2016년 5월 27일 금요일

The Inner Landscape, the Abstraction of Conception_2016, Shin Hyeyoung

The Inner Landscape, the Abstraction of Conception

Shin Hyeyoung

             I will begin my essay by referencing Jeremy Rifkin’s publication, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. This book, which was written by Rifkin in 1993, points out the many acute problems that have arisen since humanity began consuming meat as part of it diet and emphasizes that the only way to put an end to all problems of modern civilization is to put an end to the meat-eating culture. Beginning with the cruel slaughtering process of cattle, the book explains how the human perceptions on cattle changed over the course of history and the extent of industrialization that such perception change led in beef production, with a focus on the case of the United States. He states that excessive industrialization of beef production is a cruel act against animals and moreover minutely describes what kind of threats that this may present to humanity. The threats are not simply the risk of illness that may be caused by a meat-based diet. He makes sharp criticisms regarding how much grains are consumed for raising cattle; how much land is necessary across the world to cultivate such grains; how much the ecosystem is destroyed and how the environment is threatened by this; and the extent of correlation between beef production and consumption in wealthy countries compared with the poverty of the Third World countries who have to meet their demands for beef production and consumption. Even 20 years since its publication, Beyond Beef ─ a direct demonstration of the harmful consequences of excessive industrialization carried under the name of neo-liberalism and the problem of the global polarization of wealth through the issue of “beef” ─ still remains valid and has become a pressing issue for us in the present-era.
             I began my critique of Park Yuna with a brief synopsis of Rifkin’s book because her painting with the same title, Beyond Beef (2010), relates to the content of the book ─ and moreover embodies an important characteristic that permeates her world of art. This painting ─ depicting a belly-revealing homeless person lying down in front of the signboard of a barbecue restaurant with illustrations of beef ribs, thin skirt, and skirt meat ─ depicts the “beyond beef" culture of Korea. With the liberalization of beef imports, it has now become possible to eat a single serving of beef at a cost of only 8,000 Korean won (equivalent to approximately US$8) as advertised on the signboard, but the painting directly shows that even this price is impossible for some people to afford. Not only that, but this painting most effectively reveals the “marbling” pattern ─ one of the artist’s most important characteristics in her paintings in general, in terms of form ─ as it coincides with the content of the work. The pattern that connects the beef marbling and the homeless person’s lump of flesh, at first glance, looks somewhat like saggy “fat” and somewhat like surging “blood.” The composition of the work characterized by the form of human flesh on the floor seemingly being gazed down upon by the more valuable beef further emphasizes the theme. Such characteristics in terms of content and form of Beyond Beef provide an important clue to understanding the artist, Park Yuna. Based on this, let us take a closer look at the painterly characteristics of the artist by content and form.
             Firstly, in terms of the subject matter of her work, Park begins with the places where people mostly spend time in the city including subways, studios, offices, cafés, and Internet cafés and the people using these places. She gradually delves deeper into subjects revealing her critical perspective of the capitalistic system, including Costco, the Newtown district, redevelopment sites, franchise stores, and the streets of China. Of course, it is unlike her early work depicting neutral subject matter that did not embody a critical perspective. The subject matters that she mainly chooses are not simply urban spaces but spaces that feel fatigued due to the repetitive daily lives of people. For example, the human figures that appear in works such as Fatigue-Subway (2008) and Fatigue-Man (2008) are depicted as if they are going to melt down to the floor from fatigue. In the succeeding works, the theme of expressing the marginalization and isolation of the urban people continued into presenting the contradictions of society and presenting the tragic reality in a more powerfully than before. In Emergency Exit (2009), which has a similar theme to Beyond Beef, the homeless person has fallen on the floor of Costco rather than in front of the barbecue restaurant. Costco, a warehouse discount store in the United States, is as explicit in demonstrating American capitalism as beef. Costco boasts cheap prices and an unconditional return policy, but most of their merchandise is bulk-packaged and therefore wasteful, and it is only open to people with membership. Park closely observes Costco’s characteristic of such extreme capitalism, depicting shelves stacked with merchandise like a spire (Building Costco, 2009). She portrays the large-scale retailer seeking to develop and enter markets in various countries across the world in the image of a wildcat steam locomotive of the era of industrialization (Brand-New Colony_Train in Costco). In addition, the series Relics in Their Integrity (2012), which explicitly depicts the situation of present-day China at the lead of the production and consumption of the neo-liberalist era, features antique shops on the street selling fake relics against the backdrop of fancy skyscrapers that have been newly constructed (or those that are in the process of being newly constructed). The work, therefore, symbolically depicts China’s transformation in its system ─ characterized by the market economy system encroaching on the socialist system. In this way, Park’s interests have consistently revealed the power of the capitalist system that is dominating the entire world, the gap between social classes resulting within, and the consequent contradictory reality.
             Such thematic interest of the artist has a synergistic effect together with her formal characteristics. Several formal characteristics endow the paintings of the artist with a certain uniqueness. The first characteristic is the pattern that is referred to as marbling or “planaria.” This particular pattern, which has appeared from the artist’s early works ─ filling up the surface in whole or in part ─ highlights particular subjects and landscapes. Depending on the work, the pattern sometimes melts down on parts of objects, partakes of liquid surging into the air, and at other times gives the impression of a sticky animality as mucilage connected parts of the human body like planaria feeding off dead animal tissue. Such pattern reminds one of the idea of “liquid modernity” introduced by Zygmunt Bauman to describe the state of unstable and fluid disorder since the modern era and simultaneously alludes to the human desire that constantly wells up and withers in the age of global capitalism. Moreover, it does not end up in being a simple pattern that fills up the picture plane for form’s sake but plays the role of expanding the overall concreteness into the potential of abstraction. The second characteristic is related to such expansion and abstraction of pattern. The pattern unique to the artist is not fixed in terms of form and extends across the canvas in organic form. Moreover, it broadens its scope, going beyond the canvas and onto the exhibition walls, like planaria that ceaselessly regenerate even when parts of their body have been cut off. Beginning from the end of the completed canvas, it climbs the walls and ceiling, expanding into a temporary drawing and therefore occupying the space. In addition, the artist has actively experimented with form, going beyond paintings completed through traditional methods, by varying her paintings in terms of arrangement by each exhibition and connecting them into wall paintings of different form or taking drawings on the wall and transforming them into new paintings on canvas. The third characteristic is the scale of the work and its overpowering effect. When in the form of a wall painting, the work encompasses the entire space. Not only that but most of the artist’s work maintains a large-sized picture plane, usually 227.3 x 181.8 cm or greater, just by the size of the canvas. Park arranges the images that she routinely collects with her camera in a composition that fills the entire picture plane and depicts them in great detail. She makes not only specific subjects but the rest of the surface into patterns with mostly lines, rather than planes, and fills all-over the work with minute detail. Therefore, most of the artist’s large-sized paintings with surfaces that are densely packed with detail overpower the viewers. The composition of the paintings ─ characterized by a perspective that looks up from the bottom to the top ─ doubles the overpowering feeling. 
             In this way, the paintings of Park Yuna, which have expressed the encroachment of the massive capitalist system on unique large-scale canvases and wall paintings, continue to the present-day upon undergoing a state of transition. This transition was carried out both in the direction of “internalization” and “abstraction” in regard to content and form. However, this was not a transition into a totally different theme and form but is closer to change in perspective and method. In terms of content, it was a transition from the somewhat macroscopic perspective on the city and society to a more microscopic perspective based on her family and life. In terms of form, the transition marked a change from the original method of combining abstraction of partial pattern on to detailed conception to the method of generalization of certain patterns and revealing a particular conception overall. There are works that became a turning point both in terms of content and form ─ Unfamiliar Face (2012) and Broken Garden (2012-2013). Both series are grounded on the artist’s memories and complicated emotions about her mother, who had been absent during her youth. In her notes, Park writes that such memories and emotions “refer to the ‘unknowingness’ of the ostracism of the subject that she had never encountered for the physical time of seventeen years and the ‘unknowingness’ of this period and the situation of subject of the present and moreover the ultimate ‘unknowingness’ of the figure of the mother herself, who induced all of this.” Park collectively referred to her mother’s face that she could not remember even she tried to recall it, her mother’s present state that is unknown because she is unable to get in touch with her, and her mother’s emotions and situation at the time when she left home altogether as the “unfamiliar face.” Meanwhile, “Broken Garden,” which is an expression that the artist’s mother is said to have used to allude to her family, is also the only part that Park remembers from her mother’s diary. The Broken Garden series is comprised of paintings that depict the complex psychological landscape depicted from the images that she collected by naturally recalling her youth and mother from the traces of someone’s impoverished life that she had encountered while visiting empty houses of redevelopment areas. In these paintings, the artist maximizes the organic form and color of existing wall paintings, filling up the entire plane with patterns and arranges the composition so that the form of her house or mother’s face could be conjured up, albeit dimly, from those abstract forms. The colors that she used ─ including red and neon-mixed purple and green ─ emphasize her mental state, demonstrating an unrealistic, monotone inner landscape.
             There was a trigger that further objectified and intensified such landscapes of the inner mind. The artist had visited Baengnyeongdo Island for a preliminary survey for an exhibition that was to be held on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. Against the artist’s expectations that Baengnyeongdo Island, the northernmost island of the West Sea, which is located closest to North Korea, would be subject to the threat of war due to the confrontational situation between the two Koreas, the island was extremely peaceful and the local residents were concerned more about their livelihood that was expected to suffer a blow from the activities of Chinese fishing boats than about war. Perhaps this led the artist to futile realization that life is more difficult than death. Following this experience, the artist completed Broken Sea (2013), featuring the images of Baengnyeongdo Island including barbed-wire fences, ropes, fishing nets, forests, and roads connected as a single organic body between the sandy beach characterized by sedimentation. The landscape, which is entirely entangled in red, seems more like a volcano overflowing with lava following an explosion or flesh and blood clots showing through split skin, as opposed to a sea. It is an allusion to war and death and moreover a metaphor for more exhaustive life. In some of her subsequent works, the artist borrowed images taken on Baengnyeongdo Island including the sea, buoys, ropes, and fishing nets and created ambiguous landscapes. While specifically depicting detailed images such as the waves of the sea or ropes, she built layers of interpretation in a metaphorical way that it is difficult to grasp what exactly the completed form signifies.
             In this way, the “abstraction of conception” ─ transforming concrete form into the abstract ─ has been the primary production method of the artist up until the present. Can’t be Decided, Can’t be Thrown Away (2015), which is also one of the major works of the exhibition at the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, is a clear demonstration of this. Despite the precise depiction of objects across the entire surface of the painting, it is difficult to grasp the overall meaning of the forest landscape featuring rope piles, old tree stumps, stacked empty flower pots, trash bags, and sewage tunnels. However, the overall landscape conveys a heavy emotion without an identity that can be affirmed, yet cannot be ignored. Though a landscape that does not exist, the images, which mostly depict objects that are somehow familiar yet now occupy space having lost its use in minute detail, simultaneously present a sense of loss and that of existence. The Closing Circle (2015), Mellow Land (2015), and Water Flows into the Low Place (2015), presented in the exhibition, are also in the same context. The three works, which are so similar in terms of material and style that they could be called a tripartite painting, are all overcast with a strange neon-hued green ─ unknown whether as to it is depicting water or grass. On taking a closer look, it can be seen as a depiction of a trash bag on the sea that has hardened like a fossil in the shape of waves, fabric or vinyl covering farmland so that it does not freeze over the winter, and heaps of earth covered with vinyl in the middle of a running valley. These unrealistic scenes ─ unimportant whether they are of water or land ─ fill the picture planes with numerous minutely depicted "wrinkles," revealing the form of the subjects and creating non-abstract abstraction arousing particular emotions. The consistent emotions coming from these landscapes with artifacts carelessly dumped across nature create a cold and desolate feeling. In fact, the personal hardship of the artist has been the ulterior motive behind this series of recent works ─ that is, the death of her father, which occurred less than two years ago. The rope piles lying on the floor, trash bags floating on the sea, and heaps of earth covered with vinyl all allude to a recumbent person, an imagery of her father's death. The cold, desolate feeling that was vaguely experienced before listening to the artist’s confession seems to have stemmed from the emotions that she had felt while staying by her father’s deathbed. When looking at the paintings, you will be able to observe this immediately, that is, whatever form that it may be ─ the figure curled up sideways on the cold floor, corpse cleaned and shrouded with hemp cloth, clothes carelessly discarded, and a figure lying down, covered with a white sheet to the very top of the face.
             For the artist, the death of her father is both an unrealistic incident and predominant emotion that she repeatedly ruminates over, and that inspires her work to the present. Her works created after the death of her father convey such consistent emotions. She confesses that “I realized there are different classes even within death” while witnessing her father’s insignificant death. Even inside the funeral hall of the same hospital, not only the size of the funeral parlor but also the number of wreaths differs greatly. What would one, feeling so small in the empty funeral parlor, think when seeing the wreaths lined to the end of the hallway? Following her father’s death, the artist recently created two video works raising fundamental questions on death ─ Scene, a close-up of a dying insect. Scene 1 (2014), which is a three-minute video recording the death of a cockroach, features 1 to 30 second breathing sounds that were downloaded as free samples, edited, then added to the video. Scene 2, a nine-minute video of the death of a fly, combines video and sound in the same way, but combines water-related sounds. In the two works, the insects try desperately to survive until their last breath. Perhaps the movements of the insects are not acts of trying to survive but rather writhings of agony, wanting to die soon. The sounds of water and breathing, which are not clearly audible as they are mixed with static, make the moment of death evermore tense. Through these video works, the artist radically likens the numerous deaths that do not receive social attention to the death of insects. The artist conveys the ideas the life is desperate for everyone and death is a closure of the universe for everyone ─ and moreover the death of a person close to one presents a bigger loss and despair than the death of another person, however great he may be, and that there is no death that is trifling and petty.
        For the artist who has concentrated on paintings up until now, video is a means to supplement the limitations of painting and an experiment with a medium adhering to the need to attempt other methods of expression for the same, consistent theme. If the two above-mentioned videos are close to figurative paintings embedded with the artist’s multi-layered objective, then Abysm (2015) recently presented in the duo exhibition Space Resulting from the Gap held at the Incheon Art Platform is a video that is close to an abstract painting. This work features a variation of images that have been distorted in terms of color and form or differ in the size of the plane without a particular narrative through post-work and narrative of the videos taken on a boat on the way to and in Mokpo. From the image of a dragonfly perilously hanging against the strong wind, to the close-up of the boat cutting across the water which has been converted to demonstrate a stronger color contrast and turned perpendicularly so as to depict a surging pillar of blood, overall the work displays a strong abstractness with a continuation of images the specific situation of which are unknown, besides a sense of “crisis.” In this way, the artist continues her formative experimentation between the conception and abstraction not only in painting but also in video. Moreover, just like arranging the entire picture plane by using various subject matter from daily life in her paintings, the artist attempts not only the compilation of images but also creation of sound of the overall video by collecting sounds from daily life in her video works.
In this exhibition, Park will present videos and drawings that convey similar emotions to paintings. In the case of drawings, they are usually a preparatory stage for artists working on large-scale paintings before moving on to painting ─ but they are also utilized as a minimum unit to ease the artist and experiment with ideas. Park Yuna has continuously worked on drawings on walls together with paintings on canvas, but for this reason, she sometimes prefers small paper drawings. The “blood paintings” of the artist are a representative example. One day, when the artist had a paper cut and blood fell onto the paper, it came to her that she would like to attempt drawing with blood. Therefore, she took bloodstains that fell onto paper, dried them, and connected them with pen lines, creating unrealistic human body forms. It is interesting how the real blood that is utilized by the artist, who has often expressed images of blood and death in many of her works, does not seem like typical blood but are blackish red circular dots that connect lines and only act as a formative element.
             In this way, Park Yuna began with a single brush and has been persistently working and continues to work. Perhaps what drives her to work so fiercely is neither her longing for her mother nor the sudden death of her father but the oppressive weight of life that she has fought against and the inner voices that she must pay attention to.  The numerous life experiences and the consequent scars that have added up and become calluses have led the artist to dwell over even a single passage of a novel and a slice of a landscape and therefore to unveil a great many thoughts from them. We are continuously attracted to the complex topography of the world of art of Park Yuna, whether it may be planaria or wrinkles, because of its capacity and depth. Auguste Rodin once said, “A true artist is one who takes close observation of what all others have seen and dumped and brings out the hidden value within.” Perhaps it may be easy to beautifully express what is beautiful. However, deliberately confronting the truths of life that everyone else avoids ─ thinking that it is dirty, insignificant, or dreadful ─ and bringing out the hidden meaning and value is definitely not easy, and this is probably the reason why we need art.

2015, 전성원(계간 『황해문화』 편집장·성공회대 교양학부 겸임교수)

박은하, 유동하는 세계의 지옥에서 찾는 희망
전성원(계간 황해문화편집장·성공회대 교양학부 겸임교수)
1. 여기에 들어오는 자 희망을 버려라(Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate).
나를 지나는 사람은 슬픔의 도시로, 나를 지나는 사람은 영원한 비탄으로, 나를 지나는 사람은 망자에 이른다.
정의는 지고하신 주를 움직이시어, 신의 권능과 최고의 지와 원초의 사랑으로 나를 만들었다.
나보다 앞서는 피조물이란 영원한 것뿐이며 나 영원히 서 있으리. 여기에 들어오는 자 희망을 버려라.
- 단테 알리기에리, 신곡, 지옥편, <3>, 1~9
화가 박은하로부터 인천 <아트플랫폼> 레지던시와 관련해 자신을 만나 인터뷰한 뒤 그걸 바탕으로 짧은 글을 하나 써달라는 제안을 받았던 것이 올해 6월의 일이다. 그 무렵 나는 단테를 읽고 있었다. 작년 4월에 있었던 세월호 참사 이후 지옥(地獄)을 헤매는 기분이었기 때문이다. 고백하건대 그 이전까지 박은하란 작가를 잘 알진 못했다. 20131월 무렵 인터넷 공간을 통해 처음 만났을 때, 독특한 느낌의 마블링(marbling)’ 기법을 사용해 작업하는 젊은 화가란 정도만 알고 있었다.
서양에서는 이 기법으로 된 그림 무늬가 대리석 무늬와 닮았다고 해서 마블링이라고 했지만, 본래 마블링이란 중동지방에서 처음 시작된 것으로 터키 지역에서는 물 위에 기름과 염료를 떨어뜨려 무늬를 만들고 송곳으로 그림을 그려 기름종이로 찍어내는 전통미술방식으로 에브루(Ebru)’라고 한다. 물에 젖은 노면이나 물 위에 떠오른 기름을 보면, 주변의 떨림과 흔들림에 따라 문양이 조금씩 변화해 가는 것을 볼 수 있다. 단순한 형태에서 복잡한 무늬로 변하고 다시 분화(分化)하고 확산(擴散)해 간다.
마블링은 이러한 표현의 움직임에 따라 변화하는 유동하는 무늬를 어느 한순간 종이에 흡착시켜 고정하는 기법으로 우연(偶然)한 운동(運動)을 눈으로 쫓다보면 새로운 미지의 세계에 도달하는 것 같은 착시를 일으키기도 한다. 그러나 박은하의 마블링 작업들은 그런 우연에 기대는 작업아 아니고 일일이 손으로 그려 넣는 방식이다. 다시 말해 우연성에 기대어 만들어지는 것이 아니라 작가의 의도에 따라 마블링처럼 표현된 것이므로 정확하게는 마블링 기법이 아니라 마블링 스타일이라고 해야 한다. 우연이 아닌 의도에 의한 표현이란 점에서 박은하의 마블링은 작가의 세계관을 반영한다. 유동하는 세계를 떠도는 삶과 일상의 공간감, 확산과 연결(連結)에 대한 욕망은 박은하의 세계를 구성하는 두드러지는 특징이다.
2. 플라나리아 오브제(Planarian-Object) - 통속(通俗)과 반통속(反通俗)
프로젝트의 특성상 한 번은 반드시 만나야 한다고 하지 않았더라면, 우리는 끝끝내 만나지 않았을지도 모르겠다. 두 사람의 공통점일리는 없을 테고, 나만의 게으름 또는 누군가에 대해 비평하는 작업에 직접적인 만남이 반드시 필요한가라는 의문은 뒤로 해두자. 작가의 아틀리에에서 우연을 가장한 만남 이후 나는 직접 만나길 잘했다는 생각이 들었다. 두 사람 모두 연결에 대한 욕망 못지않게 은폐와 잠적에 대한 강한 열망의 소유자란 점에서 공통점을 찾을 수 있었다. 일단 박은하가 마무리 작업 중이던 작품들을 직접 볼 수 있어서 좋았고, 넥센 야구팀을 좋아하는 인간적 매력을 가진 한 사람을 만날 수 있었다.
인천 아트플랫폼 내부는 흡연금지공간이었지만, 우리는 선생님 몰래 숨어서 담배를 나눠 피우는 불량학생들처럼 작품세계와는 별 관련도 없을 법한 시시껄렁한 대화들을 나눴다. 기본적으로 나는 문자로 된 텍스트내러티브 구조를 갖춘 텍스트를 해독하고 비평하는 훈련을 쌓았을 뿐 이미지(image), 그 중에서도 회화를 독해하거나 미술작업에 대해 비평하는 훈련을 받아본 적이 없다는 점에서 문외한이다. (그러나 그건 보들레르나, 벤야민도 마찬가지였을 테니까.) 그럼에도 박은하라는 텍스트(삶과 작업)를 읽어내는 작업에 기댈 만한 무엇인가가 필요했다. 문학비평가 테리 이글턴은 문학이론입문에서 징후적 독법(symptomatic reading)’에 대해 이야기한 바 있다. ‘징후적 독법이란 알튀세르가 정신분석학에 기대어 정식화한 개념으로 텍스트가 억압하였지만 완전히 억압하지 못한 것들, 작품이 말하고 있지 않은 것들에 주목한다. 이른바 텍스트의 무의식인 셈이다. 신체적 증상(symptom), 오한이나 발진, 식은 땀 같은 통증을 통해 의사가 병인(病因)을 추측하고 분석하듯, 독자와 비평가는 작가와 작품이 말하고 있지 않은 내용, 그것을 말하지 않는 방식 또한 작품이 말하고자 하는 것만큼이나 중요하다는 사실에 주목하는 것이다.
그와 나눈 얼핏 주제와 관련 없어 보이는 대화들을 통해 나는 작가에 대해 더 잘 알게 된 느낌이었다. 재미있는 지점은 작가 스스로 말하길 자신은 그림을 잘 그리지 못하는 화가이며 그림이 묘사하고 있는 것과 달리 자신이 사회적 문제에 대해 발화(發話)하는 작가는 아니라고 수줍게 고백하더라는 것이다. (, 이런 젠장. 그림을 소장한 고객이나 미술관이 들으면 안 되는 얘기잖아. 그런 건 영업비밀입니다.) 박은하의 초기 작품들(2007~2009)은 대중의 현대적 일상과 오브제들을 주로 다룬다. 예를 들어 <플라나리아 오브제(Planarian-Object)>들은 전기스탠드, 의자, 테이크아웃 컵, 상담실, 자동차 카페, 오피스 공간들이다. 이 일련의 작업들의 표제이기도 한 플라나리아는 크게 세 가지의 생물학적 특징을 가지고 있다. 우선 자웅동체로 무성·유성 생식을 하고, 재생력이 강하여 몸을 반토막내더라도 각기 다른 개체로 재생한다. 무엇보다 이 생물의 가장 큰 특징은 배설기관인 항문이 없다는 것이다.
모든 생물은 먹고 싼다. 식도부터 항문까지 하나의 소화기관이다. 이것은 다른 말로 통속(通俗)’이라 할 수 있다. 황지우의 네 번째 시집 게눈 속의 연꽃뒤표지에는 시인의 인상적인 말이 있다. “그대 몸 속 한가운데에 내부가 있다고 생각하는가? 입에서 항문까지 그 꾸불꾸불한 길은 외부이다. 그러니까 삶은 거듭되는, 커다란 빵꾸이다. …… 여기가 바로 바깥인데 왜 안나가지냐.” 세계의 순환원리이기도 하지만, 자본주의 세계는 체제의 바깥을 상상할 수 없다는 점에서 닫힌 체제가 되었다. 이 시기 박은하가 보여주고 있는 작업 경향은 캔버스에 일상의 공간을 묘사하고 있지만, 그 시점은 어안렌즈를 통해 바라보듯 금방이라도 폭발할 것 같은 풍선처럼 과장되게 부풀려져 있다. 친숙한 일상의 공간이지만 낯선 공간이며 그 안에서 우리는 마치 에드워드 호퍼(Edward Hopper)의 작품 속 주인공들처럼 고립되어 있다. 그 고립감은 호퍼처럼 외부로 표출될 수 없는, 다시 말해 항문조차 없는 고립감이지만, 외부와 연결되고 싶다는 강한 열망은 마블링을 통해 초현실적으로 묘사된다. 나는 이 마블링을 아우라(aura)'라고 부르고 싶은데, 그것 - 분출되거나 가로막는 것으로 보이는 것 - 연결에 대한 열망의 표현인지, ‘잠금된 상황 자체이거나 세상과의 연결을 가로막는 하나의 장애물인지에 대해서는 명확하지 않다.
3. 중요한 것은 희망을 배우는 것이다(Es kommt darauf an, das Hoffen zu lernen).
마블링 스타일을 제외하고도 박은하의 작업에서 찾을 수 있는 또 다른 특징 중 하나는 전시 공간에서만 확인할 수 있다. 일련의 시리즈들에 이르면 마블링 기법을 통해 표현된 아우라는 담을 타고 오르는 담쟁이처럼 잠금된 세계를 뚫고 나가려는 강한 열망의 징후임을 확인할 수 있다. 박은하의 작품들은 캔버스 내부에 갇혀있길 원치 않는다는 듯 사각의 캔버스 외부로의 탈주(Get Away)’를 통해 서로 끊임없이 매개(媒介)하고 연결되길 희망한다.
박은하가 입주해 있는 인천 아트 플랫폼을 방문했을 때, 화가의 작업실에 상당히 다양한 책들이 꽂혀 있는 것을 볼 수 있었다. 우리는 어린 시절의 경험과 삶의 고단함에 대한 대화를 나누었는데, 작가는 아직 읽지 못했다면서도 에른스트 블로흐(Ernst Bloch)희망의 원리에 대한 이야기를 꺼냈다. 블로흐는 이 책에서 마르크스는 자신이 마지막으로 추구하려는 바를 인간의 자연화를 풍요롭게 발전시키는 일이라고 표현하였다. 역사의 뿌리는 바로 인간이다. 그는 노동하고, 창조하며, 주어진 환경을 변화시키고 이를 추월하지 않는가? 만약 인간이 자신을 파악하고, 진정한 민주주의 속에서 소외 혹은 외화(外化) 없는 자기 자신을 증명한다면, 세상에서 모든 사람들의 유년기에 갈구했으며, 누구도 아직 실현하지 못한 무엇이 출현하게 될 것이다. 그것은 다름 아니라 고향이라고 말했다.
작가와 대화를 나누는 동안 경우는 조금씩 다르지만 우리는 제법 흡사한 유년기를 보냈다는 것을 확인할 수 있었다. 사람들은 누구나 자신만의 고통을 안고 살기 마련이다. 그런데 어른이 된다는 것은 더 이상 유년의 고통에만 머무르지 않는 것이다. 유년의 고통에만 천착하여 스스로 헤치고 나올 줄 모르는 사람은 성장하지 않는 사람이기 때문이다. 또한 그 고통을 오로지 자신만의 경험으로 내재화하여 타인의 고통은 자신에 비해 하잘 것 없는 것으로 여기게 되어 타인(사회)의 고통에 둔감해진다.
지옥이란 어떤 곳인가? 마음속에 타인이 없으며, 남을 품을 수 없는 세상이 바로 지옥이다. 그런 곳에서는 아무런 희망도 품을 수 없다. 그와 같은 지옥은 작가가 담아내고 있는 세상의 모습 속 깊게 패인 골짜기에도 있고, 깨진 항아리에도 있고, 혼탁한 물결만이 흘러가는 쓰레기처럼 부유하는 강물의 물결 속에도 있다. 지그문트 바우만(Zygmunt Bauman)모두스 비벤디 - 유동하는 세계의 지옥과 유토피아에서 이렇게 말한다.
살아 있는 사람들의 지옥은 미래의 어떤 것이 아니라 이미 이곳에 있는 것입니다. 우리는 날마다 지옥에서 살고 있고 함께 지옥을 만들어 가고 있습니다. 지옥을 벗어날 수 있는 방법은 두 가지입니다. 첫 번째 방법은 많은 사람들이 쉽게 할 수 있습니다. 그것은 바로, 지옥을 받아들이고 그 지옥이 더 이상 보이지 않을 정도로 그것의 일부분이 되는 것입니다. 두 번째 방법은 끊임없는 경각심이 필요하고 불안이 따르는 위험한 길입니다. 그것은, 즉 지옥의 한가운데서 지옥 속에 살지 않는 사람과 지옥이 아닌 것을 찾아내려 하고, 그것을 구별해 내어 지속시키고 그것들에 공간을 부여하는 것입니다.
박은하의 작품들은 평온한가? 우리는 작품에서 어떤 병증(病症)을 예감하며, 통증을 감지한다. 그러나 작품 속에 묘사되고 있는 인물의 표정은 너무나 평온하다. 마치 이성복의 시 <그날>의 한 구절처럼 모두 병들었는데 아무도 아프지 않았던 것처럼. 박은하의 <이 사람을 보라(Ecce Homo)> 개인전에 나온 작품들은 그런 세상에 대한 담담한 한 편의 다큐멘터리 같다. 세상은 병들었다. 그런데 아무도 그 아픔을 느끼지 못한다. 그러나 작가는 그것을 말하고 있다. 자신의 신체와 영혼에 깃든 시대의 통증을 감지한다.
박은하가 담아내고 있는 세상의 모습은 어쩌면 지옥도(地獄圖)일지 모른다. 작가는 가로막히고 잠긴 공간과 공간을 서로 잇고, 고통스러운 열망과 환멸을 반복하는 작업들을 통해 정작 자신의 희망은 상처받지만, 다시 그 환멸 속에서 희망을 찾으려는 몸부림을 계속한다. “낮꿈을 꾸는 자가 일어서서 그 꿈의 실천을 통해 구체적으로 창조해 낼 때 그 행위 속에서 희망은 존재한다던 블로흐의 말처럼 희망은 어디에 있는가? 희망은 어디에도 없지만 “tamen(그럼에도 불구하고)!”