Staring at The Present between The Past and The Future|"Interstice of Time" by South Korean Artist, Soonik KWON


Soonik KWON “Interstice of Time” 2023, Whitestone Gallery Taipei.

Soonik KWON, a South Korean artist, has exhibited his works in numerous exhibitions locally and internationally. His latest exhibition titled “Interstice of Time: Soonik KWON at Present” held at Whitestone Gallery Taipei, explores the concept of time while showcasing his remarkable fusion of colors and graphite - two opposing mediums, yet blended harmoniously together as seen in his works. In a recent interview, Kwon shed light on his notion of living in the present and the intricate process of achieving harmony amidst conflicting elements.

Finding Joy in the Present

Exhibition view.

The title of this exhibition itself signifies Kwon’s unique perspective of living in the present and navigating the conflicts between diverse elements. It invites viewers to embark on a visual exploration where color and graphite converge, offering a peek into the artist’s artistic journey and how he seeks to find beauty within the interstitial spaces of time.

- The title of your exhibition “Interstice of Time: Soonik KWON” at Present reflects your perspective on living in the present and finding harmony between foreign substances like color and graphite. How did this idea of being in the present influenced your artistic process and the overall concept behind the exhibition?

Kwon: I went on a trip to Africa in 2007, but I forgot my camera. I was embarrassed and shocked because I wanted to plan my work in a new travel destination with my camera. And then I happened to think of it. Reading Osho Rajneesh’s book, “Everyday Osho” the first words of the book were deeply engraved in my mind. “There is an [interstice] between the past and the future that leads to eternity.

That’s what [present] is.” That is when I thought “Ah!”Even though I lost my camera and couldn't see all the new scenery, I gave up on trying to imagine my work through the camera. I was quite embarrassed at the time, but in the present now, in the “interstice”, I realized that this was what I can, and from then on, I was happy while sketching my travels in the space between books. The experience came as a very new experience to me.

Living in the ‘present’ right now, it vaguely made me think that I should not sacrifice the present for the future, and not just stay in the pain or joy of the ‘past’ but stay in the present. They filled it up like graphite to shine, and they started to glow. Although there is a conflict between the two foreign substances, color, and graphite, I thought it was a good thing to live in the present where I tried to harmonize well.

Kwon at work.

- Why did you opt for graphite as your main medium? And employ techniques such as rubbing or filling gaps with graphite?

Kwon: For me, who lived near a coal mining village, the black light was very beautiful. As many footsteps passed by, the black glow of the coals made me realize that beauty is everywhere. This can be viewed as an abstract expression.

Regarding the ‘Absence of Ego’ series, I first draw numerous dots on the background and then paint over them lightly. On top of that, a dark black pigment matière is placed on the dots again. I paint graphite over it and rub it to give it a shine. Just like this, when I perform the simple repetition and the act of continuously rubbing the graphite, I am able to get rid of my obsession with myself and empty my mind. I see this as a meditation and a series of practices carried out by moving the body to escape from the agony even if the pain of reality remains through creative labor. This includes not only my personal aesthetic joy, but also the comfort I want to convey to the audience.

Artwork close-up.

Geometric abstraction: Circles, Squares & Triangles

Installation view.

In Kwon’s artistic journey, the interplay between dots, circles, squares and overlapping raised dots transcends the boundaries of conventional representation. Similar to his peers such as Piet Mondrian, who employed shapes to depict abstraction in his art, and Pablo Picasso who is known for his use of angular and fragmented shapes in portraying human figures, it becomes apparent that the use of shapes in the history of art has always carried symbolic significance. These shapes act as visual elements that convey deeper meaning and evoke emotional responses.

- What thought process is behind the interplay between the dots within the circle or square spaces, as well as the raised dots that overlap? How do you achieve variations in size, shape, and patterns to create the effect of geometric abstraction?

Kwon: From 2012, I started abstract expression from figurative expression. Organic shapes were transformed into geometric shapes. It starts with a point that started from “Absence of Ego”, and it is a square, circle, dot, cross, etc. The circle represents ‘sky’, the square represents ‘earth’, and the triangle represents ‘people.’

Abstract or figurative, it doesn’t matter to me. I just chose the abstract method to be able to express it more intensively. Abstract painting allows a lot of freedom to the viewer. Even if I expressed it the way I thought, I often realize that the viewers take it differently. Just as a sad person feels a sense of rest when he sees blue, imagining the ocean, and feeling more comfortable when he sees green in a tiring life, I believe that I am enjoying the joy that color brings.

Buddhism and the idea of ‘No self’

Kwon posing in front of his work.

The Buddhist doctrine of ‘no self’ (anātman) simply aims to deflate the ego. With their belief that there is no permanent self, or ego within individuals, this ancient philosophy has influenced Kwon’s creative process and the conceptual depth of his artworks. By uncovering the nature of true existence, Kwon’s art seeks to explore the idea of emptiness, impermanence, and the interconnectedness of all things.

- How did the concept of ‘no self’ and the Buddhist doctrine of ‘no self’ influence your creative process in your artwork, particularly in relation to the idea of transcending attachment to the self and discovering the true nature of the self?

Kwon: It can be said to be connected to the immersion I felt during the last ten years spent working with traditional Korean blue celadon ceramics. Although Western philosophy and beliefs about life focus on the individual, Buddhism's "absence of ego" can be defined as "avoiding obsession with oneself and the action of emptying oneself."

I think that it is due to the labor involved in the work in the "Absence of Ego" series. Through the simple act of repeatedly marking dots and continuously rubbing the surfaces of the raised dots with graphite, like a performance, I let go of the obsession with myself within that act, and I learned to empty my thoughts. Just like the Buddhist act of bowing 108 times, it can be seen as a simple yet repeated execution of body movement for the purpose of forgetting anguish and pain. Through the artworks depicting continuously overlapping circles in the "Absence of Ego" series, I wanted to show the truth of the mandala.

From Gap to Healing

Installation view.

For Kwon, the term ‘interstice’ holds deep significance. In the exhibition’s context, ‘interstice’ is used to encapsulate the intricate interplay between time, space and personal experiences.

- Why did you choose the term ‘interstice’ instead of ‘gap’ or ‘void’ in the title of your series?

Kwon: I thought a lot about the Korean word “teum” (“gap” or “interstice”), which is in the title of my series, in English. The reason why I used the jargon “interstice,” which unlike the words “crack” or “gap” means, “a fissure that occurs in the inner part of a rock,” or “an incision;” is simply because it is not the word “gap,” which is different from the emotional spaces between people.

The word “interstice” can be used to speak of both time and space. The concept of “teum,” or “interstice,” is the visions of us who are bound to the past in human life and cannot live in the present or who sacrifice the present for the sake of the future. Because, to me who is one body, thinking only of the darkness of the past or the hope of the future eventually becomes an obstacle to life.

To escape from this, I wish to transform self-inflicted wounds into positive thoughts. In the end, the past, the present, the future are all one body, which is me. I believe that if I myself, damaged by attachment to the past, go on living while the present is shining, the present can become a crystal-like existence throughout my entire life.

Soonik Kwon “Pile up & Rub - Interstice (12-02)” 2022, 40.9 × 31.8 cm, Mixed media on canvas, panel.

- In your artwork, you explore the transformation of the interstice from a negative space of absence to a positive representation of healing and regeneration. What contributes to this transformation?

Kwon: A gap is created in the tension created by the clash of several planes spread widely on the canvas. It usually sits jagged in a composition where two or more screens of different colors are facing each other. That’s what “interstice” means-- to be in the present.

Instead of the meaning of wounds, these have more temporal and spatial concepts. Overall, I always think of the three aspects of the composition of the picture: Side =“Interstice” as the 積.硏series, / Dots= “Absence of Ego” as無我series / Lines =what kind of work I want to do in the future.

In other words, the streamlined, elongated space created between planes is called “Interstice.” It is a point of contact between this side and that side, but it forms a ‘space’ in between that is neither here nor there. Even if it’s like a deep cut, it’s healing itself from both sides (The past or the heart to the future) and stacking up the present by overlapping layers of dark graphite gloss. This has a strong three-dimensional effect, just like a "scarred tattoo" that was scarred by indigenous people in Africa or Australia. This can be said to be a ‘trace of time’ that has gone through the process of wounding and healing.

Artwork close-up.

Through Kwon’s insightful explanation and candid responses, we gained a deeper clue of how his artworks embody the process of wounding and healing. The highlight of the interview was how he eloquently explained how the concept of ‘interstice’ captures the multifaceted nature of time and space, offering a unique perspective on the human experience. Kwon serves as an inspiring testament to the potential of art to illuminate the human experience and foster personal growth.

The exhibition in Taipei runs through August 12. Please wander into interstice by Kwon.

View Exhibition Details »

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