Hanging suspended in the air at the entrance to the exhibition space is “Floating Signifier”, a three-dimensional piece composed of long, thin white cylinders that have been carefully connected together. To the south side of the space, a roughly drawn knotted black rope sits within the frame of a two-dimensional piece titled “Broken Knot” that has been placed against a window. The respective makers of these two perhaps diametrically opposing pieces are Michael Whittle and Sangsun Bae. Precise, intellectual, and rational—if these are the words that describe the work of Whittle, then Bae’s work may be expressed as bold, sturdy, and instinctual.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the first impression we have of the two artists’ creations is that they stand at two extremes. But it can also be said that there is a definite interest in the body that is reflected in both of their work. The 18 forms that have been arranged in a circle in Whittle’s “Bird call, full moon” were inspired by the pulmonary system of birds. One will notice upon closer inspection that the fine respiratory vessels appear to be exhaling some kind of gaseous body. Similarly, speaking in regard to the large-scale piece titled “Thoughts of a dry brain in dry season” that lies imposingly across the floor of the 16-tatami-mat room, Whittle has explained that he took his inspiration for the roof and the water ducts arranged beneath it from the cranium and cerebral vessels.
Bae’s two-dimensional pieces, on the other hand, have their original point of departure in the profile lines of human figures captured from models that she actually faced; while the motif behind “Broken Knot” is a rope, it looks like an armless, legless, headless torso or the male genitalia.
Whittle, who studied veterinary medicine, carries a distinct perspective of the body that is directed toward the internal organs, secretory glands, metabolic pathways, and other parts of the body’s inner or microscopic world that are difficult to observe visually. Bae’s interest is instead in the body as a physical mass, or what can be better expressed as a “fleshed body”, and she is also attentive to its external relationships. Her curiosity that extends to the spaces that are created between one fleshed body and another has been influential on her work as well.
The choice of “line” as a keyword should be understandable if one takes the above into account and thinks about the commonalities that exist between the works of the two artists. In Bae’s “Untitled”, the abstract picture plane is covered almost completely with areas of black, and bundles of lines resembling muscle ligament connect these darkened areas together like bridges. Bae’s subsequent works become increasingly concrete. “The Pupae Stage (I), (II)” (2011) show lines that have been thoroughly intertwined together based on the motif of knots. “Broken Knot (Sculpture:Black) ”(2013), a sculptural piece made in the year of this exhibition, appears to capture the moment when the line is finally severed.
When we look further ahead to Bae’s most recent work, we can see that she has been experimenting with the theme of the disconnected line through various media across a series of works. In her silkscreen piece titled “Broken Knot series (prints: Gold, Silver, Red, Black)”, the incessant connections that had initially covered the picture plane in 2004 have been cut apart, and an image of a rope stands boldly erect at the center of the picture with plenty of blank space around it.
In Whittle’s work, which consists of many sculptures, “lines” can be described as being more like vessels or circuits rather than two-dimensional lines. The reason why the aforementioned “Floating Signifier” brings to mind capillaries can be attributed not only to its white branch-like forms that extend out in all directions but also to the blood-like red that has been painted across the severed ends of the variously sized cylinders. Whittle reinforced the character of the ends as cut-off sections and as boundaries by re-painting them from their original white color prior to exhibiting the piece in the show.
In these ways, the lines seen in the work of both artists can be understood as being connecting lines or, alternatively, dividing lines. As earlier described, the latter seems to be the more prominent quality that is present throughout the works by Whittle and in the more recent works by Bae. That being said, even while the arrows of Whittle’s “Memorial” in the 8-tatami-mat room can be considered to be dividing lines that exist independently from all else, they also suggest the possibility of becoming connecting lines with the arrow heads implying directionality and the feathers suggesting speed.
" Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line! Be quick, even when standing still ! "
The above is a passage excerpted from the book A Thousand Plateaus (1980) that was co-authored by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari (1930-92). In the text, they affirm the notions of both dividing and connecting, and they discuss the idea of dividing, connecting, dividing, and re-connecting once again. ii Re-connection. If we re-cast our eyes on the exhibition with this idea in mind, the frayed fibers at the severed ends of the disjoined lines of “Broken Knot” and the thinner cylinders extending from the ends of the sliced stumps in “Floating Signifier” begin to look as if they are signs suggesting the possibility that they may once again become connective lines.
It should be mentioned that Whittle and Bae experimented with making truly collaborative work together for the first time in this exhibition. Just as the title of “Target” suggests, the jointly made piece that conjures the image of an eye resembles a target with its concentric lines. The right eye continues to flash in the dark as though if it is blinking. Powered by a long cable that extends from the top of the eye, the piece goes back and forth between light/dark and on/off, and it is evident here, too, that the cycle between disconnection and connection is being repeated.
Am I justified to make these fanciful conjectures? The countless arrows of Whittle’s “Memorial” and the tip of Bae’s phallic “Broken Knot” appear to be vectors pointing toward the ‘target’ hidden in the dark on the second level of the exhibition space. However, even if these vectors do fly toward the “Target” and manage to neatly lodge themselves into its center, the newly connected lines will undoubtedly be pulled out from their connection points right away by the hands of the two artists who will connect, divide, and re-connect them once again in order to continue opening new horizons for creation.