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CHA JONGRYE: return to the limitless

by Tcheon-nahm PARK, Chief Curator, Sungkok Art Museum, Seoul, Korea

Cha Jongrye works with wood, for it is soft and warm. She puts his mind into wood, for it gently receives her gestures and breaths as they are, irrespective of its disposition, or even when it is exceptionally as hard as stone. The artist keeps on talking with it in this or that way in which big or small wood lumps meet one another and small similar pieces are linked one by one. She sometimes moves her body and soul to delve into it to look for forms and other times, speaks to it to draw them out. By carefully knocking and carving, she awakes nature as well as herself and by uniting wooden slivers together and grinding them, she weaves a rug of simple landscapes of our lives. Her works, thus, could be in themselves all things in nature viewed from the far end of the sky. Or, they could be also a reflection of the inner rhythms of nature, which remain eternally invisible to our eyes.

For these wood sculptures, the artist came near nature and gave herself body and soul to it, looking at, patting, raising and stroking its breathing and emotions. Her works are in some sense a result of stoic practices which would require repetitive and laborious works. They appears to give evidence that the artist may have practiced silence as the Buddha did, or that she may have made Zen meditation. Cha does not take the material of wood as a ‘means’ to manifest her plastic desires, but as something that relates to the ‘process’ of profound self-reflection to throw away and eliminate her desires and purify her mind. Simply accepting her working process—which is futile, hopeless and seems to have no end— as her karma, she controls the agony and weakness inherent in her and further ruminates on these or those agonies and weakness of the world which is hurt by selfish desires.

Totally giving herself to wood, she subdues and governs the vicissitudes of life. Similar shapes in different sizes and heights which were made by carving and chiseling emerge here and there in her works. They seem to spring up collectively from the ground, rather than to be whittled piece by piece. Through them, the artist suggests another possibility of communication, or a beautiful way of appearing and disappearing in which the order of appearance is hardly perceived, or you can never determine which one is the first and which one is next. And this was done not through direct exploration of the materiality of wood; she naturally followed or went against its grains, frequently carried away by the stream of consciousness as if in a state of undifferentiated integration of things and self.

Beating and waiting are another hallmark of these wooden structures. Their surfaces are finished by thousands of beatings and carvings, which are likely to inflict injuries to wood. However, these are one of the artist’s own ways of communicating through which she speaks to and gives her heart to wood. The marks bearing her trembling hands and the resonances revealed by wood form a warm harmony. Both of the artist and her material acknowledge their differences, making efforts to shorten the gap between them rather than fighting with each other. So you will be able to witness the incessant flow of repetition and proliferation, appearance and disappearance in her works, which reminds you of the uncertainty and transiency of our life. And you will also see how she gave eternity to the physical external rhythms and psychological inner ones of both nature and herself which she extracted by putting herself in a state of integration of things and self and gave eternity to them.

The exhibition "Return to Limitless" presents twenty pieces of the “Expose/Exposed” series which bear the warm inhalations and exhalations of the stories between the artist and nature. Cha arranges a special place for meeting between our life and nature, both of which go far beyond all limits and borders, as well as calls into the exhibition space the world of the limitless which opens wide to the universe. Flowing with immaterial energy, her sculptures represent the external and inner rhythms of all beings in nature in the state of complete absence of ego. Those little sharp forms composing each work are wriggling upward as if to touch the sky. They, that is, the modules are getting smaller upward as if to indicate the countless layers of time piled up in nature and universe. They are twisting upwards in their own disparate directions, until they evaporate or disappear into the limitless, leaving only their points. They return to the origin of beings. This is why the artist presents them in the present tense, as something living and squirming, rather than as the complete reality. Thus, the physical strata inscribed on their bodies as the mark of million years could be regarded as a sign of organisms.

Cha Jongrye’s work is the process of encountering ‘another I,’ not the familiar self. It is also the process of looking for what the Buddha called the ‘true I,’ as well as the ultimate goal of her art. This self-composed artist flatly refuses to apply any external force on her art, but chooses to understand, perceive, and find herself by actively moving her body and soul of her own free, voluntary will. Thus, the exhibition will offer a great opportunity to appreciate the materiality and the grain of wood as well as the spiritual texture of the artist who always works as if she built the “thousand Buddhas and thousand pagodas” from an ancient Korean folklore.

 

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