really SEE the world only when we look with our OWN eyes.
As I continue to display my art in exhibitions, I am told that my paintings are getting brighter. The change of mind is reflected clearly in my work. Even though my paintings are based on the anxiety, there are other elements in me which soak into the work.
Living as an artist makes me happy. I cannot draw out a philosophical discourse from my art work but my work allows me to think about life.
The title of this exhibition is <old child> because I began to feel the anxiety when I was a child. I find that child still exitsts inside me. I am not sure if she will go away someday or stay there for good. That is why the cat-girl in my paintings appears to be a child.
I am no more weighed down by the anxiety. It is light enough for me to carry on my back now.
This year, I have spent much time outside the studio to collect plants for my next project; the illustrated book of plants. While observing various plants growing up and passing away repeatedly, I found the whole process both mysterious and natural.
I guess it applies the same to people. Life and death, delight, grief, anguish, anxiety… all of these are natural as they are. I finally begin to enjoy both my life and work now. Not too heavily, not too lightly.
_ On a winter day in November, 2013