Seeing the invisible - Shin Hyeyoung l Art Critic

For Song Minchul, an artist who has addressed matters of visual perception and cognition, circles have been one of the basic shapes and an important material and motif of works. In particular, circles are the beginning as well as the end in this exhibition. Upon entering the hall, one can find some four circles. Note, however, that many more "invisible" circles than the visible ones are in there. Is it possible to see the invisible? In order to see the remaining invisible circles, we have to pay attention to the intention of the artist instead of opening our eyes wide and identify his shaping method and employ some imagination. 

There is a big circle on the high wall in the middle. It is not in its complete form, however. There are five dots around the circle, and five circular arcs are formed by connecting two dots, leaving the middle empty. Since the five circular arcs are in black, and the empty pentagon is in white like the wall, we find the arcs first. If the colors were reversed, however, we would see the pentagon first, not the circular arcs. It reminds us of the Gestalt psychology that what to perceive as a figure and the ground is relative during the process of perception, and decision on perception should be made as a whole. In fact, the artist applied colors in reverse in another exhibition so that the pentagon may be recognized first and arranged the circular arcs side by side horizontally.1 The title Equivalent other circle clearly describes the artist's intention. Meanwhile, other "equivalent other circle" are hiding in this exhibition. The volume of the aforementioned big circle holding five circular arcs was measured on the assumption that the circle is not flat but cubic, and the size of the volume was converted into the space of exhibition hall with colors applied to the wall as high as the height. If a circle is a curve connecting dots located at the same distance from a point, a sphere is a cubic object surrounded by traces of dots positioned at identical length off a point. Thus, the difference between a circle and a sphere is that one is flat and the other is cubic, being a circular phenomenon connecting dots placed equally far from a point. It shows that thoughts of the artist naturally shifted from a circle to a sphere, from a sphere to a cuboid. After understanding this, look at the gray wall surrounded by an approximately one-meter long band. Then you may feel as if water poured from the big sphere fills the exhibition hall and your lower body is immersed in it. Just as the water poured from the sphere is contained in the cuboid in a completely different shape, the water of the earth constantly changes its status from liquid to iceberg or vapor but the gross weight is retained. In that sense, it can be called "equivalent other water."2 

So far, we have only covered one visible circle and invisible ones related to it. The three remaining circles are also linked with multiple visible or invisible circles. Consisting of circles in different colors and diverse diameters, the second circle may appear as an archery target in a rather awkward way. As opposed to a normal target, the circles get smaller from center to outer, and the order of colors is white, black, blue, red, and then yellow. After calculating the size of differently colored areas by referring to the same score on the archery target, the artist reversed the order. It is just the order that is reversed, but white - which has moved to the cente - is considered most important whereas the yellow part, which has been pushed to the outer rim and narrowed like a line, is hardly visible from a distance, banishing the tension naturally created by a target. Moreover, not being hung on the wall but moved to the floor, it is no longer a target but a circular object made up of concentric circles in various colors. The title Equivalent other circle has been realized. 

The remaining two visible circles are paintings. It is noteworthy that both are painted on circular canvas made by the artist himself. In order to make the biggest circular canvas possible using ready-made plywood, he connected four of them in semi-rainbow shape to make a donut-shaped circular frame on which he pulled and fixed a cloth. During the process of creating a circular canvas, Song came up with ideas about different works related to a "circle" and presented varied installations using the remaining circular parts of the plywood. It was because squares and circles, being basic shapes, can transform into countless forms. Nonetheless, it seems that he mainly focused on the circular canvas he made and the painting he is going to draw thereon. The canvas could become not just a simple representation like common paintings but also a circular object itself because it meets the conditions of a painting as a two-dimensional plane; at the same time, it is not a square. Just like Flag by Jasper Johns who used the square shape of canvas, a representative work is The painting to be taken there series in mirror ball shape. The spherical mirror ball, which consists of countless small square mirrors, does not reflect objects as they are like flat mirrors do but reflects objects of the space on which it is hung. The artist installed an actual mirror ball in a space, took photos of it, and drew it on a circular canvas. At this moment, photos just leave a record on the way to painting, whereas the key things are the mirror ball reflecting the space and the painting that shifts the mirror ball into a circular shape. The mirror ball, just like the photos, has a property of an index proving that it existed there, but the painting of the arts - which displays the image - is still an icon. Note, however, that the icon is not a complete representative image in a square frame like ordinary paintings, which resembles an actual object. Instead, the painting of a circular mirror ball on a circular canvas itself is an "object" resembling an actual mirror ball as well as a representative "image." Thus, the mirror ball painting, which has the properties of both an index and an icon, is "The Painting to be Taken There" where an actual mirror was hung. Meanwhile, another work, Arcs in Space, is a painting on a circular canvas of a photo of two transparent balls and one iron ball, which are overlapped. The painting may look like an unidentifiable circular object with a myriad of circles and arcs created by the overlap of three spheres and interference of shape of the space where the photo was taken. Though it is a representative image of a photo, the countless circles and arcs in
the circle make it appear like a type of abstraction unlike The Painting to be Taken There. 

Paintings play a critical role in the overall works of Song. As indicated by his graduate major, painting, his work as an artist started from painting, his installation was initiated from circular canvas, and he still attempts such paintings that ask the nature of painting in return. Despite his expansion toward photos, videos, installation, and conceptual art, painting has always been at the center. Commenting on an epitome of it, Negative painting(2005), may aid in understanding the world of his works. In the video, the artist is drawing a person who looks like himself standing on his hands. If you focus on the drawing, you discover after a while that the images of the painter and surroundings are reversed in black and white. If the black and white are reversed in the video, the proper image must be an actually reversed image. The artist saw a negative film
of a photo, drew the image on canvas, and captured the process on video to create Negative Painting, wherein images are appropriate in videos only and reversed in black and white in reality. Confusion is added in the part where the self-portrait of a handstand is put upside down in the middle of the video and the entire image (including the artist himself who is drawing) is vertically overturned. Many of the videos created by Song in the mid-2000s when he was studying overseas showcase such reversal of black and white to attempt inconsistency between visual perception and cognition of audience. It shows the impossiblility of proper understanding with the eyes only without continued awareness. 

As a frequent object on Song’s works, a circular arc enables us to see the invisible beyond the visible. An arc, a part of circumference limited by two dots, can never be a complete circle by itself but always reminds us of a complete circle since an arc created between tow dots is always premised on the rest of the arcs of the circumference. Arc in Space – GMoMa in this exhibition most markedly displays such properties of circular arcs, highlighting the characteristics of Song’s works. From the huge structure in the shape of a thin, circular arc, which makes the entrance of the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, the artist imagined an arc of an invisible bigger remaining part and attempted a type of sculpture installation exhibiting the possibility that the two arcs will be able to form a circle in the future. Consisting of a replica of exhibition space of the museum on a circulat panel holding two arcs, the sculpture is made of one material and in one color, to be hung on the wall rather than put on the floor. Thus, the work can be easily recognized as furniture such as bookshelf or cabinet, not as a sculpture symbolizing a museum if it were not for the title. 

It has been Song Minchul’s consistent tendency to imply that, like an arc reminding one of the rest of the arcs, one visible thing is not everything. Moreover, his works are always in between other things and cannot be categorically defined. Using lines between dots, sides between lines, and spaces between sides, he creates a variety of shapes. His drawing of a photo does not aim for representation, whereas other works – which are to reveal the nature of photos and paintings- are made as videos. Things to be hung on a wall come down to the floor, whereas objects to be placed on the floor are attached to the wall. Chiming in with the Gestalt psychology, Merleau Ponty once said that “Something perceptual is always among other things, always forming part of a field.” Seeing and cognition are not just a collection of separate responses to a stimulus but enabled by the overall unity of shape and comprehension of its structure. Song constantly awakens such properties of perception and cognition in the field of visual art and makes us think twice about every phenomenon we have taken for granted. He is committed to enabling seeing the invisible.