The red roof of a farm house far away, mountains whose rocks are revealed here and there, the road approaching us from the vanishing point, the river flowing in between and trees reflected on the surface of the water. . . These elements which constitute the typical landscape are moved away from their original places in Ha Ji Hoon’s paintings. Just like some puzzle pieces out of place, each element has been placed far away from the spot it should be or cut from the background, revealing the thin section. Landscape reminds us of the fragments of a crumpled picture or a diorama that was half-done, and it looks like a sculpture placed on the table or in the background of the space you cannot identify. The intense contrast between reddish brown and yellowish green color gives us the tension that someone suddenly is likely to show up from the landscape. Who is the main character of this painting? Is the viewer the main character? Or the person in the landscape? Or some being existing somewhere in between? Or all three of them?
Ha Ji Hoon shows a unique way of dealing with the scale represented in his paintings. There exist three viewpoints in one painting: One is the horizontal viewpoint dealing with the huge space. In such paintings as 〈Five Villages〉 and 〈Walks〉, the elements that belong to the landscape are dealt with in an ordinary viewpoint, or that of the person strolling in the landscape. In other words, it is the most ordinary viewpoint of the person walking in the landscape. The second is a bird’s-eye-viewpoint, by which the part of landscape is converted into a flat plane, or the thing that can be cut any time. The landscape in the painting is painted on the picture, however, at the same time, it is also drawn on the paper or on the canvas represented in it. The third viewpoint takes the 45° angle from which things are viewed from the narrow interior of the room. Sharp distortion of scale occurs owing to this viewpoint, which gives the impression that we are looking at a small sculpture placed on a pedestal or table. In the series of 〈Individual Landscape Images〉, for example, the sense of distance of huge landscape and the corner of narrow interior space as the background of the landscape direct where the gaze looking at the painting is located. At this time, the gaze exists within the interior space represented inside the painting instead of the outside of the painting. These three kinds of gazes―from the gaze of looking at the landscape, that of looking at the screen in which landscape is represented, and that of looking at the representation inside the room in which the represented screen is located ― are overlapped on the identical viewpoint or that of the viewers looking at the painting. We are reminded of the overlapping of viewpoints which Foucault pointed about in Velasquez’s 〈Las Meninas〉. While looking at the picture, the views are split into the subjects of different gazes the picture produces. Therefore, we can say like this: Painting is a device producing the subject. And this production is more actively made by mentioning the boundary between representation and presentation. Painting has two origins: Representation, one of them, is about revealing or capturing the object. Through the process of catching and capturing the object through painting, the production by visualizing the tangible and the intangible started. The other is presentation, that is, to give rhetoric or usage to the object by means of arranging visualized objects. The structural binding of representation and presentation causes the situation in which “to see itself is to get involved in its usage.” One of the most representative examples will be perhaps Duchamp’s 〈Etant donnees〉. The act of peeping into the inside through the hole of the door leads to the moment of completing the cyclic mechanism of the work. In Ha Ji Hoon’s works, the viewers’ gaze looking at the picturesque results also offers the effect of viewers mounting the stage provided by the painting.
What Ha Ji Hoon produces through the mise-en-scène of a dramatic space is the potential of the ‘play’ of the object which has the impression of being mixed in diverse narratives or being easily and simply manageable like a miniature. Through the mise-en-scène by distorting the scale, he creates individuals that seem to reflect the individuality of the viewers. ‘Individual landscape’ can be translated into ‘individual reflection.’ What is painted is the structure that directs the location of the viewers and his images as well. Therefore, in many cases, objects are located in the center of the canvas. They have the structure characterized by complicated details and impression and remind us of the polyhedron as well just like a figure painting. Landscape is like a human figure. Each of landscape-beings has the floor-ground or the floor-surface of the water, which supports it. It is cut as he thinks fit like a pedestal, and makes the object stand on the canvas. These landscape-beings, which seem to be made of the cardboard can be set in a different shape anytime. However, they are not really cut out of paper but picturesque representations.
What is important is not the authenticity of the objects but the fact that it is only a theme. Everything can be transformed into the stage of abstractness that directs the absence of meaning. For example, the more real or detailed the represented landscape in his paintings become, the more abstract place the stage is made into. This gives rise to another question on Ha Ji Hoon’s painting. Does painting remain as representation of these rhetoric arrangements? Or is it necessary to evoke the objective of this rhetoric? What does the overlapping of representative landscape, representative things, and representative space suggest about painting? In the case of Ha Ji Hoon, he raises these questions in the form of expanded images which partially dissolve the existing stage. In 〈Landscapes-Traces〉, he describes the remnants of overall landscape, or momentarily observed images of close-up parts with extremely simplified touches and colors.
He tells us that the picturesque signs―basic vocabularies or knots made of color, strokes, and paints―provides this system with the raison-d’ê̂tre. Characters are picturesque beings with different memories and narratives. What connects them is continuity that is as picturesque as the dramatic space. Painting as an independent world can be connected to the world outside through the overlapping of viewpoints of the artist―viewers―characters, or gives the beings within the world the impossibility-of-replacement as individual beings.
Ha Ji Hoon’s paintings remind us of a specific tradition in art history, which was not frequently dealt with in the Korean art history. It is the history of painting as a dramatic device which is associated with anamorphosis in the Renaissance period, Velasquez, Holbein, Manet, and Duchamp. It intersects the realm of knowledge and dreams, and similarity and unconsciousness, and weaves everyday life and intuition, and speed and continuity into one cloth. It is really important and interesting to observe how his unique artistic effort will develop in this tradition, which is filled with erudition and poetic inspiration, imagination and interest in the other side of visual recognition. The continuity in this visual tradition is the reason painting still takes an essential place in the panorama of contemporary art.
Yoo Jin-Sang, Professor at Kaywon School of Art and Design