Lee Sun-young(art critic)

The exhibition hall feels like a pet animal competition for a variety of registered animal characters including dogs, cats, snails, caterpillars, bears and penguins. All familiar, cute and neatly painted with bright colors, the characters seem to be waiting for children judges who would fully appreciate and enjoy their joyous vitality. Several pictures hung on the wall reveal inherent characteristics of animated characters by showing their busy visits to everyday sites in the city and suburbs. Some of the characters have already been exposed to a few commercials, which have shown his competence to capitalize on his innate or acquired sense of plastic arts within the realm of design. Those configurations with the view of exotic natural scenes or hectic busy streets have some issues such as reality vs. fantasy, symmetry vs. asymmetry, and the same vs. the other, especially with the existence of the easily missable, shadow-like pairs. Being covered with black dots on white background, they are placed beside each main character painted with exuberant colours.


Reality vs. Fantasy

Considering that characters have already been transformed to some degree from natural items, in this case of animals, the hidden characters may be rarely recognizable without the prototypes. We, however, need to clarify which one is a genuine source of the other, because the less obvious constructions are produced from the molds during the previous casting process. When focusing the resulting forms, the vividly colored figures are prototypes of colorless ones. But when it comes to the process, the larger-sized ones are prototypes of the slenderer ones.


Noh stated that he kept exploring the matter of being and non-being through pairs of the colourful and the hueless. From the subtitle of this recent exhibition, 'Image-Mother & Son', it is understandable that sons manifest "an entity of being", while mothers do "that of non-being, as a kind of disposable destined to be thrown away after completing its mission". The matter of being vs. non-being can be expanded to reality vs. (art as) fantasy. When reality involves the meaning which we give to things and events in our daily lives, art is a reflection of reality. Works of art do not exist outside reality. Paintings and sculptures are made from real materials that have been worked upon and organized for the purpose of depicting or commenting upon reality. We may say that any truthful work of art must correspond to the reality it depicts in some respects, if not in all aspects. The truthful depiction of reality does not depend upon resemblance, though in some cases it may. Artists who wish to depict reality, will need a understanding of invisible, hidden relations to communicate with viewers. Covered with the accidentally-produced patterns through multi-layered mix of plaster and black chinese ink, Noh's neutral-colored pairs quietly standing behind their colorful pairs are closer to fantasy, distinct from mimesis.


In her critical study entitled Fantasy and Mimesis : Responses to Reality in Western Fiction, Kathryn Hume argues that fantasy must be seen as one of two impulses which inform all fiction. The first impulse is that of mimesis, which Hume states is "felt as desire to imitate, to describe, events, people, situations and objects with such verisimilitude that others can share your experience ... ." The other impulse, fantasy itself, is defined by Hume as "any departure from consensus reality." She also contends that art has been mimetic, since Plato and Aristotle's definition of art as the imitation of something natural or imagined. Christianity, according to her, had absentmindedly kept on the hypothesis of mimesis, and mundane secularization went further and further mixed with Protestant and scientific seriousness, She points out that no other form has replaced Realism on a general level. Realism, however, has lost its control in the trend of contemporary art.


Characters the artist has made are more likely to represent fantasy than reality. Nevertheless, when placed side by side with their drab-colored pairs, they are closer to reality. Thus, the vague ghostly pairs get an easy access to fantasy, distinguished from mimesis, that is "a form of a wishful longing, an escape from the complexities of life and the overall boredom of everyday world, and a kind of desire, therefore, disturbing readers by taking them away from a secure sense of reality, and evolving new languages for new kinds of viewers' experiences."


Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical

Noh's works dramatically allure viewers with an unexplainable specific atmosphere, through the contrasting objects juxtaposed each other, which would not be felt when the pairs were placed separately. The characters with joyful colours and shapes vs. their shadowy and fuzzy pairs make a visually symmetrical contrast more emphasized. Like a hypothesis of a particle vs. an antiparticle and matter vs. antimatter in physics, there constantly exists a high tension. It has been known that an elementary particle composing of matter has its corresponding antiparticle. According to Martin Gardner, particle-antiparticle pairs are identical in every aspects, except the polarity of their electric charges. An electron, for instance, has charge minus one; its antiparticle, the positron, has charge plus one. In particular they have the same mass and the same amount of intrinsic angular momentum. When particle and antiparticle collide, all the opposite charges cancel each other out, leaving a large, neutral bundle of energy. This is the case with matter and antimatter. They destroy one another and turn into a flash of pure energy that can manifest itself as light.


Noh Jun's works look like pairs having opposite electric charges, which are identical in everything else. The reserved pairs seem to work like antiparticles, "mirror" images of particles. The disparity between them is more dramatically revealed through their identically-suggested volume, silhouette and surficial texture. Symmetric forms are preconditions for expressing asymmetric forms. According to the hypothesis of matter and antimatter, the universe has expanded from a state which all the matter and energy in the universe was at an immense temperature and density. As the universe cooled, the symmetry between matter and antimatter has been broken. The observed asymmetry between matter and antimatter works not only in the realm of physics and biology, but in that of our economic conditions.


Noh's characters clad in exuberant colors and located sporadically, are belonging to a kind of commodities, whereas their hueless pairs briefly suggest a sphere of reproduction where certain adventures and experiments, without any guarantee for successful outputs, are conducted as an unknown basis for production. That invisible process is not considered as a part of socialized productions often requiring some tangible assets. We may assume that this vague part has all prerequisites necessary for enabling production as a realm of reproduction. In economics, it is closer to that of privacy, meaning mainly biological reproduction. Artistic creation is also involved with giving birth offsprings rather than literally making stuffs with hands, as suggested in Noh's subtitle of Mother and Son. To some extent, art is belonging to the realm of social productions through a few institutions such as University, Academy and schools. But most of the parts in art are hidden and not reasonably valued by the society, in spite of the fact that a number of artists are struggling and investing their time and resources. Noh is not an exception, either.


The distance and estrangement between production and reproduction can be read through the contrasting pairs. The less brightly colored pairs, for instance, stand for unwaged labor which is not clearly visualized and calculated. They relate themselves more to the underlying conditions on which the brightly colored characters are based. This is the case with art, because it is deeply involved with implicit backgrounds on which other social productions are possible to build. Nevertheless, production and reproduction are not treated on an equal basis. At issue is that Capitalism only pays for socialized labor. According to Leopoldina Fortunati, a Feminism theorist who has written Arcane of Reproduction, there are a lot of hidden roles of houseworks in contributing to the creation of wealth for capitalists (surplus value). She contends that labor in production is waged labor, often executed in work place(factory), through which structure and organization bring about technical advancements as well as collaboration and specialization, whereas reproduction remains unpaid as a part of natural realm rather than social one.


The complementary pairs in Noh's exhibition implicitly alludes to the unbalance and tension existing between value/nonvalue and production/reproduction. Even though a society maintains on the circular system of production and reproduction, capital only endows one side with value. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of artists serving for the unwaged labor are ultimately none other than scapegoats of Capitalism. Some scholars criticizing classic economics assert that there have been no perfectly balanced system based on social exchange. But that can not be a sufficient consolation to many hard-working artists under minimum wage. Despite the fact that the value of art is not clearly measurable, art is not only a basic foundation enabling production itself. but also a genuine outcome production ultimately targets on. Asymmetry between production and reproduction can not be overcome without any dramatic leap. An aspiring challenge is demanded not as a producer, but as an artist. Socially repressed conditions do not lead to any considerable contribution of artists to society by confining artists' role only as that of producers.


the Other vs. the Same

Noh's works are not unified as a coherent piece, and still disorganized, as if splitting any plausible seam between life and art. He evokes the "other" existing outside the realm of homogeneity sharing rules. He suggests a sphere where the origin underneath systemization making all products into being can confront with the resulting products. The maternal pairs place a special emphasis on the fact that the clearly visible "same" is none other than a virtual construction deriving from the other. The artist reveals the existence of the other outside frame, identity, system, structure and order on which the same is relying. Even though the other can not be internalized, it incessantly needs to communicate with the same in order to make its function available. It is a sort of open-ended relationship, through which solipsism that one's self is the only thing with certainty and verified, identifying me with us, can be overcome.


Last but non the least, I would like to point out the female implication in the other incorporated in Noh's works. Women, especially mothers are the most representative unit of minorities, as the least favored one. It is quite suggestive that Noh's pairs stand for the relationship of mother and son rather than an equal friendship with reciprocity. Among equal interpersonal relations, they are given equal access to express themselves and undiscriminated rights to enjoy equal amount of benefits. Unlike to this relationship, the relation between the same and the other is difficult to have equal opportunities for communication.


They are an inextricably tangled mother/child pairs. The mother pairs symbolize a perceived wholeness and unity, while the child pairs miss the lost archaic mother forever. Within the web having family-similarity, the mother pairs, as Julia Kristeva puts it, work as the maternal full of drives emanating from body. The coded body is an outlet, not a fulfillment for desire. Having been interested in heterogeneity, the psychoanalyst defined that drives are endless disintegrations of matter, and there happens an endless generation of a blank subject. Noh, through the pairs, sets up an encounter with the maternal, as a repressed impulse. The maternal exerts its best function in an imaginary phase, that is a fictional structure.


Noh's interests in the maternal dates back to his first solo exhibition, held in Gallery Space Cell in 2004, which had dealt with it under the serial titles of Breath of the Earth. Interpelling the earth as 'her', a pronoun for a female, he utilized large and flat bowls as forms showing a female entity of the earth. At the recent exhibition, the female entity reappeared itself as the less-noticeable pairs. The existence of "subject in process" reveals the desire to fill any lack and retrieve the lost archaic mother. Even though they are nondescripts because of their dull shapes and chaotic patterns, they are something like a womb which keeps providing fetuses with nutrients.