The work of Ja Hyun Seo borders a variety of mediums including textiles, painting, and digital art. From Seoul and based in New York, Ja Hyun is currently a artist resident of the NARS foundation. Ja Hyun’s latest series of works “seeing and being seen”, is an allegory for our present lives mixed between the physical and digital. In many regards, the series plays with parallels.
darkness and light
bright colors and shades of black
information and disinformation
physical and digital
real and fake
In observing these parallels, Seo utilizes the term “seeing and being seen” to analyze how we view an artwork - how we process an image as information and the swell of emotion it makes us feel. To accomplish this, Seo follows a process of editing, layering, and transforming an image over and over again, to the point where it is hard to tell if the images might be linked. In this way the series is about transference, the paintings are the beginning of the series and they are transformed and warped into new digital forms.
In this essay, I will discuss describe the painterly form of Seo’s work in comparison to the digital images. From there the essay will discuss how our mind perceives the real and fake in today’s digitally saturated information fueled society.
The paintings in the series are grid like, interconnected panels that appear like architectural forms or textile patterns. Spread out in rectangular forms, they consist of various shades including blacks and blues; yellows and whites.
The paintings remind me of circuit boards and textile weavings. In both of those constructs, although one is technological, and the other is physical, a sense of data, connectivity, and information is present. The small details create a larger composition. The same could be said of these paintings. Each individual layer of paint, and each square, is a piece of information. All of them represent something separately, but come together to create a larger statement.
The paintings feel like the veins of a larger network. These veins form an organism. Together they tell a larger story, or create a larger network of thoughts and ideas. In a literal sense, the work is a representation of media culture and interconnected systems. Figuratively, as a painting, by commenting on the subject of media culture and interconnected networks, the works become about the individuals who we are interconnected with, and the world around us. Collectively we shape large networks.
Of course, as individuals we rarely think about this, we are so focused on our self representations. We do not observe what the world actually is, just what we want to see. In reality though, the world is an ecosystem that tethers us all together. In this way, seeing and being seen, is about looking at the larger picture, while examining the details and intricacies that tie it all together.
After creating the painterly compositions, Ja Hyun photographs and edits the produced images with digital tools. The ending results are compositions that feel familiar yet distant. Some appear as if they are cities, with pulses of light. Others feel like contained chambers representing a beating heart or pulse of information - like a neural network.
When the images are edited and converted into their digital manifestations they take on different aesthetic shapes and attributes. The flat rectangular panels are reshaped into cubelike structures. Often appearing in the center of a composition, the digital constructed cubes have different color compositions compared to the painterly forms. They feature muted and blended tones overlapping on one another. There is a subtle delicacy that takes place. The blending of colors, which is difficult to distinguish without looking closely at the works, is intentional. It symbolizes that, in the world of digital images it is hard to read between the lines. Reality and fiction are frequently blurred.
At the same time as featuring deep blacks and dark greens, that seemingly blend into one another, the works also play with contrast. Full blacks contrast sharp reds, feeling like a spark to the eye. This burst of color is a shockwave of information emerging from a nebulous darkness.
Considering both darkness and light in the works, there is a dichotomy. Light is what allows us to see an image, and darkness keeps our eyes blind. Thus playing with bright colors and darker shades, clearly relates to the idea of seeing and being seen, but also, what is seen and what is hidden.
We are still trying to make sense of what the digital means to us. Because it evolves so fast, we can make little sense of what we are doing, who we have become, or who we will become. Of course then, if the cube is our house or personal space, and it is blending with what is outside of it, that means our interior and exterior are merging together, our private and public space is also increasingly indistinguishable.
SEEING / BEING SEEN
In Ja Hyun’s works the real and virtual blur. It serves perhaps as an analogy to our present lives. As digital culture expands and prospers, we increasingly have trouble differentiating the waking world and the digital one. This perspective is closely connected to considering what is true and what is fake. Our eyes have trouble differentiating between the two. As we move beyond a separation of the physical and digital both become reality. This means then, that what is true is also fake, and vice versa. The separation lines between reality and fantasy are erased.
In the present we rely on media, we are tethered to our smartphones. We forget that what inside of them is a complex network of metal, wires, and electricity. We are so accustomed to talking to people in far off places, that we forget the size of the actual earth. Our identity has changed, and in some ways we no longer look at images, we just accept them without questioning their purpose.
Ja Hyun’s intention for this series of works stems from a reflection of our inner minds. In working across several mediums, “seeing and being seen” is about trying to understand the affect images have on us, and how we interpret them. What the work presents is that we should be more present when we view images. We should look into the details of what we view, and as we internalize an image, understand how it affects us. We should also be aware that the images we look at are also staring back at us.