THE WEST AS A MIRROR
Antonio Foscari | PDF
In the years that followed WWI, the fear of cultural contamination was so acute that soon a book entitled Défense de l'Occident was published.
Incited by this publication, André Malraux – the French writer who more than any other had interacted with oriental thought, which he had studied in Indochina, where he spent some influential years during his youth – began to write the work that would become famous: La tentation de l'Occident.
In this work, Malraux refutes the thesis – and even the thought itself – of an Asian influence on its Westercounterpart or vice versa. in his opinion, the nexus between those two universes should not be measured on the level of action but on the level of knowledge. Thus, it follows that the orient is nothing but a mirror in which the west can learn to know itself.
This is because each culture lives in a world that is exhaustively conformed, and each civilization (as Malraux will further specify in a work that will be published forty years later) is an organism entirely immersed a priori (possessing a mental structure that “bathes its limbs as an aquarium bathes the fish it contains”.)
For Westerners, looking at the Orient with intellectual honesty means having to reflect on themselves, knowing that whatever exotic element they believe they see when they face the direction from which the sun rises, is nothing more than a projection of the imagination. Very often, this “act of reflection” is constituted by an irrational desire to find “somewhere else,” to escape the mental structures that govern western thought and what it considers arbitrary, or simply refutes altogether.
Comment me trouverai-je – asks the Chinese intellectual looking at the westerners (in the novel La tentation de l'Occident) upon arrival in europe – sinon en vous regardant ?
Conceptually, this question offers a framework for the art work of Jinny Yu, who was born in Korea, an “oriental” country that does need to “know” itself, in the sense of asserting its own sense of nationhood, with the recognition of the west, but ideally a west different from the one that has belligerently and traumatically meddled there in past years, and without the ideological schemes which, although supplanted, still manage to divide her country.
It is not surprising that the aesthetic path taken by Jinny Yu to revisit the history of her own Orient, starts with a reflection on the lesson of the consummately English artist J.W.M. Turner, whose atmospheric luminosity is compatible with certain oriental brumes, then reaches – through the fragmentation of the light, which, explores other figurative experiences – the magisterial level of a painter such as Rothko, that imposes on turner’s naturalistic conception, an order, perhaps say a structure that is in itself a freeing dimension, as well as a dramatic outcome.
Again, it is not surprising nor difficult to surmise that Jinny Yu's gaze could be transposed so naturally from the English idiom into a more specifically North American one, without ever forsaking the narrow pathways of Art as codified in Academia.
In her reflecting herself on the “American” universe, Yu discovers – beyond colour, beyond structure – the concept, or perhaps just the praxis, of seriality. note that, to go back to themes exposed by Malraux a century before Yu was born, and to confirm those intuitions, that this happens when Korea – the aquarium in which Yu’s soul moves – begins a process of industrial development, of urbanization that captures the concept of seriality (and interprets it unexpectedly, particularly in the field of residential settlement, that is, in the field that preponderantly involves and in some way regulates in Korea, the social identity of the individual).
It is only through an exacerbation process of its laws that seriality – initially becoming – a pure fabric and then only an intermittence of lines – can initially rediscover in itself breaches and halos, and then geometries and perspectives. it can therefore be brought back to a field more in tune with the European matrix of Western culture, finding in itself, even here, streams that mysteriously unite experiences of Hartung and proposals by Twombly (because it is in a poetic context, and only in this, that Jinny Yu attempts a reconstitution of the fractures that emerged in the western culture of the 1940s).
It is starting from these signs, that seem to want to erase, as opposed to compose, that Yu’s thought strives to fabricate a new order, exploring creative procedures suggested by electronic techniques, and figurative systems of the kind practiced elsewhere, even in the Mediterranean, in past centuries, by iconoclastic cultures.
To go back to Malraux: Jinny Yu did not hesitate, and rightly so, to reverse the perspective through which he, as a Westerner, had learned to know the orient: La passion que m'ont inspirée naguère l'Asie, les civilisations disparues, l'ethnographie tenait aussi à l'éclairage que toute civilisation étrangère projetait sur la mienne, à la singularité ou à l'arbitraire qu'il se révélait en tel de se aspects.