SEOUL, South Korea — After spending a few minutes with the work in the exhibition Mira Park: Interlude at Art Space Boan 2 (August 27–September 18, 2022), I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Having wandered into a non-commercial gallery space, which I later learned is part of Boan1942 — a guesthouse, art gallery, café, and bookstore rolled into one — I became engrossed by the different liminal spaces that Park evoked in black and white paintings as large as 6 by 8 feet, ink drawings approximately 12 by 12 inches, sculptures of animal and human anatomy, such as tentacles partially buried in sand, and black and white animations, including one projected on a wall. Later, when I looked at Park’s CV, I saw that she had titled a 2015 exhibition The Rabbit Hole (at Booknomad a. space), which both confirmed my initial impressions and made me curious about alternative spaces in Korea.
In a conversation with the show’s curator, Jeonguk Choi, I learned that Art Space Boan 2 hosts exhibitions, but does not represent artists. This and a conversation with the young artist Eun Sol Kim, who is Minouk Lim’s studio assistant, suggested that there is a thriving alternative, non-commercial art scene in Korea that is very different than the pipeline of MFA to commercial gallery situation that exists in parts of the United States. Both Park and Kim, who are not represented by commercial galleries, show regularly in alternative spaces, which is almost unheard of in the United States.
Park’s paintings are essentially large drawings done in black acrylic on a white ground. Precise lines and dark areas made by a dry brush convey shading, volume, and different types of rough surfaces. Park depicts a stage-like setting populated by body parts (hearts, hands, legs), covered in sheets or masked, as well as oddly dressed individuals of different ages, creatures such as deer and swans, observers looking through telescopes or taking photographs, and numerous participants, many of whom are engaged in inexplicable activities: a barefoot young woman dragging a boulder; a uniformed figure sweeping up what appear to be paper stars. The architectural setting of each scene is different, as if to say that you cannot step into the same dream twice.
I thought of the observers in the paintings as surrogate viewers and the individuals whose faces are unseen as the limits of our curiosity. How much do we want to see, in a visionary sense, and how much of the world’s commonplace reality can we actually look at without turning away? Fairy tale tropes and the disturbing sights of everyday commingle. We have fallen down a rabbit hole into a world that we witness but cannot explain. The different activities occurring throughout a painting do not coalesce into an overarching narrative. Rather, Park uses her settings to seamlessly connect scenes, creatures, and characters inspired by fairy tales and writers such as Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy (who coined the term “fairy tales”), and many others not known in the West, along with Surrealist artists (for instance, René Magritte), early Renaissance painters such as Pisanello and his masterpiece “The Vision of Saint Eustace” (1438-1442), movies and television — artworks and mediums that transport the viewer to another domain. The presence of modern devices in Park’s work helps situate her scenes in our contemporary world.
The sinister and miraculous occur simultaneously in Park’s fully realized, imagined worlds. In the drawing animation “Interlude” (2022), a 4-minute 20-second video is projected on one gallery wall above “Cut Off Senses,” a sculptural installation consisting of identifiable and unidentifiable ceramic body parts partially buried in a bed of sand. Are these body parts remnants of an unknown catastrophe? How does this work link with the video playing above it? At the beginning of “Interlude,” which has an immersive soundtrack by the composer/sound artist Hyemin Seo, a curtain rises on a field of black lines, which is followed by a barren landscape littered with broken televisions, large blinking eyes embedded in the ground, and candles with swaying flames. The scene zeroes in on the television in the center of this landscape, its screen projecting moving black lines, signaling it is on the fritz. Soon its screen fills the entire view and transforms into a watery world in which the faces of two women float, eyes closed. Ducks and lily pads surround the faces. Eventually everything drifts out of the frame, leaving only the water, which slowly fills with different-sized rocks. Snakes enter from the edges, linger briefly, and then leave. These and the episodes that follow seem linked, but not necessarily logical nor decipherable.
The rising curtain and television we enter suggest thresholds we have crossed. Have we left reality or are we entering a heightened version of it? What is this other world that greets us? Park’s work raises questions the viewer is unable to answer. Is the watery world meant to be the unconscious, the place of dreaming? Or is it evidence of a deluge that has flooded the world? Do the two dreaming women signify a desire to break the patriarchal constraints governing the world’s various societies? Asking these and other questions pulls us deeper and deeper into the artist’s world without offering an answer or key. This is what I found so powerful and convincing about the work. Park is in touch with our collective anxieties about a future that seems to darken with each passing day.
Mira Park: Interlude continues at Art Space Boan 2 (33 Hyoja-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea), through September 18. The exhibition was curated by Jeonguk Choi.