Yun-Hee Toh


Renowned for her refined aesthetics and outstanding orchestration of sundry materials, Toh's artistic path foilows her infatuation with old things, bygone things, and bleached thines, the things stonng the layers of history and time In her paintings, existing in the diverse forms of scrolls, boards, miniatures for cabinets, the passage of time, its corresponding mysterious aesthetics and subtle impression can be readily found and experienced. On the surface where delicate clusters of micro beings in esoteric colors-those of antiques and fossils-form the patterns, float with slanting movement, and evoke the imagery of leaves all teeming with opaqLie bubble like forms. we come across the auras of life forms and their subtle beauty;which we often overlook. The surface covered with the layersof multifarious colors such as dark red, yellow, turquoise blue, resembling clouds or bubbles is chromatically contrated with fine figures of single cells and leave. The clusters of single cells, through the juxtaposition of dark and bright color, produce tension in the canvass intensified by delicate tones. Being-Floatin, the portrayal of the beings and their precarious situations, Bems-Foresl such consistent titles are the traces of her effort to incorPorate time and sPace building her own ways of beings and metaphors in the amidst of the commotion of virtual reality and space, which are viable due to the development of digital communications. While residing in the age of rapidlychanging world of information and of the-extended-time notion, Toh is mainly concerned with the truth of life inherent in all the matters and the beings;through arduous exploration of it, she struggles to regain the original, holistic time and the flows of history, which will even illuminate the future Some might say that it is an anachrnistic, primeval act. However, locked in the hyper-accelerated time and weverely fragmented and destroye identities, what Toh is venturing is the struggle to gain the reserves and leisure found in Slowness, a novel written by Milan Kundera. That is her way of being and the affirmation of the truth of life.

Already established as a outstanding artist in Korea, Yunhee Toh is also internationally acclaimed With her artistic talent and ethos inherited from her grandfather(an important figure in Korean art history), she had been a prominent student in her school days and since then she exhibited in group shows and personal shows undergomg conHnual and di-duous changes From the early nineties, she has shown the persistent interests in (he antiques which preserve the inhaling specters of time and the fossils which contain the traces ot pnmitive cells. At first, she handled such pnmeval themes with a subjective and emotional approach employing her peculiar bold, spontaneous and lyrical abstract style However. since the mid- 90's. she has put certain distance between the matenals and herself and changed her view point to more detached and intuitive one on the objects from the nature The fossils the individual fiaures and the ob)ective items - become the object of her cognition evoking the nostalgia and inspirations for the mystery of the pninordidl The discovery of specific object induced the extension of her works from flat panels to three-dimension, sometimes the actual frames of fossils aPPear in her works The prevailing colors are black, gray brown, dark red. and blue monochrome background as mostly inspired by the colors of Korean ceramics, round ores and shell-like forms, chromatically contrasted with surrounding monochromes, float and swirl in the canbvas. As if to restrain their fluidity, Toh covered all the surface with synthetic iiquids engendenng the fixauon of such forms and the building of certain space between the canvas and the viewers Thus the contemplative detachment became more conspicuous in her paintings. She veiled the keratin of life forms, the fossils mscnbed with cells-the precious collection of the artist as if scared of losing a breath of time, but such opaque veils produce more esoteric auras oozing and inhaling from the insides.

Starting from such early works based on the detached contemplation of the primordial life, she is transforming her works to the exhibit of the etemity of such living' fonns in order to let the viewers expenence such truth and glimpse 'infinite time' throueh it Thih change is inevitdbly compatible with 'the flow of time' A human being, bound to 'infinite time' only through the nature, the mystery of life, which will enable further extension of the self and the transcendence of the restncted confines of existence The iirtiSit sdys; "The ongin of the thought on time commenced from the discovery of the peranence, purity and truth ofa being. Humans exist in symbiosis with the nature and even slight contemplation illustrates that the flow of time, in this tight web of life, holds immense immaterial value. Moreover, we cannot exclude the possibility of time as a site for constrction huan consciousness(truth). which strives for 'the eternity'. Concentration on'eternity', it is to exist infinitely within time. Everybody wanl-s to venfy (his through strenLious liibors,, embrdt-ing time and space with his/her own innate'thought'. Her own urns;faded old tees; the scents of worn-out books;the continued life of single cells, the origin of life; the immovability of everlasting fossils... Such are floating in the currents of infinite time. From those, the past, the future, water, earth, glaciers, soils, forests, marshes are originated:within the finite time, I can glimpse the infinite time."(From Artist Note)

Toh, Yunhee now extends her intests to more fundamental elements such as the exploation of the nature and the life, from the stillness and the ateriality of old things. Beforehand her artistic goal was to convey and to make the impression be experienced deploying the metaphor of time and the contemplation of it, but now sheis more interested in the real experiene of the flw of 'permanent' life forms, which warns her against the mortality of her being when compared with immortal ones. Now, fluidity and viscosity, dampness and huidity, liquidity of water, such once restricted features are more articulated than ever before; the artist might want to contain the breath and the flow of the life inherent in old and 'immortal' things and also her empathy on such objcts illustrating every step of savoring it. The change of the subject matter from rigid fossils to the clusters of small cells and the fluidity has something to do with her overall transformation. Such experienc, based on the philosophy of symbiosis with the nature, can lead us to learn 'patience', which is the virtue of the nature. "Humidity, in the form of swamp, stores the infinite history of life. The perseverance and patience to wait for ripeness... Such truth reminds me of 'the passing moment' of the present and of my being an mortal existence."(From Artist Note)

The paintings of Toh, Yunhee are most outstanding ones in Korean art scene with her ripened and sophisticated skills, the exquisite use of decoration and color, and the temarkable arrangement of materials. The structure befits the contents and the concepts of paintings. For instance, she produces the scene that fossils and clls seem to be under the frames such as marsh, swamp, soils, and water and that numerous esoteric life forms are floatin immerse in silence, the skill enabling such atmosphere perfonns as a convincina voice to entice the viewers to her artistic world whether consciously or unconciously. On the siple surface, though wih subtle nuance, sharp ines of drawing are swaying with the sporadi use of silkscreen and attachment of printed materials, which create strange tension. At first glance. just mere trees, petals, but more observation lets you know that are, in fact, the life forms, the minute living forms buried in the soils, the marshes, theglaciers, the sky and the night, as theselves, the symbiosis of the time and the things gthered beyond mortality.

At first glance, just mere tree, petals or micro organisms, but more observation reveals that they are in fact the fossils buried in the soils or the air, the long-dead organisms reviving and regaining the meaning through visual representation. What I am up to is the capturing of infinite time evoking the origin and history of the life forms, which constatly go through the separation of cells, extension and evolution And 11hink fossits can be ideal obiects for this purpose. They have the same symbolic connotation with stones However, because of their double nature, they contain the finite and the infinite, the life and the death, and evolution and extinction at the same time. I am interested in revealing the evoltionary process of the life hidden in the fossils and the incessant separation and expansion of the cells of micro organisms. Therefore, my recent works are, in a sense, the visualization of the idea of Pregogine, that the evolutionary process of micro organisms, whose movements can be detected only through a special microscope, are following the order of entropy My paintings are more than the mechanical representation or the cultural nrrative of my ideas and concepts, because I passed through a tough, artistic training gaining the skill to handle every subject and material freely with my inborn, sharp sensibility.

Song Misook, Professor of Art History at Songshin Univ