Gana Art New York April 4 – May 3, 2008
In Bien-U Bae’s exhibition at Gana Art New York, two of his most important motifs are represented. One is the Sonamu (“pine trees”) and the other is Or¬um (“small mountain”). Both sets of photographs are highlights of Bien-U Bae’s long career, and are representative of a truly meditative state of awareness that reveals the vast intricacy of our planet. Most of these photographs are done in tones of black and white. Their stark representation exudes a silent abstraction that functions in contrast to the hypermediated color of urban signs and commercial desire through which we forget the more sublime sensory pleasures of nature. In these photographs, Bien-U Bae returns us to a primal state of awareness. His photographs are more than images. They are icons of nature that teach us how to see and comprehend the sensuality of nature and how to instill pleasure within our cognitive sense of being.
In the Orum series, the sensuous curves of the mountains and the rhythms of the line separating dark and light are enough to communicate that we are infinitesimal beings within this ground plane of existence, that we are less contingent on identity than on nature as the underlying force of existence. It is through the retrieval of nature that we obtain true happiness and eternal well-being. Bien-U Bae reveals transitory secrets through his camera, secrets of the hidden natural world—the forests, the bending trees, the dappled leaves, the clinging tree-bark—the insouciant reminiscence of time and memory suspended through a process of visualization completely given over to nature.
In Sonamu (2004), Bien-U Bae turns to color—not the blaring sensational color that sweeps across Insa Dong or Times Square—but the deep darkness of green and blue within the depths of the forest glades, accompanied by the speckled brightness of pink wildflowers. Whereas the cherry blossom may be a symbol of Japan, in Korea the sacred Sonamu (pine trees) are symbolic of justice, beauty, and transcendence. An earlier black-and-white Sonamu photo (1992) shows the rhythmic lines of twisting darkened tree trucks with hints of sunlight peering through. The exquisite pattern of elongated shadows on the ground offers an intense visual network of contrasting tonalities. As a visually symphonic ensemble, these contrasting tones speak to the brilliance of Bien-U Bae’s vision. As an artist, Bien-U Bae reveals a subtle intensity, an envisioning process that escalates our sensibilities to a heightened level. He allows us to enter arbitrarily into the dense contrasts of the forest, to be still, and to absorb the feeling of being there. We are less distant than entwined within the light of these photographs. They become part of us as we become one with them. The affect of is a transensory experience, a moment of clarity that opens a rarified capacity to move through time and space towards a more intimate level, unenshrouded by politics and ideological maneuvers.
Another earlier Sonamu print from 1993 reveals the twisting, gnarling trees of the mountains with a streak of fog moving through the glade. The moisture within this remarkable image enters into a transensory process of seeing, and we envision ourselves in this echoing landscape alone, beside ourselves (as the expression goes). We are given over to the intensity of this unpeopled vision in such a way that takes us in and out of time. It’s like a dematerialized instant within a dream. The Sonamu vision of Bien-U Bae is precisely this: the ability to transcend the limits of time as being in one place. We move in a multivalent way from one place to another. This kind of visual/conceptual experience defies the material world of simulation. We learn to think and feel in other terms—in the terms of stillness and energy, brilliance and oscillation, containment and fluidly. We are within the path of the Tao, the place where time travels inside and outside of our physical sense of being.
ContributorRobert C. Morgan
Robert C. Morgan is a writer, international art critic, curator, poet, lecturer, and artist. His most recent book is Clement Greenberg: Late Writings (2003). He holds both an MFA in Sculpture and a Ph.D. in Art History. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Pratt Institute.