It was the year 2002 when Seo crossed the intersection of Canal and Hudson Streets in New York City. She was preoccupied with traversing a rectilinear street pitted with potholes as she stated that most of her studio time was spent dreaming. “Dreaming of what?”, her companion inquired. Without hesitation Seo declared, “Of being inside a drawing”(1) . The desire to enter one’s own imagination is a manner of forming reality. Subjective space can then be considered idealized form, not only visionary and contemplative, but translatable into the architecture of real life. In accordance with Henri Focillon’s explanation of the world of forms, “Not only may every activity be comprehended and defined to the extent that it assumes form and inscribes its graph in space and time, but life itself, furthermore, is essentially a creator of forms. Life is form and form is the modality of life.”(2) Seo conjured, created and entered her first experiential drawing while in residence at The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in a room-sized studio where she also lived and slept for a year. Essentially she existed within a personally drawn subjectivity during a turbulent time when lower Manhattan was ponderously clearing the rubble of the decimated Twin Towers. She left America to return to her home in Asia and subsequently, created a series of installations that has rendered drawing to be not only a pictorial space, but an experiential and processional space as well.
Seo is an inherent designer of space whose perception of line is incessant. To design is to delineate, to draw and to invent. “Space in Space in Space” created for the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art was a grandiose execution of delineated space. It encompassed the viewer in an environment that was seemingly architectural yet apparently implausible. Within the rectangular sanctuary of “Space in Space in Space”, an anonymous army of vertical white lines surrounded the viewer who realized that the only visual respites from such a predicament were an orange wall, a blank window or a metallic ceiling grid. Seo had encased perception and vision in a false architecture. In another gallery, murals of bold lines created an implication of entrapment. Again, there was a perceptual predicament that inquired if the lattice work of grey, black and white was functionally architectonic or was a psychoanalytic study of perspective gone awry. It was neither, as the line was merely generating forms and the creator of such forms empowered the viewer’s awareness of line as she proceeded through the museum’s exhibition space.
The discursive nature of line is primarily determined by historical definitions and usage. There is logic to its procession through our lives. Line may be Euclidean, cartographic or even digitized while being applied to whatever task is being performed by individuals. Most often it is subtly directing the movement of bodies, the reception of information and the relationship between the haptic and the optic. Line is most importantly the lasso that tethers perspective to rationality. Without it, consciousness would randomly undulate or freely float about in a paranoiac space of infinity. “In Transit”, created for the Samsung Museum of Art, subjected perception to a processional exercise while emphasizing line’s allegiance to geometry. Seo constructed an architectural illusion of a passageway. When traversing the oddly shaped site, the viewer was reminded of walking through an urban arcade which pedestrians often use as a detour from the main thoroughfare. If Seo referenced Walter Benjamin’s love affair with the Paris Arcades, she undermined his discussion of the flaneur, whose dwelling was the street, as her passageway was not meant to be a theatrical abode, but was a preconceived virtual space for pedestrian self contemplation.(3) In fact, the procession through the passageway never lead the viewer to any satiating view. At its end, was a wall drawing of a net-like form that blocked further passage. “In Transit” was ultimately an experience of spatial navigation through a pictorial two-dimensional plane.
Seo is being purposefully presumptive when she depicts line as form. She has been formerly trained as a painter and her obsession with drawing reflects her pictorial allegiance to an art historical lineage. Did not Durer, Michaelangelo and Ingres qualify drawing to be the highest skill? And in the contemporary realm, Lewitt’s maddening simplification of form consistently dissolving into line has contributed to Seo’s pedagogical influence. Her 2007 visit to the Lewitt installations at Dia Beacon NY was as a researcher to an archeological site. Seo explored the chambers of wall drawings and did not speculate upon the metaphorical implications of the drawn lines, but recognized the unique nature of each hand drawn line in comparison to its overall awe-inspiring compositions. Those lines were indexical, conceptual notations of Lewitt’s theories, dutifully rendered by assistants and enthusiastically read by Seo as language.(4) His transference of lines to majestic wall proportions often created the purely pictorial. Seo has also permitted her line to become scenographic as seen in “Runway”, a permanent wall drawing project displayed at the Youngeun Museum. For that commission, she created a visual labyrinth in a long stairwell to interrupt the movement of space between an entrance and an exit. Seo devised alternate routes for the mind to consider, by painting in tones of acid green, various rooms that could never really be physically entered. Once again, a false architecture, a processional space and an allusion to the virtual realm of dreaming were manifested. Space ambulated through a passageway while cogitating upon itself as form. Seo as creator of that form asked nothing of the viewer except for her to follow, experience and contemplate.
“Perception is subjective”.(5) This is statement No. 24 in Lewitt’s revered Sentences on Conceptual Art . Being subjective is a tactical pastime for Seo. Being in reverie is her passion. When the mind dreams, the relationship between aesthetic style and the body’s condition becomes transformative. In order to enter her drawing in 2002, Seo made an aesthetic choice to cut into the large paper drawings that were already covered with colored paint and geometric lines. She used a No. 24 surgical scalpel to do so. It would seem that when the negative cutouts were removed, Seo found an entry way into her own subjective terrain by dissecting line. And it is interesting to note that when a line is dissected, a plane develops. By extending the plane, dimension occurs and a picture plane appears. Seo peered through the cutouts, stepped over the threshold created by perspective and carefully began reordering the picture plane. She has liberated perspective from its traditional function and servitude. And, she allows it to be seen as purely aesthetic form while celebrating its historical attribute as the anchor of perception. Most importantly, by placing subjectivity inside drawings, Seo reconditions others to recognize perspective as being deeply personal thereby resurrecting a place for the self to be conscious.
(1) Conversation with artist in New York, 2002
(2) See Henri Focillon, The World of Forms in "The Life of Forms in Art" (New York: Zone Books, 1992)
(3) See Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (London: MIT Press, 1999)
(4) Interview with artist at Dia Beacon, NY, 2007
(5) See Art-Language (England, 1969)
The Work of Jinnie Seo
Exhibition Catalog Essay
Exhibition Catalog Essay