Seung Yul Oh: Horizontal Loop
26 June – 28 July, 2018
Seung Yul Oh is well known for whimsical art works that toy with scale and exist somewhere between spectacle and participation. Incorporating painting, installation, sculpture, video, performance, and public art, Oh works seamlessly across media. Long resisting a conventional approach to form and material, he redefines and challenges ordinary objects and spaces in ways that are both light hearted and serious. Previous installations have used air to manipulate and redefine space, including enormous bubbles that jostled for position on Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s outdoor terrace, and a forest of towering yellow and white pellet-shaped inflatables that audiences pushed their way through. There’s also the exaggerated and hyperreal sculptures of Korean noodle dishes and cute animal forms rendered in gleamingly reflective fibreglass.
Running parallel to these playful art works is Oh’s painting, a formal and sometimes minimalist practice, which the artist has described as ‘musical’ and offering moments of balance and counterpoint. His most recent work continues Oh’s practice of working the edges, expanding on previous examples and moving away from conventional focus on the canvas. Suggestive of architectural features such as doorways or the front of a building, there are now are only 4 elements: simply open space framed by painted wooden bars. Made from cylindrical rods and rectangular sections of timber, these works exist as an outline of form. Here, the absence becomes content.
Titled Horizontal Loop, the series is reminiscent of the late 1950s/ early 60s post-painterly abstraction movement, which critic Clement Greenberg characterised as linear in design, bright in colour, lacking in detail and incident, and open in composition. Exploiting the expressive power of colour, Oh’s reductionist and geometric compositions allow both vivid contrast and subtle nuance of tone. “I’m interested in the relationship between colours, how they sit side by side, the tension or rhythm they create. There’s uncertainty when these colours are joined. This clash, or harmony, generates a dimension of dialogue when they’re placed next to each other” he comments.
Intriguingly the artist also sees his colour selections as creating time and space. Juxtaposing unusual combinations and tonal contrasts, he calculates their effects, “trying to reach a place of time through colour.” Some colours allow time to linger longer or deeper. I may simply feel more with certain colours, remembering a moment or connecting to other unknown time.”
Oh has played with the disorientation of space before. Early works teased the relationship between art work and space through scale: giant inflatables bulging promiscuously around corners and pillars, or protruding forms that demanded audiences negotiate space. Now, Oh has turned the exploration of physical mass and empty space inwards, the new series creating what the artist calls “territorial boundaries of limited sections of space claimed by the frame.”
Although the Horizontal Loop compositions are wall based and focus attention on extremities and internal voids, Oh isn’t finished with manipulating the audience’s movement through space. Unlike traditional painting which beckons the viewer to approach directly and view the work square on, these compositions lure the viewer to the work’s side profile. Shifting attention through unusual forms and colour combinations, the work asks that we approach and consider it from oblique angles.
Like much of his vastly diverse practice, an element of autobiography runs through Seung Yul Oh’s practice. Although reminiscent of Western minimalism and abstraction, his non-figurative work with its emphasis on process and materials owes something to the post-war Korean tradition of Tansaekhwa (Dansaekhwa). The term, meaning literally ‘monochrome painting’, appeared in the 1970s to describe work that shared a sparse palette and an innovative approach to process. This was a new movement, playing with and disrupting Western traditions as it filtered through a Korean cultural lens. A vital distinction from the logic and mathematically aligned Western movements was that Tansaekhwa focused on the meditative aspect of creating art, an approach of growth and layering rather than ‘emptiness’.
Born in Seoul, Korea in 1981, Seung Yul Oh moved to New Zealand to complete an MFA at Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts. He now divides his time between Auckland and Seoul.
Recent exhibitions include: SOOM: Site II, Fauhaus Lifestyle Space, Xinchang, Shanghai, curated by Zhang Ting and Hutch Wilco (2018); Slit Scan, Tauranga Art Gallery (2016); HaaPoom, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Auckland, (2015); Left, Right, ONE AND J. Gallery, Seoul (2015); RENAISSANCE’ lille3000, Lille, FR (2015); SOOM, Edmiston North Sculpture Terrace at the Auckland Art Gallery (2014);MOAMOA, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and City Gallery Wellington, curated by Aaron Kreisler and Aaron Lister (2013/ 2014); Between Waves, APMAP Jeju, Amore Pacific Korea, Jeju, KR (2014); Periphery, Encounters, Art Basel Hong Kong, curated by Yuko Hasegawa (2013); Huggong, Starkwhite 2012; sologroup, GGOOL, Seoul (2011); Social Animals, Space 15th Seoul, curated by Kyung Min Lee (2011); Constellation, 4A Centre for Contemporary Art, Sydney, curated by Aaron Seeto (2011); Bok (with Jeff Nusz) Physics Room, Christchurch (2011); Seung Yul Oh, Artspace project, Melbourne Art Fair, curated by Emma Bugden (2010); Bogle Bogle, TheNewDowse , with curator Claire Renault (2010); Oddooki, Sculpture Court, Te Papa The Museum of New Zealand, curated by Charlotte Huddleston (2008/2009); Telecom Prospect 2007: New Art New Zealand, City Gallery Wellington, curated by Heather Galbraith; Break: Construct, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, curated by Rhana Devenport (2007); Bearing, Te Tuhi The Mark, with curator Emma Bugden (2007); 5 4 3 2 1, Auckland Artists Projects, Auckland Art Gallery, curated by Ngahiraka Mason (2006); CHEW CHEW Tongue, Starkwhite (2006); Snake oil, Recent Acquisitions from the Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery (2005) curated by Robert Leonard; Artspace New Artists exhibition, Compelled, curated by Rhana Devenport (2005).
Oh has a strong record of public art works including: Conduct Cumulus, commissioned by Scape Public Art, Christchurch, NZ (2018); Form in Formation, commissioned by Nelson Sculpture Trust, Richmond, NZ (2018); Upon a pond &, Drop a loop, commissioned by Auckland City Council, Albany Stadium Pool, Auckland, NZ (2017); Ondo, commissioned by Albert-Eden Local Board, Dominion Road, Auckland NZ (2015), Go Gamm Sann Hamm Sabb, commissioned by Amore Pacific Korea, Jeju, KR (2014); Beat Connection / Pumanawa O Te Whenua, commissioned by Mesh Sculpture Trust, Hamilton, NZ (2012); Knocknock, commissioned by New Market Sculpture Trust, Auckland, NZ (2012),
Oh was the recipient of the SEMA Nanji Residency, Seoul Korea (2013); the 2011 Harriet Friedlander New York Residency Award administered by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand; and the ggool Residency Seoul, KR (2010).