Woo Young Kim
by Dr. Gerhard Bartsch – Professor of Philosophy and History of Art
"The sound of water says what I think."
(Zhuangzi, Chinese philosopher, 4th/3rd century BC)
Wooyoung Kim‘s photographic work has an elementary, fascinating effect. Eschewing the allegorical, they mean nothing beyond themselves; and they have a special impact, to which we will return later.
Kim’s work consists in observing everyday things and their emptiness, things which normally remain unperceived. In the deliberately graphic photographic work of Wooyoung Kim we are shown different aspects of nature, from the microscopic world to the wideness of the "empty" ocean with no horizon. Captured with small rain drop craters or bubbles, the surface we see in the image could belong to the moon or the ocean. Round-arched grinding traces displaying patterns like growth rings bleached by the sun suggest cut wood or rock. Wizened, aged skin with rhythmic arch sections suggests lived-through growth processes. In even smaller cut surfaces the eye slides over sandy edges which appear like tranquil landscapes viewed at a distance.
Moreover, the photographs with sparse traces left on the wall or in the water have the effect of a photographic record of a crime scene.
The imagination-provoking power of stains on the wall, of the fire in the chimney or the imagination-enhancing water courses and streams were well known even before Leonardo. But the great renaissance polymath from Vinci intensified these stains and process-like appearances using them as an inspiration for, and a material origin of, art through their conscious representation and by paying them particular attention. On top of this, his genius consisted in making these natural processes into aesthetic objects through his creative power. Genius or not - this phenomenon of using objects such as these to stimulate the imagination has since been confirmed and researched time and time again psychologically using a scientific model of enquiry. It has, for example, been successfully employed in the Rohrschach Test and other healing methods.
The specific aesthetic effect of Wooyoung Kim’s photographs does not lie in symbolic heightening things but in existential and material references between them, in an original "nakedness" devoid of atmosphere. This elementary, natural process-like phenomenon cannot be caught with a western rational stance which seeks to reduce everything to a term. This attitude towards the world, which separates itself from the subject and classifies nature as a system of external objects, does not lend itself to an understanding of the creation and passing of things natural - of which, of course, one forms part oneself.
The ancient Far Eastern view, which understood nature as being identical with one’s own person, has intuitively employed a different kind of access to the world. In ancient Taoism, using the principles of yin and yang, the polar switch between being and not (yet) being in interconnectedness and interdependence, the experience of the world and of one's own person formed an organic whole. Tao means that which happens by itself, the process of nature or, in a famous phrase of the time, "the flow patterns of water".
In Western philosophy there has, however, been a time when the ancient Ionic philosophers, such as Thales of Miletus in the 6th century, raised the question of the origin of all that is and answered it without recourse to supernatural powers. The primary principle was water on which, we might note, the earth was presented as floating.
His successor Anaximander of Miletus asked the same question more radically in the first book of Greek prose (coming after Homer's epics) and overcame mythical thinking with his answer that the boundless dynamic matter was the original ground for the macro- and micro-cosmos. The ocean, he said, was a remnant of the first total inundation and that humanity descends from fish.
Returning to the work of Wooyoung Kim, in whose photographs there are actually but a few things to be seen and they consist mainly of relics of traces of water and rain, we can say that if we possess this kind of questioning and open attitude, a rich present of one’s own answers could be the unexpected reward.
From Shi Tao: Comments on Painting, c. 1700, paragraph 18: "To complete the task."
Man receives the task of painting, for the active and unconditional gift of himself in the face of mountains and water. (his comment)
"Mountains and water are my task. Since the task is not far away, I take the fact that they are controllable to be my task…
If a man can only see mountains as his task and cannot see water as his task then it would be as if one drowned in a wide ocean and did not recognise its shore or if the shore did not know that there was a wide ocean. For this reason, the wise man knows his shore and when he drifts along on a stream he listens to the sources and rejoices in the water."