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Poetic weaving of dark memories and trauma on display

Apr 04,2017
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Artist Lee Jinju’s painting “A Frail Hymn”(2017) is now on view at Arario Gallery Seoul in Jongno District, central Seoul. The work is part of her solo exhibition “An Obscure Reply.” [ARARIO GALLERY]
There is nothing particularly peculiar about Lee Jinju’s random objects portrayed in her paintings - pigs, pots, tree trunks, ponds, hands, and people. But put together in their finest details they look oddly yet beautifully foreign in a way that reminds observers of a dark fantasy world.

Each subject gives off the impression that it harbors an intriguing or sad story it has yet to tell. The artist, however, avoided direct answers to questions about what she’s trying to tell in her surreal paintings during a press briefing on Wednesday at Arario Gallery Seoul in Jongno District, central Seoul.

“An Obscure Reply,” which opened on Thursday and runs through May 7, is her first solo exhibition in six years in Korea.

As the title implies, she brings back random memories and imagery from her subconscious and reconstructs them in an obscure painting on linen. Just as if she cut off a sentence midway, she leaves whoever observes her paintings to finish it with his or her own story.’

Having majored in Korean painting at Hongik University in western Seoul, the 36-year-old artist has worked on visualizing the vagueness of what separates memory from oblivion. Although the messages might be hard to grasp, her exquisite portrayal of subject matter and the awkward yet inexplicably harmonious disposition of them make an arresting piece of artwork.

Lee said she’s been fascinated with memories - mostly dark ones - and the psychological trauma associated with them. For her, the memory of being briefly kidnapped around the age of four keeps coming back.

Although she was safely released, she was not able to share the story with anyone - not even with her mom - until 2009 when she opened an exhibition on the very subject.

“I can’t erase the memory. As it comes back to me from time to time, I became interested in how and when the memory is recalled,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder, it is real? Memories are quite subjective and easily distorted. When you remember it, it is often revised too.”

The artist said random objects she runs into while going about her daily life often grab her attention. They can be wilted plants, pruned trees that reveal their bare skin, or a chunk of pork. When it happens, she always sketches the images so that she can retrieve them later as if recalling a memory.

Coping with trauma is like trying to let still water flow, she said. Some of her newer paintings at the exhibition portray stagnant water with the negative connotation of still dealing with psychological struggles.

“Negative feelings that stay still are similar to decayed water. Let them be revealed and move around. Emotions should flow like water.”

She admitted that she views the world as a dangerous place to live, where things beyond her understanding or control happen everyday.

“The closer I look, the more I feel depressed. All I can do is, maybe, not turn my face away and face it directly, however incomprehensible it might be,” she said. “Ironically, there is a beauty in things sick, sad or deserted.” Yonhap