A Long-haired Francis Bacon My personal essay on art BY HYUNJUNG CHAE Life is so meaningless we might as well try to make ourselves extraordinary. -Francis BaconAs an art student, I have been searching for a ‘reality’, which artists strive to create. I believed that many art works were the reflection of the artists’ inner state because I thought people perceived the world through what they were. My art works were me, as I was at school. Then, I wondered how much or how far artists were able to develop their inner world, namely, their own ‘reality’, and hence reinterpret the world through his/her own sensibilities. I respected or still respect artists who perceive the world through their own sensibilities, and not through an adopted social code. Therefore each artistic vision is a reflection of a unique individuals’ vision. Artists perceive the objects by their inner states, at the same time, they reconstruct the objects as his/her own inner reality. How different ways the same object can be expressed and interpreted by each artist! Of course, it is dangerous to say the term ‘reality’ without knowing the depth of knowledge of art; for me, it is interesting to search for reality. Besides, it is challenging to me to find out ‘reality’ through art work in the Korean art environment as it was searching for truth. In my work, I strive to express myself as Francis Bacon does through his paintings. Using images and references taken from a social context he imbues them with his own personal anxieties, angst and other idiosyncrasies (creating images that most people would refer to as the dark, or ugly, or perverse side of human nature). Bacon uses images taken from magazines, newspapers and filmclips (‘stills’ taken from Eisensteins’ film, Battleship Potemkin or ‘stills’ of men wrestling, taken from Muybridge films). Taking a normally sacred and respected image of the Pope (derived from Velazquezs’ Portrait of Pope Innocent X) Bacon uses distortion, color, composition and the nature of the oil medium itself (thinning or thickening of the paint) to transform the image into his own inner reality. In Korea, some qualities of art are being replaced by some qualities in western art. When Korea artists work in producing ‘art’, I question that they really create their own reality because it seems to me that most Korean artists are only trying to catch up to western trends in the sense of using techniques, fashions, codes and sometimes, Western artists’ way of seeing. Through more my own inner ‘reality’ I tried to develop my own personal dialog with the world. To do this I have used my long hair that I have grown through the past twenty years. There are several reasons I used my long hail as a medium to express my own inner reality. A physical trace or record of the artist in the individual work of art has always been an aspect of Western art. In Eastern art most artists of the past have been anonymous. Many ceramic pieces, religious sculptures, paintings, or artifacts (Buddha or temple figures) were executed with little consideration of the artisans or craftsmen that created them. In the Western this was also true during the Middle Ages and it wasn’t until the Renaissance, artists were revered for their individual styles and signatures became an important part of tagging their creations. Still, their visual language had to conform to social standards to be accepted and understood. It wasn’t until the 19th & 20th centuries when it became a primary goal of the artist to create a unique visual language. The diversity of visual styles of Picasso, Mondrian, Pollock, de Kooning, Chagall, ets. Is the embodiment of this trend. It wasn’t until Pop Art and Minimalism of the Sixties deflated this goal, by advocating work that was common, popular, had no individual aura attached to it or was simply mass produced. One could just look at the Campbell soup cans of Warhol, the careful laid out bricks of Carl Andre or the cool fluorescent lights of Don Flavin. My works are contradictory in nature. The central theme, ‘hair’ can be perceived by the viewer in a twofold fashion. In the first it can be read as a signature of the artist; individual, unique, not reproducible, containing my own personal references. In the second the sign ‘hair’ can be read as a sign, neutral, relating to the social concept hair. Any social references are derived from related Korean, Western or any other cultural connections. First, ‘hair’ has been an important object in Korea in general. During the 70s under the dictatorship, hair length was an issue to the government. Jung-Hee Park, the dictator President at that time, prohibited man’s long hair, which was a symbol of resistance against the government. The youth expressed their resistance with long hail and long hail was cut by the street police and long-haired men were arrested. Although the times have changed since then, long hair remains a symbol of resistance underneath, still in Korea. I found out that men’s hair length became a sign of conformity, especially to the government at that time. On the other hand, women’s hair length/style was not an issue. In order to show my raison d’etre, I shaved my hair. I was only treated as an idiosyncratic girl, not as a threat to the establishment. However the length of a women’s skirt became an issue which eventually led to the government to pass a law prohibiting the miniskirt. The length of the skirt was an issue because it was a ‘disturbing element’ as defined by the government. In fact, my anger, consciousness against the discrimination of gender, was not recognized by the society. Secondly, personally, I have been bothered by hair style. I was shocked when I found out most Korean men attracted to my long, straight hair that I grew without any second thoughts. Most men attracted to me confessed that they were crazy about my hair and evaluated me by my hair quality. Besides, more hideously, I was sexually horsehide by anonymous men in public transportation because of my hair: In the crowded subway, a man was rubbing his body with my long hair or a student was rubbing my hair on his sleeves when I was dozing in the library. Oh, hair! I started to hate my hair when I began to realize it was an object of men’s desire. On the other hand, my women friends talked about their hair styles and considered their hair as their most important ‘property’. I found myself seeing the world through my hair, which generated a prejudice and a misunderstanding in me. However, there is nothing more boring than hair. Socially it appears pretty much the same way, growing the same length, same texture, varying in degrees of color, as time goes by. On the other hand, hair has uncontrollable power that changes each person’s image. It can alter the mood of an individual, can alter the perception of that individual and transform the reality of that individual. In order to express my own inner reality, I used my own cut hair, which was my own reality/truth as my work medium and manipulated it to change its meaning. In my works, <Long hair> and <Communication>, I wanted to see how each element worked in a different context. As a first step, I framed the hair with mixed colorful fabrics. The simple and monotonous images of hair, I tried to simplify with pencils and charcoal as much as possible. ‘The decorative frame’ and the monotonous images show visual contrast allowing the viewer to make new and different associations. What was interesting was that ‘the colorful frame’, which was a superficial surface was more visible than the image of hair. Yes, I would say that it would be easy for the people to see the superficial value or to judge the visible value. At the same time, two different images conflict each other and each element of two different images is isolated from one another. It is interesting to see the difference through the images. My hair becomes more than an image of hair. Besides, the fabrics become more visible than the image of hair with betraying my intention, which I wanted to cherish my hair subjectively. The images shaped by an artist change the reality into a new dimension of the reality. As a second step, each color distinguishes its character in ‘the frame’. Even though I chose the fabrics, each color on the fabrics contains its weight regardless to my expression. My hair is blended with other elements and it ‘creates’ a new reality. In the context of colors, I used mainly the colors red and white, which were emblems of passion and innocence. I hoped the image of hair colored red would show a strong feeling of fear, with white, strength over the evil power, however, the image of hair was not influenced on red or white. Each color rather has its own weight independently while surpassing space and time. In my work, <A Conversation with a Long Hair>, I tried to show the repetition of time. It is a 2meter high work. I climbed the ladder to draw hair from the top to the bottom everyday; I drew a line repeatedly. With that repetition, I felt a real peace from the process that only simplicity could bring about. I drew a thin line on the colored layers in order to express self-destruction or the negative side of human nature. The colored layers were the symbols of illusion most people were concerned about and I was mistakenly taught all things should be on the surface. But I wished the thin line would put more emphasis on the long and straight hair. The thin line had a great emotional content for mw and was a reflection of my inner reality. I tried hard to show to the world that a thin line could carry a profound meaning. However, my hair didn’t exist as a hair on the canvas, it became already an art object. My experiment only showed that each element on the canvas carried its own weight when I played with tangible and physical materials-fabrics, colors, hair, etc. Those materials couldn’t be blended with each other when each material was arranged in a different composition. Therefore, my hair lost its personal/social meaning in physical reconstruction. Although I strive to express my inner reality through my work I feel that either from lack of experiences or incorrect choices my work still does not resonate with the emotion and association I wish to express. But the artists’ road is to develop his/her language until that language corresponds to his/her inner reality. My task therefore is to continue this process of inner/outer development. Any work produced on this road of discovery/realization I consider to be called art work. Art should be created by an artist’s whole experience no matter what is used in the work.