Baik Art Gallery

Dawn of Time

Dawn of Time | 22 February – 30 March 2024 | Choi Sang Chul
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How could I meet the very first painting, the painting that came before all paintings? Choi Sang Chul (1946-) never stops asking his sincere questions about painting. The “order of nature” reveals itself in the chaos before the world’s creation, where every potential is entangled randomly. Choi believes art to be something that could directly engage this order. Extending from this belief, he finds painting’s reason for existence to be the same. The prehistoric painting began in an unfabricated, innocent state. But as painting came through the long course of ages, various intentions and meanings were added to the artists and the works they created.  Painting now carries values unrelated to art, seeming to drift farther away from its original reason for being. Choi yearns to return to the origin of painting once more. But, returning to the moment when the traces preceding painting revealed themselves in the world’s first light is no easy journey to make; it is like trying to get to one’s birthplace on a shaky night train without even a map. This exhibition will present Choi’s key works from the 1980s to 2022, including 21 paintings and 18 drawings. The title, Dawn of Time, reflects his wish to return to the beginning. There have been eight turning points in Choi’s oeuvre, and all of them have been gathered in one place for this exhibition. The occasion will provide an invaluable opportunity to understand his fifty-year-long artistic journey.

The Art of Choi

In the 1970s, the monochrome, minimalist painting movement became the mainstream of Korean art, mainly focusing on the “repetitive expression of randomness” and “medium and materiality.” The artists in this movement also focused on “spiritual practices such as meditation” and “action itself.” Choi took part in the Shincheje Group Exhibition along with Lee Kangso and Kwun Suncheol, and seems to share the other artists’ spiritual foundation of wanting to imbue the Eastern view of nature and traditional Korean sentiments and culture in their works. Choi started working in geometric abstraction during his university years, but in the ‘80s, he began experimenting with abstraction paintings different from the geometric approach. The Dansaekhwa movement had risen rapidly by the external forces of the art market and art world, but Choi willfully secluded himself away at the farthest margins of the movement so that he could remain free from all outside influences and only walk straight towards his own view of art. To completely free himself from familiar, common paintings, Choi excluded all “artifice” and “fabrication” from his studio practice: every technique that could reflect the artist’s intention, aesthetic desires, expression, and representation. Just as nature does, he desires his works to capture the moment when things are brought into the world for the first time without using any added artifice. This is what Choi perceives to be the order of nature, the “order of the world” he aims his works to reveal.

Unfamiliar Rules Pursuing the Inartificial

Choi aspires for his art to be “inartificial.” He explains his works as “paintings made by refusing to paint,” and the quote reflects the constant strife he undergoes within his studio practice. The common preconception is that every painter would want to “paint well” and hone one’s techniques to fully release one’s desire for expression. But Choi took the opposite direction instead because he hoped to reveal the “things yet to be fixed in any shape or form,” a task that is impossible to achieve through conventional practices. To prevent himself from undermining his goal, he designs rules in such ways that his intentions could never intervene. Rules for starting a work, rules for determining the direction, and setting a fixed number of actions for completing a painting; Choi has created “unfamiliar” rules that are hardly found in ordinary painting practices. Every part of Choi’s studio practice is governed by rules, from the moment the first dot is made on his canvas to the moment the last line is laid upon the previous 999 lines. First, he throws a piece of wire or thread drenched in black paint on his canvas and then decides where he will place his stone by tossing a rubber O-ring onto his canvas. He determines the direction his object will move in by throwing a bar with the words “left” and “right” written on it. Also, to deny himself from choosing the moment when a work feels finished, Choi stops working when the number of his actions reaches 1,000 or the number of days he has lived so far. He does not care for attractive colors or unique concepts; what he truly finds important is “action sequences” that operate through one’s inner profoundness. This is why he continually invents unfamiliar tools so that he can never relax in familiarity and constantly pursue the comfort of nature by following the traces of randomness. A result that is more natural than any product of artifice, something closest to nature itself. Choi’s works present the traces of time accumulated by repeating such a set of actions; the trajectories present in these works here are formed by actions repeated in the thousands and ten thousands.

Return, or Going Back to the Origin

Starting his works according to the rules he made and continuing to serve the role of the first witness facing these traces, Choi hopes that the time he spends could allow “nature” to settle upon his canvas. But why does Choi persist in working this way? Choi hopes to restore the painting to its intrinsic, passionate state in which the potential for creation was plentiful and abounded. In this world, the materialized coexist with the unmaterialized, and the origin of painting lies at the boundary of this inaccessible realm. In the beginning, painting was a place that revealed the “true, unfabricated world,” born at the moment when order first emerged from chaos. Choi imagines the “moment painting was born” as something akin to this: “A child who does not know how to write or draw yet picks up a long piece of twig, drags it behind him for some distance, turns back to see the long line behind him, and wonders if this ‘line on the ground’ was drawn by him or the twig.” He aspires to return to the moment “painting’s time” began, the painting was made for the first time in this world so that he could encounter the “another I” and “another order.” Here at Dawn of Time, Choi gazes at “the dark, the speechless, and the empty (玄),” but at the same time, these are what give birth to the ever-changing and unpredictable new orders, and the exhibition will provide viewers with the opportunity to witness the moment these new orders are born (門)