Latest GYON News
Jan 19, 2019
Parasol Unit; Camden Arts Centre, London Hyon Gyon’s explosive first UK show is a hymn to the spirit world of her native South Korea. And Beatrice Gibson’s films work like a dream 4 /5 stars4 out of 5 stars. ‘A colossal labour of energy and emotion’: We Were Ugly, 2017 by Hyon Gyon at Parasol Unit.Photograph: Dhiyandra Natalegawa It is not often that something completely new turns up in contemporary art, but so it seems at Parasol Unit, where the Korean artist Hyon Gyon is having her first British show. Running the full length of the main gallery is a multi-panel work of glittering, glowing colour that looks something like a painting, if paintings had hollows, peaks and bulging outcrops, and something like a sculpture, if sculptures were entirely made of pigment. The sight is immediately spectacular. The panels blaze and twinkle in a fantastic array of colours, acid pink to neon green and iridescent turquoise. There is a strong sense of rhythm in the swirling brushstrokes, as if everything were veering in a certain direction, apparently abstract. But the shining surfaces draw you in tight and motifs gradually become visible – golden eyes, silver mouths – held in the skeins of paint like fish in a net. There are curious grottoes, lined with fragments of melted silk, and black cloud formations overhead that appear pregnant with soot. Each panel has its own peculiar landscape and imagery, and together they form a violently beautiful narrative centring, as it seems, upon fire. We Were Ugly is a colossal labour of energy and emotion sustained over several weeks, and for many hours each day. Gyon works with fire itself, torching and soldering foam, paint and fabric, fusing and melting silk, chemicals and canvas. In this enormous work, the meaning and the method are peculiarly aligned, for the poor eyes and the screaming mouths are all fleeing in terror from the flames of an atomic explosion. To see this work from 2017 is to be immersed, in part, in the tumultuous experience of its creation. At least the title puts the horrors of political history in that region into the past. ‘An aura of glory’: I Lived Well, 2016 by Hyon Gyon. Photograph: Marek Gardulski/Courtesy the artist Born in South Korea in 1979, Gyon spent eight years in Japan before moving to New York. Traces of her homeland are everywhere apparent – in the traditional Korean satins stitched into her work; in the exquisitely delicate calligraphy that runs across fields of gold leaf, tender yet aggressive; in the artificial flowers, plastic jewellery and stuffed toys of the Korean bazaar. Above all, in the powerful influence of Korean shamanism . As a girl, Gyon watched a shaman releasing her dead grandmother’s spirit from the house. Trauma and catharsis seem to be at the heart of everything she makes. The works in this show are uniquely explosive, even when most gorgeous . Monstrous faces streaked with gold, diamond teeth, fragile dolls swept up in cascades of gleaming satin, rainbows bursting out of dark wounds; Gyon’s calligraphy is as fine as hair, her brushstrokes like silk embroidery . But each piece has extraordinary force, whether it is the vision of a shaman with a rock crystal head, from which acid rain cascades, or the torrential panel of dark and knotted whorls that resemble words – and sometimes seem to rise to actual utterances painted with her bare hands. Several of the works in this show are fully three-dimensional, such as the gigantic male figure that presides over the lower gallery. Elemental, priapic helmet head streaked with scarlet paint, he turns out to be built out of chicken wire, pigment and papier-mache, and his wilting arms are nothing more than nylon tights stuffed with cuddly toys. What a piece of work is man: Hamlet’s line is turned about in Gyon’s poignant vision. Her title confirms it: here he is, post-apocalypse, The Last Man. Gyon can be melodramatic, particularly in her mock altarpieces, and the bellicose cliches painted on boxing gloves that sprout from a rearing Leviathan of an installation. But she is never insincere, and the sheer range of her emotions finds expression in all sorts of new methods. The upstairs gallery at Parasol Unit contains her version of sgraffito, images incised into the picture surface like words penknifed into a school desk. Downstairs are tragic figures in grey clay, overpainted, in one case with a pensive self-portrait, like a Fayum funeral mask. The work is called It’s a Lonely Road. But best of all is the very first figure in the show: a ruined old queen with a fading rose for a sceptre, slumped in her chair, legs slackly spread, swagged about with plastic flowers and gewgaws. However powerless she looks now, there is still an aura of glory about this woman (a grandmother?) The title speaks for her: I Lived Well. Hyon Gyon believes in the ritual powers of art and so, I suspect, does the British artist Beatrice Gibson (born 1978). Her two new films surge upon a wild stream-of-consciousness tide, veering between iPhone footage, found images, home movies, scenes shot in nightclubs and a speeding car. The charismatic performer Adam Christensen drifts in and out with his haunting songs and his Bowie looks. Two pregnant women, far from home, ruminate on their condition, mildly afraid and suffering strange dreams. American poets Audre Lorde , Alice Notley and CAConrad read from their works, including the latter’s I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead, which ought to be enough to rouse any woman. Gibson, an expert on the postmodernist art of BS Johnson and Cornelius Cardew , ducks conventional narrative. Her films are dreamy, fantastical, strangely interconnected – the poodle skittering across a dancefloor in one becomes the surprise star of the other; above all, they are open-ended as life itself. And the longer film, named after CAConrad’s poem, is a brilliant projection of Gibson’s own fear and anxiety as a young mother in central London, learning from the son she is also trying to protect. But it has its catharsis, too, in a tremendous glitter-ball dance scene.