Homage to the Big Lamb
Review of Park Mirae's solo exhibition <Animal Soul>
There is a continuity throughout (Park) Mirae’s work: the taxidermized body of Bobby the gorilla appears again and again in her paintings, having first been encountered at Berlin’s Natural History Museum. Mirae has depicted hoofed and even-toed mammals, so-called Artiodactyla such as cows, sheep, deer, goats, and sometimes even specimens of butterflies and insects with charcoal drawings or paintings. “Taxidermy”, the realistic representation of animals as they exist in human civilization, is explored by Mirae as a central theme. All aspects of nature ultimately decay and return to the lowest form, their visibility in this world extinguished, but the disruptive technology of humankind turns fragile life into an eternal simulacra as a shell or hide that is never broken, even after death. The voyeuristic desire of human beings to enjoy the world while positioned outside of it through the device-technology of “distance” explains the bizarre practice of seizing and displaying the shells of others. Mirae, who saw the animals in the Natural History Museum as solitary mannequins of a pawnshop, might have felt the same way toward the narrative of Bobby the gorilla, who was trapped in a zoo at two and died at nine. He was then once again confined by glass walls on three sides, captured and displayed by humankind even in death, such is typical of humankind. The gorilla, re-born by the human desire to overtake God’s place governing life and death, becomes a symbol representing insanity or obsession with their craving. Mirae applies a soft, low-saturated colour to the gorilla. The half-natural gorilla mounted on a stone and transcending time looks, at a glimpse, to be no different than the stone, but in the eyes of Mirae, it is seen as merely a scheme by humankind to correct and indulge in Nature. This is an important point to consider regarding Mirae's style in relation to the ongoing desire of drawings to overcome corrosion and deformation.
Limitlessness, death, simulacrum, brush strokes, paintings, Bobby who can see the world in a way only eyes without eyes can see, and Mirae who draws a taxidermy gorilla and calls its name.
The work “Cows”, which has three cows side-by-side in the canvas, comes from her friend’s story about cows who are permanently forced to live in a pregnant state so as to continuously produce milk. Cows are alive, unlike Bobby, but they may also be taxidermized simulacra manipulated by human technology. The hollyhock, which occasionally appears in her drawing, is realistically represented according to her subjective interpretation, “flowers similar to a weed, blooming when summer begins.” The hollyhock is too common, too numerous, and too banal to be called a flower. Mirae grasps the vanity of life as illustrated in the hollyhock, which blooms and falls only for a short time.
The image of hollyhocks, plants that so nearly evade the meaning of “flower”, is a visual and symbolic translation of “madness.” In the midst of flowers and weeds, they are almost too red and too green, with a sparkling luminescence. The subjects or images explored by Mirae are exploited based on her subjective interpretation or inspiration; however, that does not mean that they are transformed or deformed by her arbitrary interpretation.
Mirae preserves life in its natural state or as recognizable forms. This is exactly what taxidermists do. Her work titles directly refer to the object itself on the canvas; therefore, her psychological or subjective interpretation is hidden like a rough sketch, isolating the objects exposed on the canvas. Mirae does not make any criticism, comment, or praise of the world dominated by humans. This world is unknown to her. She does not endeavour to take any human perspective or observe them leisurely.
In her perspective, “we only live in an entirely unknown world”: the present existence of life is marked by its peculiarity. Whether it is Nature beyond the world, or the culture of this world, or a master-like human who controls and indulges in it, all living things are connected with ‘insanity’ pursuing their desire. Mirae endeavours to remain in the world without classifying it or indulging in it. Remaining is a condition, a destiny or state that cannot be influenced by futile anger, compassion, or distaste. Mirae tries to accept all things on the spectrum between life and death, unlike others who hold themselves away from the world. She tries to be attentive to the notion that she belongs to this unknown world as an unknown life. In this place of ignorance and humility, which absorbs and takes in “thousands of miscellaneous thoughts and instantaneous things,” Mirae instead makes paintings or drawings that acknowledge spontaneous and accidental status.
Mirae is known to draw when she feels the impulse. She doesn’t initiate the process herself but engages herself in it once it has begun. The subjects, names, and creatures that came onto Mirae’s canvas were all picked for their own narrative, however, the overall “subject” that embraces them loosely belongs to her. The titles of her solo exhibition come from the sentence that her maternal grandfather once said to her when he was alive, or from the title of an exhibition preface written by a critic, or from a book title she read, as with this exhibition, <Animal Spirits>. Her 2019 solo exhibition titled <Random Drawings> might have looked to be a literal portrayal of her own way of painting. Her insecure sense of moving living space between home and studio in the suburb area without any connections is not very different from the lifestyles of the vulnerable and unstable creatures that she represents in her painting. Therefore, it is not easy to find an organic and successive “entity” in her paintings that is faithfully birthed from what she sees, reads, and hears where she is present. The unstable sentiment of a wanderer is bound to transition and time flow, and such uncertainty and existential conditions are reflected in the state of the creatures she draws.
Passing across the present through our sensations, open to the world and straddling life and death, we realise our inability to make the unknown known. But this is, in itself, a form of ability with its own strength.
Mirae paints her subjects or objects into her paintings as they are, but by granting them a backdrop or stage that she can “present on” as a painter, it becomes possible to visualize her pictoral “positivity” against the cultural, artificial, and natural spectrum of finite life. Mirae's let-it-be attitude, her acceptance of destiny in the living world, allow her to tear her subjects apart from their existential context and transfer them onto the canvas, temporarily pacifying them with her coloring of “insanity” and daring brushstrokes. Her painting is a form of pictoral ritual that breathes new life into the objects on her canvass. Accordingly, Bobby the gorilla is enshrined not by a transparent glass prison but painted walls; cows are enjoying the festival, surrounded by Obangsaek (the color scheme of the five Korean traditional colors) of the “shaman shrine”. Hummingbirds in <Hummingbird Cosmos> are dancing in the rhythm and rhyme of surreal colours, and two goats in <Only Two> are floating in the sea and the sky where they should not rightfully be. These beings in "insane" places are further dislodged out of their place by Mirae’s dazzling colours, brush strokes, and metaphors. The image play replaces the reality of the subjects in the image. She focuses on the image play for paintings by deleting context instead of questing for meaning or value, counter-responding to existential insanity with pictorial insanity!
How can Mirae’s paintings be characterized？ Are her paintings not portrayals of humanized eternity, of remembering what is no longer present and holding off death？ Are they not taxidermy？ Isn't this an attempt to replace existence with an image？ Isn't it one of the numerous human acts endeavouring to counter deformation and time？ Are representational paintings such as portraits, still life paintings and animal paintings not a long-term way of taming or negotiating death？ Mirae calls her paintings “remembrance portraits” or “Memorial Paintings”. Engraved in her name’s meaning of Mi (美)-Rae (禮), <Homage to Big Lamb> is the destiny that she is bound to follow. Looking closely into Mi (美), it comes partly from 羊(lamb). Mi (美), meaning beauty, comes from Artiodactyla. Therefore, Mirae means big lamb first, and then Rae (禮) means a person who sets up a stage with an homage. Her name given by her parents, her outer world, leads her path in this way. This is why her name in the style of Chinese drawing is displayed among her other paintings. It is an affirmation of the unknown force that she cannot resist “in an entirely unknown world”.
(Translated by Hyojung Kim)