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The Conditional Planes 2022

최종 수정일: 5월 31일



    There is nothing on earth that does not change. If there is a single thing that never changes in the world, it is the truth that everything in the world changes. The truth in East Asia is manifested in the flow of changes. In East Asian philosophy, the non-interchangeable may exist. However, immutability can never exist. The positions of heaven and earth do not vary at all. The father's position and the mother's one are not transposed. This is called non-interchangeability. Nonetheless, the ancestors of East Asia have not pursued something immutable. Good can flow into evil, while even evil can return to good by making a soulful endeavor (Gai Guo Qian Shan, 改過遷善). In order that good should not flow into evil, incessant efforts are required. In order to prevent good from flowing into evil, we must keep our balance maintaining a permanent equilibrium at every moment. The effort to keep our balance is called “self-cultivation.” Self-cultivation is accomplished through sharply dynamic self-reflection and active practices. If self-cultivation is continued through self-reflection and practices, one’s life will maintain the state of equilibrium of moderation, which is far from excess or insufficiency. Like a spinning top that does not fall over, a life that skillfully maintains a state of equilibrium knows how to draw a large circle despite temporary staggering when given an external shock. However, it soon recovers a stronger centrifugal force to maintain the rotational force in a balanced state. We call a person who leads such a life as a true person or a gentleman. They maintain the state of equilibrium in the relationship not only with people, but also with the world.


A gentleman must not forget the world. At the same time, he must not pursue the world. This is possible as long as he maintains correctness following morals and does not lose his integrity even in the middle of changeable waves of time. If his mind to forget the world is excessive, it becomes extremely unapproachable leading to uselessness. If he sets his mind focused on the pursuit of the world, the excess will flow into a contemptible state without knowing shame. However, since a sage is different from other mediocre people, he can nurture people with his brilliance, displays all the nature of things with his benevolence, and governs actions with his wisdom.


    A gentleman or a classical scholar is the one who wants to be a person of truth. It is difficult to find this kind of person in our time. Fortunately, we can find a person with this virtue in today’s Korean art world. This is the artist we will meet in the next chapter.


2. Natural unfolding


    The greatness of an artist is judged by comprehensive considerations of the artist’s historically accumulated achievements. We have been witnessing achievements of an artist for more than half a century. Choi Myoungyoung was born in Haeju, Hwanghae-do in 1941. He received art education from Jeong Sang-hwa (1932- ) at Inchon National University of Education and acquired authentic values of contemporary art from the most prominent artists of the time such as Suhwa Kim Whanki (1913-1974), Seokjeong Lee Bongsang (1916- 1970), Chun Kyungja (1924-2015), and Park Seo-bo (1931- ) at Hongik University.

    The true value of Choi Myoungyoung does not lie in his succession of the spiritual heritage received from the artistic lineage of his predecessors or in his respectful attitude. He gradually established his own world from his fundamental questions about the international style that was in fashion back then. His true value is finally revealed in the synthesis of heritage (history) and reality of the time. The late 1960s and the 1970s were chaotic times. The period was described as a relay race of artistic lineage in terms of not only contemporary art, but also the history of art. Western art history includes the narratives of Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) and those of Clement Greenberg (1909-1994). There are several editions of genealogy of calligraphic work and painting in East Asian history as well.

    Using a metaphor, contemporary art is compared to a relay race. Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) handed the baton to Edouard Manet (1832-1883), who passed it to Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) again. Later, Cézanne gave the baton to Henri Matisse (1869-1954), who gave it back to Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Picasso handed the baton to Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) in America, who passed it to the Abstract Expressionists. However, the Abstract Expressionists dropped the baton to the ground. Since then, a series of confusion continues. Hence, in painting, the concept of orthodox began to decline. “Orthodox” is a term coined between a Greek word “orthos” meaning “correct” and “doxa” referring to “opinion.” The concept of “correctness of opinion” in painting collapsed resulting in confusion. However, contrariwise, the confusion led to the emergence of uninhibited opinions. The following is an overview of the moments of a blaze of passion that occurred during the chaos.

    In 1964, Donald Judd (1928-1994) declared, “Abstract Expressionism is dead.”      Minimalism was a defiant manifesto of the former generation as well as a declaration of a new attitude. By adopting the products of industrial processes into the art world, he created a new concept of “specific objects” and finally, the American artist induced the method of synesthetic appreciation counting on the five senses even in the appreciation of works. In addition to music intervention in the exhibition hall, he allowed all kinds of acts such as stepping on the works and feeling the works with hands. Judd also brought the concept of “placement,” or “positioning” to assign a specific work in a specific place. Of course, the expression “positioning” is the concept used to refer to “assign” workforce in the right place in the industrial process.

    After making a colleague take a picture of a background including his own image, John Baldessari (1931-2020) made amateur artists belonging to the Sunday Painters' Society paint the background. Baldessari declared that the most important thing in the question, “What is art?” is not about whether the artist's act of painting is involved in the painting, but rather about their original intentions. This is the point where conceptual art germinated.

    In 1962, Michelangelo Pistoletto (1933- ) argued that a substance that moves by drawing painted onto the mirror should be the subject of painting. He intended to subvert the hierarchy of objects by exhibiting rags together with classical sculptures. Encouraged by this, Germano Celant (1940-2020) organized an exhibition called “Im Spazio” in 1967. During the exhibition, Celant declared by saying, “What is happening? Banality is entering the arena of art. The insignificant is coming into being or, rather, it is beginning to imposing itself. Physical presence and behavior have themselves become art. (…) We are living in a period of deculturation. Iconographic conventions are collapsing, symbolic and conventional languages crumbling.” Afterwards, the name “Arte Povera” has emerged. He claimed that everything in everyday life is meaningful, and that all objects of industrial products and nature should be recognized as art, by restarting from a zero-based state. By delivering the simplest form and message, he began to regard the vivid energy of life as art.

    Lee Ufan (1936-) published an article named “The world and structure” written in 1969 as well as a decisive article, “Voices of emerging artists: From the realm of Non-Art” completed in 1970. He asserted that the trend later named Monoha (the School of Things) should not prospect for an objective relationship between me and the world, but perceive, on the whole, that the world is connected to me from the fact that myself is not able to escape from the world. In other words, it is necessary to move toward the awareness that all members of the world are connected as one, by overcoming the Western subject-object dualism.

The body is, in fact, connected to everything that is visible, flowers, trees, the earth, etc.… … Human beings are made up of existence within the world involved with Dasein based on existential meaning and the place told by Heidegger, in other words, “Physical beings that are already entwined with the world in the relationship with the externality.


    As we can see, Dansaekhwa or monochrome painting was the very philosophy of “Yin Jian Bu Yuan (殷鑑不遠),” in the sense that it prepared its unique style and work attitude while facing the art movements emerging around the world in the middle of chaos. “Yin Jian Bu Yuan (殷鑑不遠)” refers to the attitude of life in which one practices self-cultivation by looking at others as a mirror to reflect oneself. ”Dansaekhwa's point of view does not consist in the philosophical question of minimalism such as "What makes a specific object transform into a work of art?" It is not a subversive thinking to feel the simplicity of commonplaceness and the vivid message of life as is the case of Arte Povera. It is not about a reflection on the system as is the case of conceptual art, and needless to say, it is not about an intention to reestablish the hierarchy of creation either. Monoha puts emphasis on the body. The body viewed in Monoha serves as a medium between the outside (the world) and the inside (the mind), and is the source that opens our eyes to things with a broader opening. Thus, consciousness may cooperate with the body, but they are not the same entities. Instead, the body is open to a world much larger than consciousness is. Monoha claims that the body is also part of the external world. Therefore, the philosophy of Dansaekhwa is fundamentally different from that of Monoha, which intends to identify the body that transcends consciousness and the intimate structure that the body relates with the world. Dansaekhwa pursued an independent path while figuring out the structure of thoughts inherent in these international art movements.

    Among the many masters of Dansaekhwa, the philosophy of Dansaekhwa manifestly unfolds, in particular, in the work of Choi Myoungyoung. The bottom line is, his art world is natural unfolding. When a grass seed falls on the street paved with asphalt, it fails to germinate. However, even though the grass seed is not looking for the original point where it had germinated, with its autonomous desire or will, it later brings a miracle of germination on the asphalt-paved road. Nature made it possible. Nature unfolds its will in all creatures without having to reveal its secrets. The germination of grass seeds from asphalt is both a coincidence and the will of nature. In other words, it is inevitability. Choi Myoungyoung states:


I must be wandering to my dying day. I have been wandering since the beginning and I have been wandering in a maze all my life. 


    Wandering is a synonym for the will to unite the coincidences of the external world with the internal inevitability. The world of Choi Myoungyoung originated in the 1960s with the series self-awakening. With this series having geometric abstractions, the artist took part in remarkable exhibitions in Korean art history, such as Young Artists Coalition Exhibition (1967), the 5th Paris Biennale (1967), and the São Paulo Biennale (1969). Since the early 1970s, by accepting the logic of reduction and diffusion in contemporary art of the art theorist Lee Il (1932-1997), Choi Myoungyoung displayed a series Sign of Equality. Here, reduction refers to the mental will to return to the background (essence), while diffusion is the expression of the subject trying to create empathy with painting by merging personal emotions and feelings into the background (essence). Equality speaks of the equivalence relation made of person-person, person-thing, person-language, person-culture, expressing the thought in which the world (the universe) is operating under extremely equal conditions (laws).

    The thoughts in equality is finally embodied through a series Conditional planes. Here, the term “conditions” refers to an element required to establish a thing or an event or make it occur. At the same time, conditions can also be regarded as logic considering the natural principle in which the way branches grow. First, what the artist presented was the work of repeatedly applying paints with fingers (palm) on the base (background). The most primary sense among others is the sense of sight, but the most direct and active expression before an object is the tactile sensation. The act of applying paint directly with fingers (fingerprint) without relying on a brush or other media is not only the expression of the artist's will to incorporate himself between the material (paint) and the mind (the base symbolizes the mind as a source), but also the artist’s intention to intervene the overall emotions involved between the material and the mind. The artist must express emotions outside the canvas and, at the same time, he is required to pay attention to have them be reduced to the source of the base. It is because the philosophical essence of painting is neither virtual reality nor expression, even less, formalism. The non-interchangeable essence of painting lies in flatness. It is necessary to return to this major premise, and simultaneously, his personal and particular circumstances, emotions, and the will to express ought to overflow outside the canvas. Moreover, the artist accomplishes all these assignments in a humble and simple manner.

    The chapter of “Da Yu Mo“ in Shu Jing (The Book of Documents), one of the most important Classics in East Asia includes a sentence as follows:


Complacency leads to lessen, modesty brings adding.


    In the 1970s, Choi Myoungyoung continued to do his pictorial experiments. In the mid-1970s, the artist applied rollers used in industry and architecture to painting. (Of course, this has nothing to do with the attitude of the American minimalist). The reason that the artist repeatedly applied oil paints to the canvas was to build layers or strata. Simultaneously, by pushing the paints to extend them out of the frame of the canvas, the artist wished to express his will to transcend the limited situation of the canvas. For this reason, this is considered a symbolic accumulation of nature's time and human history on the layers of time piled up by the act of pushing them with this roller. Although nature does not speak to us directly, there is not even one day that nature does not talk with us. Human history is sometimes distorted by the authors’ intentions or opinions.. However, with the passage of time, the truth is supposed to be revealed in human history without fail. The artist once called the roller series “dumb painting.” Although he does not speak about anything specific, he goes beyond the countless pictorial languages that have already existed in the unspoken expressions of painting as well as the traces of movement to transcend. The author speaks again.


I discover inevitability from coincidence, and prepare an opportunity for a new creation through it. 


    The miracle of germinating on the asphalt road is both a coincidence and inevitability. We have already reviewed this. Although the artist has uninterruptedly made choices and repetitions, an inevitable logic does exist in the process of changes. While the fingerprint work was the result of tenacity in order to reconcile matter and mind, the roller work structured the attributes of time and history through difficult repetitive actions. The elements such as matter, mind, time, and history are developed again according to the logic of creation and extinction. This is the gimlet job. The artist makes holes in the back of traditional Korean paper Hanji using a gimlet. The material penetrates through the amorphous holes, and the material is pushed out of the canvas again by the touch of his palm, We do not know how creation is made and where extinction heads for. All we can do is just to guess with intuition that such actions unfold by themselves. The holes seen in this series symbolize the abyss of existence. They represent an enigmatic secret. It is not only paramita (the rear part of the work) but also a door (the front part of the work) connecting to a concrete reality. The operation of an unknown law must lie in the process of creation and extinction of all creatures, and there must be observers who just face the situation with calm without being unilaterally disobedient or unconditionally obedient. Although the creation and extinction told by the artist is a purely pictorial language, I read the artist's ardent desire, from it, to know the secrets of life. It is the artist's mission to ask a secret that can never be resolved. Thus, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) commented, "It is in language that an expectation and its fulfillment make contact.” A pictorial language is a superlative language. Expectations and fulfillment of the secret of the world become more acute to unveil the artist's work in concrete through a pictorial language.

    Creation and extinction are the methods to operate nature (the universe). The cycle of Four Heavenly Virtues (元亨利貞: Supreme, Fortune, Profitable, Steadfast) through the four seasons leads to production, nurturing, harvest and storage of all things from heaven and earth. From the 1980s onward, Choi Myoungyoung applies the logic of creation and extinction that appears in the existential horizon of human beings to painting by approaching the laws of nature. It is a repetitive work of vertical and horizontal strokes. The vertical and horizontal strokes in his painting world are reminiscent of weft and warp lines in textiles, respectively. These are also called longitude (Jing 經) and latitude (Wei 緯). We understand them as the process of which things have been performed. The artist gives the meaning of the total accumulation of human history to verticality. In other words, it refers to the time accumulated from the past to the present. Horizontality signifies all human affairs in reality that are currently taking place. That is to say, it refers to the time moving from the present toward the future. However, as the weft and warp lines are undergoing the repeated process of accumulation, the revealed shape is sometimes erased, while another layer is formed on top of the previously erased stratum. In the course of recurrent vicissitudes, vertical and horizontal partial units end up establishing a complete structure with the whole. The entire structure with a compactly solid shape reminds us of the expression, “the long-term rationality of history.” This term refers to the viewpoint where many problems will be steadily improved in a more rational way over time, when considering the past traces of human history. Choi Myoungyoung does not say that he knows what life is about. However, he is wary of pessimism about life and history. It is because pessimism has no exit. Therefore, he states as follows:


    Life is weaved by combining the weft lines made of individual effort and talent,

    and the warp lines made of the flow of the times, the spirit of the time (Zeitgeist), and good fortune. The same happens with painting. 


    Therefore, Choi Myoungyoung puts emphasis on experience. It is because a painting is not drawn only by pure intuition. A painting is a result of cooperation among history, the flow of the times, and personal efforts and good fortunes. Mark Rothko (1903-1970) also mentioned, “A painting is not about experience, it is an experience.”  

    From 2015 onward, the artist started to reveal the base of the plane. He adjusts the speed, breathing, and tempo by squeezing and squashing the paint with his fingers in vertical and horizontal directions, while making fine diagonal lines from time to time. In the state of balanced pace, psychological distance is maintained with moderation, and the display of both coincidence and inevitability as an ensemble leads to maintenance of a state of exquisite equilibrium. The form of revealing the base is the fruit of the artist's accomplishment by wholeheartedly gathering all five senses, reason, and insightful imagination. By putting tactile sensations together, the artist intends to achieve control over matter and mind. At the same time, the sense of acoustic rhythms perceived in the painting originates from the artist's pure sense trying to penetrate the phenomena occurring in the four-dimensional space and fusing them into the two-dimensional plane. The base, which emerges beyond the painting, is the very place where pure thinking stays. The revealed base can be interpreted as an archetype. An archetype can be considered the genetic and mental prototype that has been inherited by our ancestors' experiences throughout a long history. In other words, it corresponds to the initial thinking (das anfängliche Denken).


3. Conclusion: Eternal now


    In the previous chapter, we have reviewed our traditional thought, “Complacency leads to lack, modesty brings profit.” Keeping the state of lack is also a traditional way of self-cultivation.


All the noise and worries in life take place only after knowledge is formed. As the time goes by, they do not resemble the natural character. Since bad habits have already been added, it is required to lessen them at least from now on, and keep reducing them. When there is nothing left to reduce, the nature of goodness begins again.


    Gao Panlong (1562-1626), a thinker of the late Ming Dynasty stated this. The sentence that best expresses the self-cultivation told by Choi Myoungyoung can be found in Zhuangzi as well.


Only the way of purity and simplicity (Chun Su, 純素) can keep the mind. If you keep this and do not lose it, you become one with the mind. When the united mind is harmonized with all things, it is incorporated into orders (moral laws). A saying goes, “In general, people value profits. A person of integrity values honor. A sage person admires the will while the saint person admires the mind.” Therefore, “simplicity 素” refers to the state where blending does not occur, and “purity 純” means protection of the mind to avoid any possible damage. In sum, a person who has accomplished purity and simplicity is called a true person.



    We can infer why the artist made the base exposed from the concept of purity and simplicity. We can first approach the artist's intention to understand the essence of painting and human nature by repeatedly subtracting. Choi Myoungyoung established an inseparable relationship between human affairs and himself by weaving the weft lines (verticality, history) and the warp lines (horizontality, the present time). In addition, he intended to announce the joy of “eternal now” by carrying out ideal reestablishment of this relationship, that is, from the attitude of purity and simplicity along with repeated subtraction (Jian Zhi You Jian, 減之又減). Therefore, to Choi Myoungyoung, painting and the artist are a single entity, and the artist becomes a painting. This is the true spirit of Dansaekhwa.


I draw a painting / I draw with a painting / I speak with a painting / I feel with a painting / I see with a painting / I think with a painting / I am awakened with a painting / I exist with a painting / There is a painting / I ask with a painting / “There is a painting in front of me.” / This is a painting of myself / I am a painting / It is myself from a painting / I remain as a painting  


    Oriental thinking is based on the philosophy of “Inseparability between human nature and cultivation.” It emphasizes ceaseless cultivation towards the restoration of human nature without losing faith in human nature. For the perfection of character, it is vital to simultaneously pursue human nature and the continuation of cultivation. The same happens with the pursuit of completion of painting. The pursuit of the essence of painting must accord with inner cultivation.

    The vertical shape seen in his painting signifies the time of history or the transcendental time (the time of “beyond worldliness”). The horizontal shape may be regarded as a secular world of the present. Finally, I would like to end this article by quoting the British philosopher, Philip Kitcher (1947- ), who represents our contemporary time.


     “Thoroughly secular people can interpret the purpose of their lives, not through some ‘vertical’ links to a dimly understand transcendent reality but through ‘horizontal’ connections to a natural world that is vaster than their own individual existence, Through your implicit recognition of yourself as part of world, including most importantly other human lives, on which your actions make an impact, the epiphany can be a rich source of broader connections.”  


    Philip Kitcher reinterprets the meaning of transcendence (horizontality) in the human world, not the divine transcendence (verticality). Innumerable possibilities to interpret the meaning of verticality and horizontality as well as the work of the base as a broader connection still remain to be discovered. 

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