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[CRITIC] Just a Cake - Humming for LOVE

Solbi × Kwon Ji-an

Just a Cake - Humming for LOVE

Hyun-Jung Ahn (Art Critic, Doctor of Philosophy in Art)

More than 100 years have passed since the term "happening" was first used in art. If controversy is a condition of avant-garde, the conservatism inherent in Korean society is a mysterious driving force for producing novelty. In stories that continue to observe, people enjoy ‘empty pleasure’ through the voyeurism of peeping into the artist’s life story. The representative artist consumed in this story is ‘Solbi × Kwon Ji-an.’ No matter what form of performance and medium she tries as an artainer (art-entertainer), she is referred to as an ‘issue maker from somewhere on the screen’ in front of artistry. Whenever artists receive evaluations from the majority hiding behind anonymity, they entrust their body and mind to an unmonitored shelter. When they immerse themselves in work in this way, their mechanically operating ‘mechanism of voyeurism’ becomes a ‘dynamic force for new art’ and creates objects for healing. A year after becoming the center of controversy for plagiarizing Jeff Koons’ cake <Play-Doh>, the troublesome cake ironically serves as a piece of hope for opening her new series, Just a Cake.

Moldy cake controversy turns into hope

Kwon Ji-an's <Just a Cake - Piece of Hope>(2021) series started as a social issue about atypical piles of cakes inspired by clay art games she had played with her nephew and the bakers at the bakery cafe on the first floor of her studio. After unveiling photos of her homemade Christmas cake to support orphans on her social media account, unidentified ghost accounts left malicious comments, and unconfirmed articles accused her of plagiarizing artist Jeff Koons. Both the artist and her intention were hurt even though Jeff Koons interpreted the pile of clay as a monumental aluminum sculpture, while Kwon Ji-an saw it as an edible cake. The cake’s function of communicating ‘congratulations and thanks’ covered with scars manifested the artist’s interpretation of cyber-bullying and yellow journalism, and turned into a message of hope for other victims somewhere in the world. The 30 paintings and sculptures in her first solo exhibition earlier this year (March 3, 2021) showed candles containing sparks of hope on paintings embodied in cake cream-like textures and features. The artist said, “The wounded cake shows my past and present, but I hope that the candle of hope lit on it will be a light of hope for modern people living in a difficult world.”

The cake produced in this way expands to <Just a Cake–Angel> with music and provides a new motif for a popular interpretation of contemporary art. The 3D relief of the pure white cake is completed on a canvas with a speaker function, and her new single ‘Angel’ incorporated into the artwork shows the magic of turning life into art. For an artist named Kwon Ji-an, who is both encouraged and hurt by the public, the combination of music (the object of sharing) and art (the object of possession) was an attempt to blur the boundaries between popular art and fine art. As a response, the piece was awarded the highest price at the auction, leaving a unique example of giving the bidder the right to release the song Angel (distribution rights). Music for one person, art for all, possibly the compass of art that Kwon Ji-an seeks to pursue, is a path of ‘integrated art’ in the pursuit of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

Genre Kwon Ji-an’s ‘Conceptual-Pop’

The artist, who has encountered numerous issues, uses the prejudice and confusion felt by the world and herself as an art happening. She unraveled this through plural forms of art (painting, sculpture, installation, performance, and media) and also incorporates in her work her identity as a K-Pop singer who has been active under the stage name Solbi since 2006. Criticism from the academic art world is also turned into positive reviews between doubts and attempted efforts amidst her 10 years of steady work. Many artainers received mixed reviews for attempting ‘art’, but many cases have not become the center of controversy like Kwon Ji-an. Every moment (experience) of her life became the reason for her work because she responded to issues through her artwork. The artist puts the moments of overcoming wounds, challenges, and perseverance into ‘the pure function of art = love and consolation’ and recites, “Step on my experience and meet a world of hope!” Her first solo exhibition in 2012 focused on the double variation of modern people’s desires and lookism. And since 2015, she has been working on ‘Self-Collaboration’ to convert music into visual art. <Daydream>, the first work of Kwon Ji-an’s ‘Self-Collaboration’ series was released in 2015, and <Black Swan>, the second series, shows the meeting of two different identities - Solbi and Kwon Ji-an, who share one body but have separate egos. She also participated in ‘SNS WORLD Jikji Korea Festival’ in 2017 and showed the face of past and modern social networking services, and released <Hyperism RED>(2017), which is an extension to the objective self and embodies the wounds and human rights of women. In 2018, she presented <Hyperism BLUE>, which captures her thoughts on the cultural capital of the social class, and <Hyperism VIOLET> in 2019, which poses a question of love and showcased integrated art with local artists in Paris. Kwon Ji-an’s works pursue conceptual pop, which combines the popularity of pop art with abstraction based on emotion. She experienced an ‘empty self’ in the illusion of stardom created by the media, and is moving her point of meeting the public (including issues) into ‘responsible expressions.’ If the high threshold of art gains vitality while consuming ‘Solbi × Kwon Ji-an/Kwon Ji-an × Solbi’, which is familiar with popular culture, there is hope that everyone will knock on the door of healing called art. The artist is already an ‘artainer’s avant-garde’ that breaks the realm unique to academic majors and their noble hobbies.

Humming for my father, a sound art of great love

Kwon Ji-an is an artist who lives to protect love. She records her energy as art and is bound to a protagonist who has no choice but to be conscious of others. The records and the melted time of her life merged in the cake series to show her ‘flowing life = perceived self = mirror of life.’ Her life, which was uncertain before meeting art, led to the perception that “the answer to life lies in my convictions” through her work of art. The artist realized that she should love herself because the first audience of her art is herself. Cake is just a cake, and authenticity lies in the purity of how we treat the public. Perhaps the artist finally responds to all of the issues around her as artist Kwon Ji-an rather than as singer Solbi. The moment she thought she was abandoned, the reactions of people toward her work aim to be loved in a layer of sincere emotions. The artist always contemplates “relationship-world-what do I want for myself?” Being free in ‘Kwon Ji-an’s journey to find herself’ allows her to escape the frame of being Solbi. In a way, the cake series may have been prepared through her <Red Performance>(2017), which threw stones at the media’s illusion.

“I like the word 'courage.' I’m afraid at every moment, but I try to find the tools for courage. I believe that I will be healed if I confront everything head-on and work without being afraid of getting hurt. Working on my art while overcoming my wounds became a layer of time for becoming who I am. I learned to appreciate life because I met the free realm of paint and art. I hope that people who are hurting will gain courage and love through my work.” - From an interview with the artist

This period of gratitude was short-lived. As a homage to her father, who suddenly passed away on Parents’ Day and had been in the flower business for a long time, the artist began producing a series of songs (music) and works (art) together on audio speakers provided from Seoul Auction. By writing and erasing lyrics about infinite love that cannot be expressed by words over and over again, she realized that longing and sadness cannot be defined by words. The humming and writing (language) could not capture all of the complex emotions in a limited situation. Instead, such humming was reduced to a magnificent piece of art. The unrecognizable humming led to Kwon Ji-an’s own language structure, and the lettering cakes created in it became letters to her late father and descended into works of art. Poet Na Tae-joo described them as “heavenly letters.” The tears Kwon shed while listening to the humming towards her father during the interview leave behind the artist's deepest love, regret, longing, and gratitude. In her solo exhibition this December, which will showcase a collaboration (a combination of cable ties and performance painting) with artist Choi Jae-yong, the characterization of humming may have melted in between the work of a cobweb-like chandelier that vaguely visualizes air. Kwon Ji-an’s identity, which contains humming visualizing air, the recitation of love floating in the air, and sounds before language, may open a new path for development and individuality in the possibility of life full of blanks.


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