Solo Show - Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
by Slavka Sverakova, June 2012
Currently exhibited at Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, courtesy of Laura Marsiaj gallery, ten drawings produced during Chieco’s residency in South Korea present questions about their relationship with her earlier work, and with an idea of visibility, elected by Italo Calvino as one of five values to be saved for our future.
Consistent workmanship, bold, ingenious connections within composition, as well as superior execution of observed and absurd, has been Chieco’s strength throughout her complex series of drawings. No change there. However, Fisherman’s Throne looks different.
Earlier work depends on the dynamics between the fluent incise outline accompanied almost randomly by carefully syncopated fragments of one-hue objects. The ground is a vacuum, absence, nothingness, empty space, whereas the thin melodic black/dark curves confidently insists on evoking volumes. Easily, they seduce imagination to fill in what is not there, but according to nature should be there. The outlined nudes look like universal archetypes of the knowledge about themselves. They forge compositions akin group portraits reducing the individual likenesses to characters determined by some obedient participation in an event or a process. Only accentuated details get full multicolour treatment, which dominates the current series to the extent that outlined figures are not included. Fisherman’s throne series, by its title, is both similar and different, it invites a thought of homage, or status, even if ironically so. The series reminds me of John Cage using I Ching as a tool for chance operation in his music and visual art. Chieco saw the used thrown out furniture by chance, when walking around Incheon, and registered the role of the town’s huge port. The drawings deny expectation. There is no human body in sight. Colourful, three- dimensional chairs, settees, car seats govern the space in voluminous illusion as if suspended in the air. Pencils of different colours take turn to model wood, metal, textile or a fish, as a sculptor would with a chisel. A measure of exactitude is now serving sharp observation and optical verism. The dynamics of empty space becomes subdued by the privacy and stillness of abandoned furniture that engages with natural world, fish, piglet, a red carcass of lamb, and a tree. These engagements appear random, accidental. Are they? Chieco creates an answer when she replaces the living creatures with a toy, a teddy bear, or underwear. The fish is not present in all cases, the fishermen are always absent. Yet, Cage thought of I Ching as a discipline of the ego, as a tool to keep free of goal seeking and discriminating between good and evil. Chieco’s disciplined drawing forges equivalency between pleasure and disgust and opposition to practical life. Her “fisherman” is not only absent, but his skills are visibly not applied. If a teddy bear or underwear are to be read as results of his efforts, then not only irony, but also sarcasm takes over. When the “throne” in the title happens to be one of the used, damaged, deteriorated seats in various stages of demise, the subsequent erasing of both the protagonist and his status turns out absurdly tragic. Forging a trope of poetic pleonasm Chieco echoes Cage: “if we want to use chance operations, then we must accept the results”. Her drawings are directional, leading attention to special points and values, by quasi-surrealist fragmentation. It is not to be expected that the arm support of an easy chair would lean over to discharge water over the Puffer Fish. It is characteristic of this creature to ingest huge amount of water to make its volume grow for protection, because it cannot swim fast. Muted colouring does not advertise its toxicity, nor does it invite the experience of eating it, although it is considered a delicacy in Japan, and Korea, and thus very costly. That point well hidden in the context, a viewer may not be familiar with, the drawing directs attention to a living fish being kept alive by water running from a run down cheap easy chair. A paradox. A lie. A convincing work of art, that without denying the existential contexts, creates an opposing one. The run down, used up, object provides nourishment and care. The drawing opposes the prevailing obsession of our civilisation with growth, consumerism, and youth. The idea that something old has value is firmly connected to art and antiques market, whereas here, the value is identical with natural resource.
The light and volume appear as a meme carefully nurtured by Bosch, Breughel and Chardin in Chieco’s Sting Ray. Again, a meaning is anchored in the context of a classic tale. Telegonus killed his father Odysseus with a spear tipped in the venom from the tail of stingray. The toxicity is once more covered up by the animal’s ability to burry in the sand and stay docile and inactive for a long time. Chieco placed stingray low down, where it camouflaged itself into the pattern of the dirty, and torn upholstery. The drawing appeals to a sense for detail, to ability to distinguish what it is what I see at a distance. The visual sense is thus celebrated as protecting us, warning us to either fight or flight. There is a logic in the construction of the car seats, but absurdity in their ability to hover in the air, and providing environment in which the sting ray – in much smaller scale- may swim. Chieco expresses admiration for iridescent tints and patterned scales with dazzling virtuosity. Veristic elements calmly produce a fictional whole. The clean light, no shadows, firm modelling, polished finish engage in sensibility that forges mimicry almost picturesque.
Both examples I have given so far, witness the artist’s keen awareness of other contexts while focusing on the truth harboured in the visual force of colour, shape, composition and illusion, and their capacity to evoke their own contexts.
One such result connects to what is known about western still life paintings.
Look at the market series by Frans Snyder(1579 -1657) reveals some shared values: large scale, sharp intellectual observation, commitment to authenticity. Snyder’s paintings have been interpreted as symbolic of human relationships, sexual in particular, made possible by included figures. In most of her previous series Chieco prefers accentuated small details and absences to carry symbolic meaning. Here, the loss of skills, of way of living, depletion of natural resources, all are expressed by the absurd absence of the protagonist and his status. Consequently the absurd is real and symbolic at the same time, mirror of the natural resources. Tetrodotoxin developed by the puffer fish is deadly, but properly prepared its meat is costly delicacy. The venom from sting ray spine has been adapted as anaesthetic. The unpalatable penis fish is commonly eaten raw in Korea with salt and sesame oil, despite frightening myth about its ability to crawl inside one’s body.
Chieco’s precision is resolutely hand made in spite of deafening calls for up-to-date lens or digital media based art, nevertheless her art practice is neither conservative nor comfortably safe. Its edginess consists of the parallel between what she makes visible, and what we know about insecurity of our civilisation. While much of the meaning of her art is like iceberg, unseen, her visual solutions continue to decide whether art is an instrument of knowledge or of identification with the world soul (Italo Calvino, Visibility). I think that she is closer to the second position, her drawings invite us to think in terms of images.