Urban realities: Healing Strokes offers glimpses of life in Korea at InKo Centre, Chennai
There is an enjoyable, almost amusing literary air about some of the works at the exhibition, Healing Strokes, being hosted at InKo Centre, in the city.
The intrepid art enthusiast might easily note a long list of possible references — from a picaresque quality in some of the characters in an elusive nod to Haruki Murakami, to a grasp of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, and even pink poodles from the Doctor Who novel Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Paul Magrs?
Expectedly, you’re left staring down at pooches in bow-ties, barkers garbed like French sailor boys or dashing libertines, and even a rather cute lapdog, seemingly draped in a floor-sweeping gown of lace, pawing at the ivory keys of a grand piano, while looking away from the sheet of music placed in front of it.
The effect is doubtlessly cute, if not entirely jaw-dropping, although the general mood that looms over many of these works can seem to change drastically across the floor, at the show.
The InKo Centre in Chennai, as a hub to facilitate and further cultural exchanges between India and Korea, has a rather curious show in its hands, presenting a fairly liberal and progressive view of emerging art sensibilities from the Korean Peninsula.
In recent times, the online space has been witness to all manner of newfangled attempts at art performance, and especially, video-based documentations of everyday reality — all expressly made to provide windows into the urban society and life in cities like Seoul.
Looking around, at the same time, a large number of artistic practices emerging from the region, primarily based in photography, appear to be unifiedly aimed towards preserving visages and panoramas that are distinctly Korean in nature.
A fraction of works emerging from the same space, meanwhile, are visibly heavily steeped in pop idioms of the hour, and very often carry reactive and dissentient messages embedded in them.
All of them are equally mirrors to a rapidly shifting cultural landscape, and in that very thought, each frame at this exhibition serves to reveal some unusual, unexpected and even previously unknown realities to do with life in the giant melting pot of a global society, as seen via Korea.
An urban sphere
To that end, the hosts at Healing Strokes make a stated point about the selected works here — by five artists in all, from Korea — display an accomplished spread of skills and technique, while examining how art can help to soothe, cure and heal society.
To truly soak in much of these cathartic impressions, it helps to make the admission that there no prescribed rules, or heavily schooled dictums, or any manner of preordained conventions that limit these works of art. Indeed, therein lies the all-important aspect of showcasing the boundless joys of expressive freedom.
In the works of Kim Jinsook, that open-minded sensibility translates into an all-embracing spirit that is decidedly rooted in nature.
Even as his canvases reveal an unmindful, untroubled state of being, Jinsook speaks of a world of experiences, ‘perceived from the outside’ — through the materiality of his chosen medium of paints.
The effect is at once visual and tactile, notes a curatorial note about the works, and they do transport the viewer to a far-removed sphere of existence.
Kim Oksuk, on the other hand, picks up on flowers, primarily, to create a series of evocative works that effortlessly transpose ideas of realism and lyricism into paintings that stand distinct for their masterful use of colour, in depicting images that are naturally borne of a strong poetic language.
For Oksuk’s works, the curatorial note refers ‘a sense of Baudelairean imagery’ that bestows the artist’s ouevre with a highly literary and intricately descriptive degree of excellence.
Satire in fairy tales
Things take a turn for the cheerful in Park Hanui’s paintings that appear, on the face of it, to be works of caricature, meant for the amusement of children. However, take a step back and dig a little deeper into each canvas, and you’d find serpentine individual histories woven into each piece — very often deeply satirical, and definitely meant to be fairy tales for adults.
For a more analytical note, Hanui adroitly crafts visuals of a fantastical nature that tend to lampoon notions of modern-day living — quite in the vein of say, a New Yorker series of editorial cartoons, or the earliest Punch illustrations.
That is to say, some of these pieces do pack a bit of a punch into the vacuous chamber of myths we’ve come to associate with life in Korea.
To be sure, Hanui is pointing her brushes and easels towards matters of ‘separation and isolation’, emotional conditions that in her eyes, have become the norm for culture today.
Of human relations
Choi Hangyu brings to the show a more spatial consciousness — while unwittingly teaming up with the preoccupations and anxieties of so many artists from the Indian subcontinent.
A study worth every drop of paint, Hangyu’s canvases seem to stretch the known properties and studied characteristics of watercolours, while extending a narrative that aims to transcend the dimension of materiality.
Hangyu too spotlights issues of isolation, exhaustion and emotional fatigue as attributes that underline contemporary life — not just in Korea, but anywhere in the world.
The works you’re likely to spend most of your time examining here are by Kim Nahyun which, in their vibrant and elaborately detailed prospects, also speak of human relations.
Working foremostly with flowers as an artistic motif, Nahyun creates dreamy tableaux of flowers in ostensibly divine and heaven-sent arrangements, that can leave you engrossed and hunched over your knees in hard-boiled concentration or in raptures of innocent, felicitous glee.
As Nahyun offers, his attempt is merely to represent his artistic view of human relations, ‘the most fundamental emotion of all’. To make the most of that desire, you’d do well to visit the show with someone whom you can get truly intimate and close with.
Healing Strokes is on display until November 24, 10 am to 6 pm at The Gallery @ InKo Centre.
— Jaideep Sen