Noblesse oblige, 2016

Noblesse oblige, 20162019-05-15T01:17:57+00:00

Project Description

정연연 작가 평론, 홍경한 (2016)2019-05-13T17:41:45+00:00

화려한 이미지 뒤에 은폐된 것들

– 홍경한(미술평론가)

“사회적 강자의 약자에 대한 인신 예속적 양상을 우리가 지금 살고 있는 자유와 평등의 민주 사회에서도 세습 되어지는 얼마나 아이러니한가. 소위 있는 자들의 경제적, 육체적 횡포는 너무도 당연하게 느껴진 나머지 이젠 ‘없이 태어나서, 없이 자라나는 내가 잘못이다.’ 라며 포기하고, 받아들이며 살아간다. 이러한 현상은 문명의 발전 이상으로 더욱 가속화 되어 굳이 고위층이 아니더라도 타인 보다 자신이 조금 더 돈이 많다거나, 직위, 학력이 높다 싶으면 상하의 계층을 만들려 한다.”

1. 위 글은 정연연 작가의 작가노트 중 일부다. 기술된 내용을 보면 그의 근작 주제가 어째서 ‘노블레스 오블리주(Noblesse oblige)’인지 어렵지 않게 감지할 수 있다. 즉, ‘귀족의 의무’라는 뜻으로도 다양한 이유 아래 자행되는 동시대의 편견과 차별, 자본주의 사회에서 흔히 접할 수 있는 계층계급의 문제를 되묻고, 부여된 지위와 신분에 따르는 도의적 의무를 동반하지 못하는 세태를 반문하는 것이 확연하다는 것이다.
하지만 시각이미지 자체만으로는 작품의 제작 의도를 눈치 채기 어렵다. 화려한 컬러, 우아한 형상에서 ‘귀족의 의무’는 쉽게 연상되지 않으며, 풍요로운 사람이 가난한 사람에 대해 가지는 도덕적 책임감, 절대적 평등은 현실에서 실현되기 힘든 이상이라는 비판은 연쇄적 인지에 영향을 주지 못한다. 그보단 그저 엘레강스한 여성들이 각자의 자리에서 어떤 몸짓으로 자리하고 있는 ‘익명의 초상화’처럼 비춰진다.
그런데 아이러니하게도 그 익명이라는 지점이 되레 정연연 작업을 이해할 수 있는 실마리를 제공한다. 다시 말해 그의 익명성은 특정한 적시(摘示)를 통해 오히려 그림 자체와 작가 간 호환성과 기록의 권역을 되찾고 현존하지만 숨겨져 있는 것에 시각성을 부여함으로서 감춰진 것에 반응할 수 있음을 제시한다는 것이다. 물론 그가 궁극적으로 표현하고자 하는 것은 공동체가 지녀야할 보편적 상식, 사회와 제도 속에서 불변해야 마땅할 가치의 추구에 있다. 따라서 그의 작품들은 현실에 놓인 엄연한 부조리함에 대해 은유하고, 형식적이고 구조적인 것에 반발하거나 비판하면서 자각의 단초로서의 작품들이라 해도 그르지 않다.
그런 점에선 여성들의 콤플렉스를 화두로 삼은 2014년의 ‘Remember Your Heart’ 연작이나 여성과 성 차이(gender different), 그 불편한 진실을 직시한 ‘she is blind’ 시리즈(2012), 2011년 선보인 시리즈, 관능적인 인상이 강한 ‘Addicted to herself’(2010) 연작 등도 같은 선상에 놓인다.
이들 작품의 공통점은 크게 ‘여자가 바라본 여자’로 함축되거나, ‘나르시시즘과 여자’, ‘사회적 관계에서 여성’에 있다. 화이트, 레드, 블랙 등의 색에 의해 섬세하거나 몽환적이거나 환상적인 분위기를 자아내고, 때론 정적이기도 하지만 언제나 그의 그림엔 서서히 다가오는 주관적 내레이션이 나지막이 배어있다. 그러나 근작에 이르러선 사회적 메시지가 강해졌다는 특징을 보인다. 우리 사회에서 ‘귀족의 의무’는 바르게 행해지고 있는지에 대한 성찰, 은폐되는 시선에 대한 진실함을 말하는 경향이 도드라지고 있다는 것이다.

2. 근작을 포함해 정연연의 그림 속에 투영된 시선의 은폐, 그리고 그것을 통한 진실함의 눈길은 어쩌면 사회 구성원으로서의 개인의 발언이기도 하다. 삶의 단락과 경험의 시간성 내부에서 발화된 것이라는 사실에 의심의 여지가 없다. 실제로 그는 시각화된 표면에 기억과 경험의 기표들을 얹히며, 작화적 시점에서 진행되는/ 진행되어 온 흔적들을 잔류시키면서 ‘보이지 않으나 필시 존재하는 것’을 재조명해 왔다. 하지만 해석은 몇몇 장식 및 색깔과 같은 조형요소에 의해 제어당하며 내레이션은 시각성에 지배되었음을 부정하기 어렵다.
그럼에도 불구하고 정연연의 작품들은 외계를 내계로 수용해 감성적으로 검증하기 위한 끊임없는 반복을 추구한다. 겉보기엔 분명 형상과 도식에 충실하고, 의도를 왜곡하는 상징의 나열일 수 있으나, 그의 그림엔 눈치 채지 못할 정도의 미필적 기호들이 가득 숨어 있다. 물론 평범한 감상자의 위치에서 그의 그림들은 ‘인상’으로 그칠 가능성이 높다. 더구나 ‘인상’이 구조에서 삶을 영위하는 이들과의 관계를 청산하는 것은 아니다. 그림이라는 매개를 통해 사회적 측면을 나타내고, 은폐에 관한 지적 및 관계성에 대한 고찰 등은 유효하다.
특히 각각의 색이 지정하는 의미들을 이해하고 본다면 이미지가 선사하는 선입관의 반대편에 모래알처럼 흩어진 문제의식을 보다 명확히 읽을 수 있다. 비록 작가의 이상향과 다른 화려한 색과 강렬한 인상의 인물 들이 화면에 서성이지만 조형요소들을 하나씩 분석하면 보이는 것이 전부는 아님을 깨달을 수 있다는 것이다.
일례로 그의 그림에 빈번하게 등장하는 금색이나 노랑은 고전적인 관점에서 볼 때 사랑, 선행, 풍부함, 천상의 빛을 띤다. 이 색깔은 다른 색이 조금만 첨가되어도 곧 순색의 밝은 특성이 상실된다. 때문에 금빛은 부도덕한 자, 매춘부 등을 상징할 뿐 아니라 배반과 불신, 부도덕, 질병, 질투, 증오, 경멸 등 부정적 이미지를 함유하기도 한다.
정연연의 작업에서 눈에 띄는 빨강 역시 동일한 맥락에 놓인다. 시각적으로 이 강렬한 색은 흔히 열정, 정열, 도전성을 지칭하지만 불길함의 기호이자 불안감, 관능성을 대리한다. 그리고 검정은 무한함이나 끝없는 순환 대비 죽음, 어두움, 상실, 피폐함을 아우르는 색이다. 정연연은 이러한 색의 고유명사에 순응하는 어법을 인물의 얼굴과 배경을 두드러지게 상치적 표현을 통해 가시화 한다.
작가에게 중요한 것은 우리 눈에 비춰진 상들이, 또한 단순한 사물이나 색들이 실제론 불투명한 인간 삶을 치환하고 증좌 한다는 데 있다. 이에 우린 그의 그림을 보며 사실적 표현과 기호화 된 도안의 공존, 같은 맥락에서 양감을 살린 단순한 음각의 조화가 현재를 살아가는 우리의 초상을 대입하기에 부족함이 없음을 자각한다.
어쨌든 정연연의 그림들은 다채로운 색깔과 형상 탓에 ‘고요한 음미’와 ‘직접적 해석’이 저해당하는 측면이 없진 않으나 현실이라는 무대에 관한 자문을 품고 있다는 것, 삶 속에서 결코 내칠 수 없는 것들에 대한 무관심, 의식하거나 무의식적인 상황 아래 펼쳐지는 단면들, 사회-구성원 간 관계의 의미, 진정으로 추구해야할 인간의 다치 등에 대한 것들이 풍요롭게 그리드(grid)되어 있다. 그리고 이는 이전 일련의 작품들에세도 엿볼 수 있듯 작가의 철학과 조형적 방법론이 어디에 조타를 두고 있는지 느낄 수 있도록 한다. 그리고 그의 모든 작품들은 어쩌면 다분히 비극적인 세상에서 작가로써 할 수 있는 것은 무엇인가라는 자문과 공유가 녹아 있음을 외면하기 어렵다.

Opinion about the work of Artist Jung Yeon-Yeon (2016)2019-05-13T17:41:33+00:00

Beyond the Veneer of Visual Brilliance and Sumptuousness
– Hong Kyoung-han

The domination and oppression of the powerless by the powerful constitute an unbroken heritage that lives on even in today’s democratic society supposedly based on freedom and equality. People learned to accept as normal the tyranny, both economic and physical, of the wealthy over the poor and rather blame themselves and the station of their birth for their lot in life. This phenomenon not only persists into our time, but is, in fact, accelerating at a rate that outpaces the progress of civilization itself. People look down on those lesser in wealth, rank or education as hierarchical inferiors, even when they themselves do not necessarily belong to the social elite.”

1. The above is an excerpt from an artist statement by Yeonyeon Jung. The statement, on the occasion of unveiling her new painting series Noblesse Oblige, clearly articulates the thought process behind this choice of title. Yeonyeon Jung’s latest paintings indeed revolve around the theme of the “responsibility of nobility,”as suggested by this title. Reflections on prejudice and discrimination that have, for various reasons, become rampant realities of our time call attention to class conflicts widespread in today’s capitalist society and the failure of the elite class to fulfill social responsibilities that come with entitlements.⑴
However, such a thematic intent is far from apparent or easily recognizable in Jung’s paintings, at least not based on the visual content alone. These paintings with lavish colors and elegant shapes hardly conjure up such a theme as the “responsibility of nobility”or any other socially-charged themes, as a matter of fact. Nor do they provide any visual clues about the implied theme of a faltering faith in the willingness of the wealthy to assume their moral responsibilities toward the poor and disillusionment with the ideal of absolute equality. Instead, they simply come across as “anonymous portraits”showing elegant women in various graceful positions.⑵
The anonymousness of the portrayed subjects, however, may be precisely the clue to understanding Jung’s works. Anonymousness paradoxically restores the congruity between the paintings and their author, as well as their role as a sphere of inscription, through specific acts of designation. Anonymousness further helps award visual qualities to what lies hidden beneath the surface, thereby opening up the possibility of responding to what is as such invisible.⑶ The fundamental message of the artist undoubtedly remains one about the common sense required of a community and the universal values that should be honored in any and all human societies, irrespective of social systems, and time and place. Ultimately, these paintings are indirect denunciations of problems ailing our society and acts of defiance against what is formal and structural, with the goal being to create the awareness of the reality of our world.
In this sense, the Noblesse Oblige series is in continuity with her previous works such as Remember Your Heart from 2014 which was about the various psychological complexes of women, She Is Blind, the 2012 series evoking uncomfortable realities surrounding sexual identity and gender difference and the Addicted to Herself’series⑷ from 2010 with a strongly sensual undertone.⑸
The larger theme shared by all of these series may be said to be “women according to women,”“narcissism and women” or “women seen in their social relationships.”Jung’s works are structured through color codes, often consisting of white, red and black, and are characterized by fine details. In these paintings with a dream-like atmosphere, the narrative content forms a quiet undercurrent which slowly builds up.⑹ In her more recent works, however, social messages are heard much more distinctly than they were previously. Musings on the “responsibility of nobility”and critical views on its deficit in our society are coupled with an increasing focus on concealed gazes and the truth there of 2. By striving to approach truth through concealed gazes in her recent as well as past works,⑺ Jung is, in a way, making personal statements in her capacity as a citizen and as a member of society. There is no doubt that these attempts originate in the chapters of her own lived life and experiences and were born in the heart of this temporality. By placing her memories and experiences on the visualized surfaces as signifiers and keeping the traces of earlier stages of the painting, Jung brings back to light “what is invisible but surely existent.”But, the reality is that the interpretation of a painting is often dictated by visual elements, whether it be colors or a handful of decorative details. Likewise, the visual dimension also always trumps the narrative content.
In spite of it, Jung’s paintings tirelessly attempt to bring the outside world into the inner sphere and re-forge it into a felt and lived experience. At the first glance, Jung’s paintings may appear to be dominated by forms and design and compositional concerns, and the symbols populating them may seem to distort messages intended by the artist. But, a more careful look reveals that a surprising number of potential and unsuspected signs and codes are hidden everywhere in her paintings.⑻
* Hong Kyoung-han is an art critic.
⑴Her skepticism about the elite’s ability to assume their social responsibilities is apparent when one further reads in the same artist statement: “Indeed, for the unity of Korean people and to maximize their capacities, it is essential that the privileged at the top of our society lead the way. But, this is nothing but a beautiful fantasy, suitable only for fairy tales or movies.”
⑵ These characters are also undoubtedly the alter-egos of the artist. The fact that these characters are female makes it quite obvious that they are the projections of the author’s self.
⑶The characters (anonymous women), most often with a serene air, as though in a quiet monologue, are portrayed in a static position, with one or two decorative motifs integrated into their hair or clothes. Due to the addition of the decorative motifs, the dominant impression produced by these paintings is aesthetic. As though representations of an ideal beauty, these paintings bathe in a dream-like atmosphere. These are some of the reasons why Jung’s paintings are viewed mostly as visual celebrations and aesthetic revelries of a sor
⑷This series deals with yet another dimension of being a woman; narcissism. Narcissism refers to inordinate fascination with oneself, perceived superior to others, whether in physical appearance or abilities, resulting in self-centered attitudes or behaviors. Narcissism is also an important psychoanalytical concept. Narcissism is not gender-specific, and its expressions are highly individual and varied.
⑸The 2010 series, titled “Redefinition of Herself,”is an honest look at how women do not hesitate to undermine other women in their attempt to please the opposite sex. Jung deals with this intriguing and puzzling area of women’s psychology – which could very well be an uncomfortable topic for a female artist, as it can be construed as an ‘admission to the guilt’- in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way. This “unfortunate yet fascinating phenomenon”is depicted by visualizing the anxiety felt by women as a community, subterfuges they use to overcome it such as ganging up against one another or slandering and other similarly vexatious situations and how they affect the dynamics in the relationships between them. The artist explained the significance of this journey into the “darker sides of female sisterhood”by saying that “it helps me to distinguish small everyday disappointments of life from perfidious backbiting and betrayal. The title she gave to this unique journey is tellingly enough ‘Subterfuges of Women and Their Traces.’
⑹ Jung strives to reveal women through their own gaze. She states: “The concept of woman is an ill-defined one. This is why it arouses extreme anxieties as well as suspicions. It haunts me.”Jung’s attempt of visualizing women is quite distinct in that she tries to show women in and of themselves, rather than inscribing them within the traditional gender dichotomy.
⑺Concealing the gaze has an inhibitive effect on ideas and situations that can be communicated. On the other hand, it also paradoxically allows the subject to be presented through the gaze of others. In other words, individuals in their respective vanishing points can create the possibility of a new recovery precisely by negating such positioning.
⑻These signs and codes, needless to say, are primarily the manifestations of the reality the painting is concerned with or freedom from such reality, with skepticism being an inherent part
For an ordinary beholder, the experience of Jung’s paintings may be no more or no less than a series of “impressions.”“Impressions”cannot dismantle the structures of our society or relinquish our relationships with others who live within it. Raising social issues through paintings, pointing out what is concealed and covered up by the system and reflecting upon the web of social relationships are all valid actions. When a viewer understands the correct intended meaning of each of the colors in a painting, he or she can then move past the initial impressions and perceive more clearly the many expressions of critical consciousness hidden beneath the surface. Even when a painting seemingly contradicts the artist’s own ideals through the use of sumptuous colors and captivating human figures, a careful inspection of individual visual elements can make a beholder perceive what lies beyond the veneer.
For example, the gold and yellow tones that frequently appear in Jung’s paintings are traditionally associated with love, virtue, abundance or celestial light. But, these primary colors quickly lose their bright hue, when even a very slight amount of other colors are mixed with them. Dull gold thus symbolizes moral depravity or prostitution and is often associated with betrayal, distrust, disease, hatred and contempt.
The same can be said of red, also frequently used in Jung’s paintings. This warm color is usually associated with passion, energy and ambition, but it also is regarded as an ominous color evoking anxiety and lasciviousness. Meanwhile, black symbolizes death, as opposed to infinitude or cyclic rebirths, darkness, loss and barrenness. Jung uses the language of colors with precision, often by choosing strongly contrasting colors for the face of the human subject and the background.
What is important for the artist is that these images, and simple objects and colors substitute for and evince life which, as such, is opaque and unintelligible. Moreover, for the beholder, the coexistence of realistic representations and coded designs and also the harmony with simple intaglio effects emphasizing volume make Jung’s paintings convincing portraits of our time.
To sum up, even though the vast and overwhelming array of colors and shapes in Yeonyeon Jung’s paintings can be an obstacle to “calm appreciation”and “easy deciphering,”there is no denying that her works are rich grids of questions about the theater known as the “real world,”essential elements of life that are sacrificed by our indifference, scenes of life in moments that are lived both consciously and unconsciously, musings on the meaning of the relationship between the society and its members,⑼ and true values human societies should pursue. Further, as was the case with her previous works, the Noblesse Oblige series clearly articulates the philosophy and visual methodology of this artist. Finally, if there is one fundamental and recurrent question that pervades Yeonyeon Jung’s entire body of work, it is undoubtedly about the role of art and artists in an essentially tragic world.

This relationship, both private and public, is life’s utmost prize as well as a seed of conflicts. It is also a source and a synonym for anxiety and anguish. This relationship is the foundation upon which Jung conceives and builds a role for art. The veiled critical consciousness, meanwhile, is codified using colors, lines and shapes. That such may be the case is apparent, for example, from this self-derisive statement made by the artist: “The world right now appears to me dark crimson, full of snapdragon flowers.”