It’s impossible to separate the past from the present. As we go throughout our day, memories shape and color much of how we perceive the world around us. At the same time, traditions are recast to better fit the modern world. These are the concepts that unite the works of Susan Klein and Jiha Moon, which will be on display at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art from Oct. 23 to Dec. 5. The final exhibits of the gallery’s 2015 season, the art of Klein and Moon combine the old and the new to create two compelling collections that challenge the viewer.
For her exhibit titled Shadow Things, Klein, an assistant professor at the College of Charleston, explores the ways in which memories and ideas collect and transform over time.
“You see a bunch of stuff in a single day, and then in your head those things get piled on top of each other. That just builds day after day or year after year, so I like the idea of the paintings being about multiple moments in time,” says Klein. “They can be about memory, how we can walk down the street and see one thing, but we also have our peripheral vision. We see many things at the same time, and many times those things are discordant. You see a tree and you see a construction site and you see a mom and a stroller. You see all these things at one time.”
According to the artist, much of her recent work was heavily influenced by visiting Berlin this summer. While there, Klein says she spent a great deal of time thinking about the structure of the world and the different reoccurring patterns that she saw around her.
“I started thinking about death a lot, but I’m Jewish and I was in Berlin, so I don’t see how I could not think about death,” Klein says. “That was really interesting because Berlin is this beautiful city, but it also has this place called Weissensee Cemetery, which is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. I spent a lot of time there. It’s a really beautiful cemetery, and a lot of the shapes, situations, the way things were in the cemetery started to filter into my work a bit.”
In several of her paintings, Klein simplifies these scenes to the point that they become almost unrecognizable, presenting the audience with ambiguous urban structures and landscapes seen through layers of gnarled fences, barbed wire, and brick.
According to Klein, the exhibit’s title comes from a line in Paul Auster’s book The Invention of Solitude. She recalls the quotation, saying, “This constant turning of one thing into another thing as if behind each real thing there were a shadow thing, as alive in his mind as the things before his eyes, and in the end, he was at a loss to say which of these things he was actually seeing.”
For the artist, Auster’s words perfectly capture the concept behind her work, the idea that when we see something, we also see the “shadow thing” behind it, and the past becomes the present and the present becomes the past.
Lori Kornegay, curator of art and public engagement at the Halsey Institute, says Klein creates her paintings by combining visual references from things she encounters in her daily life and layering them to create a collage of memories and ideas. This act of combining the old and new is the conceptual thread that connects the work of both featured artists.
For her exhibit Double Welcome, Most Everyone’s Mad Here, Moon juxtaposes traditional elements from Korean, Japanese, and Chinese art with modern touches such as smiling emojis and video game characters. The South Korean-born artist who now resides in Atlanta, Ga., combines Eastern and Western iconography to offer a new perspective on what tradition and nationality really mean in the modern world.
“It’s visually quite arresting, but then there’s also a lot of interesting ideas wrapped up in the work about identity, being a citizen of the world, the state of the world we live in now, the mixing of the high and the low and all those sorts of things,” says Kornegay.
Moon has said her work explores the way in which different cultures can view the same images differently. Her work ranges from bright paintings of floating dragons, tigers, and characters from Angry Birds to misshapen ceramic jugs and fortune cookies bearing cartoonish smiling faces. By layering images from across various cultures, Moon presents the audience with art that is simultaneously familiar and completely foreign.
In an essay on Moon’s work, New York-based curator and critic Lilly Wei writes that the artist incorporates motifs that are deceptive and ambiguous. By creating work that can not be easily identified, Moon gives the audience’s imagination room to roam and provides a better understanding of what it really means to be an outsider looking in.
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art will have an opening reception for both exhibits Fri. Oct. 23, from 6:30-8 p.m. A lecture and gallery walk-through with Moon is scheduled for Sat. Oct. 24, at 2 p.m. at the Simons Center for the Arts and Halsey Institute galleries. Klein will present a lecture and gallery walk-through Sat. Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. These events are free and open to the public.
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