Blain Southern gallery, London
Few steps off Regent Street, Blain Southern gallery opened its doors to a major solo exhibition by New York based artist Michael Joo. Us of WoMA had the pleasure to visit the gallery and experience a new take on art and science.
The experience starts from the very street, whereby through the large gallery windows, one can see and identify a series of abstract paintings and a large marble slab mounted on a steel frame. From the outside, the size of this incredible piece is misleading, but once you get closer, you recognize its true dimension. Prologue (Montclair Dandy Vein Cut)(2015-16), or as Joo’s describes it “marble billboard”, is a mesmerizing sculptural piece entirely passed through by a crack that reminds of staples, and the surface of which is stained by a liquid residue that seems to have leaked out of the crack. This piece was treated, like many others, with silver nitrate, a photosensitive chemical typically used in photography. The back of the marble slab has been completely covered with this chemical, which confers to it a mirroring property, and thus the reflecting surface offers a different perspective of the surrounding space. The silver nitrate leaks out of the crack and stains the front side of the piece, which also reveals horizontal lines of the strata within the stone. Indeed, the artist makes use of the chemical, not only for the final visual appeal, but also for its intrinsic properties that make visible the invisible, tricking the viewer’s perception of space.
The gallery also presents a painting series consisting of six canvases, on which Joo has experimented again with chemistry and reflections, this time creating a compound made of silver nitrate and epoxy ink. From a closer look, these paintings turn out to be photographs on canvases. The artist used different techniques, from the stamp of the trays, to the creation of the image and its ultimate transfer to the canvas via epoxy ink. A peculiar aspect of this work is Joo’s representation of the consumption of calories in doing certain actions for a second in time, and creates such connection through the use of commercial baking trays. The use of this compound in many of Joo’s works aims to integrate the viewer into the reflection of his art. Indeed, each observer can mirror him or herself in the piece, an introspective experience that also allows for the connection between the observer and the artist. Each piece distorts the way we perceive the surroundings through a game of space, individuality and energy.
The exhibition path seems to hint to a more spiritual one. Coming to the largest painting, a number has been printed on the canvas to represent the number of calories burned in taking an action, this time in just a millisecond. Although technically similar to the previous ones, this piece has no mirroring effect and holds a different meaning. Indeed, this work alludes to the transformation of man into God, or more simply, to human enlightenment. The numbers are printed on the bark and inner wood of a Ficus Religiosa or Bodhi tree, which according to Buddhist texts is the tree whereby Buddha achieved enlightenment. These digits have then been transferred to the canvas through a silk-screening method that makes use of the epoxy ink. Indeed, Joo’s work strives to explain and represent the employment of energy and how it’s distributed in space and time.
Finally, DRWN, Carunculatus (28) (2015) is both a sculptural and illustrative work of art. It consists of a series of endangered African crane legs. On a cast in graphite and resin, Joo dragged the crane legs down the surface, leaving long vertical lines that indicated movement and migration, an ultimate exploration of the concepts of energy, space and time.