Repetitive Cycle of Creation and Extinction

The house is an ongoing messiness even when there is no activity in it. Dust settled on furniture and floor need being wiped or dusted off regularly. The same goes for the human body; the hair and finger nails grow, and we continuously cut them to maintain a neat appearance. This is also the case for succulent plants grown at home; leaves grow with adequate water, wind and sunlight, and when the harmony within the plant is broken, some leaves must be cut off. The repetition of the cycle of generation and extinction is the essence of life based on the axis of time. Something is newly made while something is eliminated. Just as one must put down what is in their hands in order to pick up something new, perhaps it’s inevitable that something must be thrown away in order for something new to be made. And Rho Eunjoo captures in her canvas the infinitely repeated process of the simplest truth: the birth and death circulation of life.

Redevelopment, city, critical moments

For close to seven years since 2011 to the present, Rho has been fascinated by the architectural environment of the city. While her ways of expression ad selection of material may have changed, the subject she wishes to deliver remains the same. Her early work Drawing for empty (2011) takes the form of thin tree branches that are positioned precariously as if to collapse with a gust of wind, portraying traces of a demolished house in a direct and concrete manner. The stacked-up tree branches in the middle of the ruins seem to symbolically express a sense of longing or anxiety towards things that may fleetingly disappear without a trace. While the external context is removed in Learning Against (2013), elements of transiency and anxiety in the work are clearly portrayed. The thick white paper is bent and leaning against the wall, and on top of it is thin wooden lumber that’s placed in a slanted manner. It seems like an accident waiting to happen, as if a gust of wind would throw off the balance of the entire structure, making it utterly collapse to the ground. Ironically, however, these materials remain calm and sturdy, at least in the images. It’s as if the artist wished to hold forever this fleeting moment of motion. In today’s day and age, where gentrification is driving away cultural and artistic neighborhoods in place of large company franchises, Rho’s fragile objects placed within her ruins are perhaps a metaphor of young artists who take a firm stand to keep their art practice under such vulnerable conditions.

             Perhaps it’s because Rho is trying to symbolize her situation through the architectural buildings around her, but it seems like she feels a strong pull to ruins, ceaselessly observing how the old and deteriorating elements of the city are quickly replaced with things that are new and clean. In City-Object (2015), Rho placed a discarded found object by itself on a white background. The object that fills the surface is proposed in a state in which the previous context has been completely erased. The audience confronts the object which exists independently of any situation or explanation with unbiased eyes, and comes to newly read and imagine the subject. The black tarp often seen in construction sites to cover materials transform into plastic mountain shapes one might see in a museum, and the thin wooden poles that pierce Styrofoam float in the image, resembling a spear that can pierce through all shields and a shield that can block all spears. Rho’s visual language gradually becomes more abstract, transforming into forms with severed connections.

             The re-assembled glass bowl with dozens of fragments of the broken bowl glued together in the work The Picture of Broken Bowl (2015) captures a ‘redeveloped’ object. This bowl, having lost its function because it’s broken, and doomed to be discarded, is glued, and drawn. But it’s unknow as to whether this bowl can perform its original function even if its form is perfectly restored. Is the artist desperate about the process of things easily breaking, being replaced and being forgotten? Rho also drew structure she made with paper, along with the discarded materials she has collected throughout the city. An example of this work is Landscape 1 (2015). Discarded objects like pink Styrofoam, wooden branches, and things that are useless and vulnerable are compiled together on a mahogany desk. These objects that are seemingly useful to no one, come together in one place to create a new harmony, and perhaps this is why it feels like a contemporary still life. Unlike the still life of 17th century which was drawn as a way of showing off wealth and class, the lonely, isolated and seemingly insignificant objects in this still life seems to cry out to not be forgotten.

Paper architecture: Burned

Rho’s process of constructing her painterly surface is fascinating. First of all, she makes a certain form with paper or other material, photographs it, then paints it on the canvas. Most importantly, the fact that the object which she makes herself with paper becomes the subject of her painting seems to go beyond the simple question of ‘what to paint’, but to be a statement of her will to create the subject of the depiction of her work, herself. The paper objects Rho makes are mainly geometric forms like rectangles or cones. The rectangular objects resemble apartment buildings in the city, while appearing as an autonomous form and matter in itself.
             Landscape-Night (2015) and Landscape-Day (2015) demonstrate a theatrical stage of rectangular paper objects placed on shelves. The rectangular objects seem to symbolize apartment buildings, while the wooden shelf, the crust of the earth on which the buildings stand. Meanwhile, the white and black cloths in the background seem to symbolize day and night. To sum up, this work is a re-composition of the ordinary urban landscape of Seoul with condensed apartment buildings, in the artist’s studio through her own custom-made artificial objects. The artist creates a theatrical situation in the quasi-world in which she herself is the creator. The device which tells us that it is not real but a play is the apartments made in different colors. The white buildings do not become darker in color because it’s the night, and black buildings do not turn white even if it’s day time.
             Burned (2017) captures the artist’s paper objects going up in flames. The artist experimented with burning her own forms in a space over which she has complete control. The paper models burned pitifully the moment they came in contact with the flame, and transformed into ashes instantly. In order to demonstrate the entire process from creation to extinction in a still painterly surface, Rho captured the process of paper objects burning through six difference canvases like the frames of a motion picture.

When riding the bus away from Seoul, one can often come across areas under construction. While constructions may take place in subways and bus stations, most of the constructions take place in apartment blocks under redevelopment. While we have a powerful perceptive experience when we see or experience something directly through our eyes or senses, experiences are often had vicariously through various mediums today. In such reality, the painting may have to perform a role of a different dimension. Through the metaphorical symbols discovered in Rho’s works, the audience will be able to analogize the infinitely repetitive process of generation and extinction, and thus re-meditate upon life and things that are discarded.

Text by Jeong-yoon Choi (Independent Curator)
ⓒ2024. Rho Eunjoo. All rights reserved