Artist Im Suniy – Landscape Seen through Trembling Eyes


Myung-ji Bae(Senior Curator of Coreana Museum of Art)

Artist Im Suniy has represented a trembling and uneasy view of humans and unique landscape images recognized and perceived from such a view through photographs and objects since the 2000s. She visually embodies numerous shades of life that she experienced from her ‘existential’ life and reflects the embodied view onto objects, maintaining the organic structure of ‘the artist herself - the embodied view - landscape image’ in her work.

As a result, Im’s work internalizes the structure and meaning of human life in an active manner. In her early work <Shelter> (2003), she implied a sense of alienation and isolation that people in our times intend to alienate themselves from outside and hide in their private space through the object of grey cement cactus. The rhetoric of closing and hiding led to her solo exhibition ‘Isolated Island’ in 2005. Each model carved in the form of an island in <Shelter- Seascape>, <Accumulated Layers> and <Shadow of Island> serves as a metaphor for inner alienation that city dwellers feel from a lack of communication with others in spite of living in a networked space. The island floating without being at anchor in the open sea resembles human individuals in that we stare and keep in check by distancing ourselves from each other.

In her relatively recent work <In Commemoration of Their Own World> (2009), our image of managing to lead our daily lives for survival is also overlapping. The bronze statue of black cats wandering around while crouching down also mirrors the image of the marginalized who live in ‘their own world’ on the sidelines. However, a series of her works, including <Shelter>, ‘Isolated Island’ series and <In Commemoration of Their Own World>, place emphasis on the fundamental aspect of human identity as isolation and deprivation, not the existential life of the marginalized or a particular person. In psychoanalysis identity is fundamentally formed from misconception-based fiction. Accordingly, as human identity cannot meet his or her own existence, the human has been formed through isolation already.

Another characteristic of Im Suniy’s work is continuously summoning an uncertain and variable view, ambiguity of perceptive truth and unstable human identity on the layers of her work. Good examples are her photographic works from 2009 to 2011: <Trembling Eyes>, <Difficult Eye> and <Confused Sight>. In <Trembling Eyes>, she created unclear and ambiguous images with a number of layers from overlapping photographs by turning 10 degrees each time when shooting an object for the entire 360 degree panorama. Thanks to this work style, the still-life image continues to fluctuate with indeterminate outlines that are not clearly defined. Images of red, green and brown flowers, leaves and roots tremor minutely without being fixed, revealing the uncertainty of existence. This implies co-existence of visible and invisible parts of the overlapping shaky planes; and one time zone and another time zone.

These works signify that the perception process is incomplete and in progress. As she said "A gaze can be recognition of incompletion," it can be said that her photographic series 'Trembling Eyes' posed a question on how certain she perceives objects. 'Trembling Eyes' and 'Difficult Eye' remind her of Cezanne's 'skeptical eye' that chose ambiguity of perceptive truth rather than simple certainty and revisited the certainty of perception with concerns and doubts. Maurice Merleau-Ponty identified the 'embodied eye' or experienced eye that we actually get to perceive that is distinguished from perception of photographs through the camera in Cezanne's work. Likewise, the objects Im captures with trembling eyes, as she calls, can be about the real process and method in which the artist perceives images. As the constantly created and shaken world can never be visually controlled, the act of perceiving - seeing - to her means that there is no clear rule as if looking with trembling eyes - something uncertain.

Im intended to present how the flower comes into her eye and the state of its creation and movement, not to visualize the flower in the frame. This ambiguity, indefinable uncertainty, the subject in the middle of process not as a result and the descriptive process rather than completion are permeated in her works and also act as a motive to appreciate her work as an open landscape. Ambiguity she pays attention here is an open door closer to truth, not denial, like she mentioned.

Landscape as a process of creation, ambiguous perception and drawing with trembling eyes are the key to installation and photographic series <Absurd Journey-Trifocal Sight> that have continued since 2007. This signature series has begun from Mt. Inwang in Seoul. Among many other sceneries, she selected Mt. Inwang, as Seoul's symbol, based on difference in perceiving the mountain between what we know from media or ancient paintings and what we look up unintentionally from the street - similarity and disparity between reason and perception.

Her artistic quest for Mt. Inwang is called an 'absurd journey' starting from cutting out topographic maps. Her approach towards Mt. Inwang is neither observing the scenery nor experiencing/exploring the mountain by taking a stroll. It is more like a passive exploration by navigating thousands of topographic maps that represent the entire mountain with numbers, cutting out and stacking up. According to Im, it is indeed the 'absurd journey' that is grammatically incorrect.

Let's participate in her 'absurd journey' towards Mt. Inwang in a more specific way. The artist cuts out a topographic map along the contour lines. This results in two parts: paper cutouts and the rest. Likewise, cut out thousands of topographic maps this way and stack the two parts layer by layer. Then one becomes a three-dimensional model of Mt. Inwang with thousands of papers stacked, while the other transforms into a model in sunken relief like a deep gorge. These two types of objects titled <Scenery Seen with Red Eyes> imply two faces of the mountain - yin and yang, reality and shadow, existence and absence, and ascent and decent. The so-called 'red eyes' indicate bloodshot eyes, trembling eyes and multifocal eyes. As <Trembling Eyes> series overlaid different layers of the vase in different time zones, making visible and invisible things overlapping in a frame, <Scenery Seen with Red Eyes> appears to have piled up images of the shadow that is invisible on surface but existent behind. The overlapped parts of the mountain in sunken relief visualize the layers of time and history that have been accumulated since the beginning of the mountain. Moreover, the delicately stacked layers trigger tactile perception and encourage us to visually scan the mountain every part.

The highlight of the ‘absurd journey’ centering on Mt. Inwang is <Trifocal Sight>, in which the scenery in sunken relief transforms into a photograph. Im have created a new landscape image by capturing a mockup of Mt. Inwang from three focal points of long, middle and short distance and making a complete transition in shape. As a result of adding artificial lighting that gives a dramatic shading effect, the mockup-turned-photograph Mt. Inwang turns into a deep basin or gigantic canyon, ancient stratum or several thousand year-old cave, or archaeological excavation site accumulated for a long period of time. This is a mockup object derived from the topographic maps downsizing Mt. Inwang to thousands or tens of thousands times but it transforms into a photograph, making it appear larger and deeper to the indescribable level. Indeed, the illogically ‘absurd landscape’ is born away from the original form through dialectical transitions from the topographic map, to the mockup and to the photograph.

‘Absurd’ means inexplicable in symbolic terms. In terms representation in visual arts, the absurd landscape is not seen from a symbolic perspective – reason. In other words, it is not observed in perspective that establishes order and exercises control in the world while separating itself from the world. If the view in perspective brings up transcendental identity and maintains the same view under any circumstances - an abstract view, Im’s view on external objects and sceneries will be ‘Trifocal Sight,’ ‘Trembling Eyes’ and ‘Difficult Eye’ that penetrate her world of art. That is an embodied view linked to physical experience and an open view that accepts confusion of her senses, rather than a view to objectify, control and possess objects and the world. It is an ‘intermediate’ view encompassing physical experience and all aspects of changes in life, not a predestined view that already took root. The landscape and the object seen from such a perspective appear to be variable and changeable in depending on varying differences in quality, not an individualized mass or outline. The minutely fluctuating still-life image in <Trembling Eyes> or <Difficult Eye> and the Mt. Inwang image overlapped with numerous layers in <Trifocal Sight> are the case. These forms are showing constant changes in the passage of time thanks to these views.

Im Suniy’s work is significant in that it internalizes the fundamental isolation and deprivation of human beings and is the result through the trembling eyes containing personal and social meanings. Her work focuses on also the delicate movement that is invisible to our eyes but existent and the ‘process’ of ever ‘changing’ and ‘creation’ in within, rather than the objects themselves such as the mountain and flowers. She intends to reveal something vague, inapprehensible and absurd in reality but obviously existent through her artwork. We are attracted to her open landscape because we can face ourselves through our image and our eyes reflecting incompletion, deprivation and isolation, and endless tremor and agitation.