26th August- 1st October
Opening hours: Weekdays 10am- 6pm, weekends closed
First and foremost, Bae Young-whan‘s current show, ‘Autonumina,’ at PKM Gallery and Bartleby & Mersault, is extremely visually alluring. There are hundreds of lovely green tinged celadon and delicate porcelain pieces as well as satisfyingly smooth mini mountains which grow from the centre of wooden tables. But these works ain’t just pretty faces. There’s lots going on behind these beautiful surfaces. Bae uses traditional oriental mediums in a non traditional manner to stimulate questions regarding landscape and human relationships with nature.
Roughly manipulated, hand formed ceramic forms make up the basis of this exhibition. There are single ceramic formations which Bae has in turn sketched. The sketches have been hung above their specific muses, as in ‘Striding Bird,’ (2010). When sketched, the forms lose a significant proportion of any initial resemblance to mountain forms. Then, there are bigger collections of these twisted ceramics, set upon numerous wooden shelves, as in ‘Frozen Waves,’ (2010).
These works lead up to the title piece of the exhibition. ‘Automina,’ (2010), is a fantastic array of celadon forms sat upon varying widths and breadths of wooden shelves at erratic intervals upon the four walls of one room. Some celadons are larger than others and some have been formed by roughly pushing small lumps side by side. Others have been made by pincing the clay upwards, and more by cut blocks of clay which appear to have wilted over sideways before firing. An occasional fingerprint, a signature of the author, can be detected.
The very way in which these natural forms have been miniaturised and contained within boxes and upon shelves, seems to speak both of humankind’s awe of nature and desire to understand it. Humans have an age old relationship with nature. But nature is big and sometimes overwhelming; if we make it smaller, perhaps it will be easier for us to understand.
The speedy, twisting hand motions that has given them form also relates back to the quick, expressive nature of calligraphy strokes. Of course, nature was a favourite subject of calligraphers. Downstairs is a large scale oil on canvas reproduction of Bae’s own EEG brain scan, ‘Everything All Around Here Now,’ (2010). The spontaneous nature of the mountain and wave-like ceramic shapes corresponds with the spiky, unpredictable nature of the EEG readings and suggests a deep subconscious bond between human and environment.
The title ‘Autonumina,’ is Bae’s own special portmanteau of Surrealist ‘automatism,’ and ‘the numinous,’ as coined by German philosopher Rudolf Otto. Automatism is referred to in the chance element of the hand formed ceramics. ‘The numinous’ is, in short, a non rational, non sensory experience; one of mystery which may be terrifying and fascinating at once, which fits perfectly with the feeling that we are in awe of nature yet remain eager to shrink it, tame it and control it. So, you see, there’s much more than meets the eye with Bae’s ‘Autonumina.’ Let your inner magpie be seduced by these shiny surfaces and step into Bae’s world where humans stand face to face with the overwhelming force of nature and their ancient and complex relationship with it.