November 30, 2010

SeungHun Lee, JongHeon Kim, and June Kim, "LAYERS", group show in Fishbowl Gallery

Review by Gail Victoria Braddock Quagliata

The photographs currently on display in the Fishbowl Gallery are clearly the work of separate artists: two seem to depict some sort of ethereal, muted drowning scene, segueing into a visceral but poignant homage to the wolf, then, finally, massive, stark black and white prints of some empty street, some empty night. Only further examination allows the connections between these seemingly unrelated works to become apparent. “LAYERS,” is a group show, featuring the work of three Pratt photography students, second year MFA candidate SeungHun Lee and first year MFA candidates June Kim and JongHeon Kim.

June Kim, I Wolf (top), 2010 and Family of Present (below), 2010
As described by Ms. Kim, “All of our work has different layers. We may make very different work, but in spite of the obvious surface differences, we all address the same underlying themes.” Initial observation certainly describes more differences than similarities: Ms. Kim’s work is raw and urgent, both her text-based pieces and her photography are immediate and absolute. In her text work, Kim injects the word WOLF into phrases where one would automatically expect LOVE, subverting concepts of what is “primal” and what is “family.” The image of the artist - beautiful, pale-skinned, and seemingly fragile – crawling on the earth in a stance mimicking that of the wolves surrounding her, is at once terrifying and absurd. In this image Kim firmly places herself as an equal to these animals, a sister, a concept she discusses further in her statement (as research has discovered wolf packs don’t actually follow a clear hierarchy but exist, in fact, in more of a familial structure), yet in her text pieces she elevates them beyond our narrow human concept of “some stupid animal,” replacing our most inexplicable, cherished, and animalistic emotion, love, with WOLF. The viewer is immediately confronted with his or her own prejudices about the meaning of, and appropriate place for, animals in our human world. The wolf, especially, as “man’s best friend” minus some key piece of cuddly domesticity and safety, represents some fading shred of savageness. To see this fierce, lovely creature juxtaposed in such a way with a term so savage yet saccharine (LOVE) makes just… so much sense.

Yet Ms. Kim’s savage, carnal fun seems almost too real and too vicious adjacent to the ethereal, intangible images presented by JongHeon Kim. The artist explores themes of identity, station, and social signifiers; literally asking, “Why do people try to find their identities by outer looks? Why do people evaluate others by the prices of the clothes that they wear? Why cannot people penetrate the shallow exterior and see what is beneath it, what is really valuable and meaningful?” 

JongHeon Kim, Lookism #1, 2009
Mr. Kim’s images, shot in what appears to be a swimming pool, bear a diffuse, dreamy sense that only the distorting, light-refracting qualities of water can impart. Contrary to the crisp, vivid finish in Ms. Kim’s anthropomorphic stare-down or the murky nightscape of Mr. Lee’s street scenes, Mr. Kim’s pool views seem almost abstract – what from afar appears to be a smear of color or abstruse shape, upon observation, reveals itself to be an article of clothing tangled helplessly in the water around the body of the (presumed) wearer. These articles of clothing, given such meaning as social symbols, in Kim’s hands are odd creatures made almost impotent and writhing in some unseen current, as the wearer seems to drown under their weight, or is he being freed from their burden? The ambiguity of the meaning behind using these loaded objects is one of the manners with which Mr. Kim draws in the viewer and demands closer inspection and analysis of these nuanced images; this careful tension is enhanced by the artist’s use of color and the taut framing.

Last, most somber, and darkest by far are the large-scale exterior night shots by SeungHun Lee. Lee positions the viewer as voyeur in these massive matte black and white prints, peering into bright windows and the lives of others from the safe shroud of anonymous darkness afforded by some random street at night. Lee says, “When the sun goes down, and time passes into midnight, and artificial lights illuminate the world, I go across the boundaries to alternate narratives: void of humans, enigmatic spaces, and reflections of artificial light. These areas stimulate my visual senses to think about what is and what is not.”

SeungHun Lee, Bayside, New York #3, March 2010
Lee’s work seems to discuss the tension between inside and outside – the artist observes an emotional space from a detached distance and dispassionately removes all unnecessary detail to focus on that specific component at the core of the narrative. These works are formal and tenebrous, evoking some ominous, hushed, creeping sense of doom somehow with a mechanical hand - like a well-oiled machine trained keenly on making the viewer feel this dread without fanfare.

It seems these works, on one level, all discuss the meaning of belonging or social strata, essentially one of the many layers this work shares. Where Ms. Kim embeds herself into the family of the wolf, Lee observes the lives of others from afar, and Mr. Kim dissects the meaning of rank and social identity as determined by meaningless exterior trappings. “LAYERS” will be on view in the Fishbowl Gallery through December 3, 2010.

Artist websites:
JongHeon Kim
June Kim
SeungHun Lee

This exhibition is part of the Student Exhibition Spaces Program coordinated by the Center for Career and Professional Development at Pratt Institute.  All current students can submit work for inclusion in future exhibitions by emailing for more information.

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