Curatorial Essay

About Puzzling (a) Space
By Jeong-ok Jeon and Jammie Chang

Puzzling (a) Space begins with the concept of site-specific art, the notion that an artwork comes to life within the exhibition space and an audience’s participation is similarly an essential component to the artworks’ realization. The place is not just a backdrop or a simple space to contain the artwork. Rather, the place conveys the purpose and acts as a vehicle for the art, just as the audience’s interaction acts as a catalyst. Thus the artwork will only be complete in the context of three contributing elements: the artist, the place, and the audience.

Puzzling (a) Space is a dynamic exhibition of paintings, videos, installations and performance that not only reflects the site-specificity of Hillyer Art Space and a multi-cultural aesthetic, it also creates an atmosphere for people to see themselves as an integral feature in the emergence of an artistic event.

The Korean artists, Soun Hong, presents Sidescape, a painting-installation series depicting devastating images of wars and calamities found on the Internet. As the title suggests, Sidescape portrays parts and margins of the media images that absurdly represent tranquil scenery. This new series exhibits the severe snowstorm that struck Washington, DC, early this year. By breaking down the images and randomly displaying them in the gallery space, Hong invites the audience to review the happening from different angles.

Thai artist Chakraphan Rangaratna creates artworks based on his travel experiences. In this exhibition, Rangaratna introduces full-color geometric shapes inspired by a trip to Mexico and transforms them into a mural installation, My Ship Is Not Pretty. The sense of joy originated from formal elements helps the audience participate in the exotic and festive atmosphere.

Chinese-American artist Ding Ren’s work resonates with the simplicity and nothingness in everyday life. Ren presents two videos titled Reflected Light Series. She documented the images of shadows and light that shed on the walls on a specific date and time and projects them on the corners in the gallery. The notion of corner also implies the artist’s blurred identity between Asian and American.

Having relocated from the Philippines to the United States in 2005, Eric De Leon Zamuco has dealt with a sense of unfamiliarity to a new environment and an issue of identity as a new Filipino immigrant. For this exhibition, Zamuco makes a mixed-media installation titled A Tale of Common Things that breaks down the gallery space to reflect his paradoxical sense of the surroundings.


Exciting Interaction in Puzzling Space: Beyond the Site-Specific Art

Jung-Sil Lee, Ph.D.
Art Critics and Adjunct professor of the Corcoran College of Art and Design

Entering the exhibition area of Hillyer Art Space located in Washington D.C. to view the second opening reception Friday evening, Oct 1, there was lots of feverish audience filled in the room. In the center of the overwhelming viewers an eye-catching installation work seemed quite an obstruction to traverse the space easily. It is a work titled A Tale of Common Things by Eric de Leon Zamuco, Philippine immigrant artist. As shown in the artist performance, his postcolonial messages including colonial purifying mission was transferred in the material of soap for the work. The intrusion to one culture from another culture was visualized in this blocking installation. It is also meaningful that this artistic statement was held in the capital of U.S. that has been championed as a place of postcolonial diversity.

Upon the first visit to the gallery, curator, Jeong-Ok Jeon, told-me, that she had envisioned the exhibition that would perfectly embody the specific nature of the building and interior shape of Hillyer Art Space. Based on the three separate areas of exhibition space, she and her co-curator Jammie Chang asked to the artists to create site-specific works relevantly in order to conform and orchestrate with this specific space as one organic physical whole. For the unity of space, the artist focused on the theme related to Washington D.C. whether they live this city or not, or whether they visited to this city or not. The significance of the city as a symbol of national power was superimposed with contemporary multiculturalism proposed by these artists whose original cultures are not American.

The site-specific art has quite decent tradition. Earth art or land art is one form of site-specific art that widely exhibited in the mid-1960s to convert the formalist faith in the self-contained artwork. Modernist’s effort to separate art work from its location and context had been seriously questioned and reexamined after 60s. The importance of place where an art work is displayed was recognized once again. Not only for works sited outdoors but every indoor gallery or museum space has its own architectural meaning and specific locality that affect to the viewer’s visual experience. Acknowledging this trend current exhibition aptly titled Puzzling Space (2010) contributes and takes another step to the parameter of the site-specificity.

Korean artiste, Soun Hong’s work is even more puzzling not only the space but also time. His Sidescape was created for the capital city covered by heavy snow, but used the photographs of it. The reality was that he was never been in this place, but his visit and presence in this exhibition would complete the meaning of his site-specific work. His original viewpoint on details of images, fracturing of the scene and time, and unusual installation of the various fragments of images make the gallery space dynamic and amusing. Conceptually, this approach is associated with the deflation of the modernist view that history is progressive and has a coherent, knowable shape. Breaking the narrative and chronological sequence, the artist depicts fragments of moment poetically.

In their own ways, Ding Ren, Chinese, and Chakraphan Rangaratna, who was immigrated from Thailand, appropriated the gallery space, specifically the wall. Ren used the corner in the gallery to project two video installations, and Rangaratna decorated the mural with his memory in Mexico in the manner of visual diaries of trip. The whole gallery space including walls, ground, corner, and entrance offer to visitors an amusing interactive place in which they could endlessly and not univocally get visual pleasure and meanings of the space for art, politics, identity, and their human right.