JINNY YU: WHAT IS TO BE DONE? at Art Mûr Montreal
September 8 to November 3, 2012
published on Border Crossings
Michael Rattray | PDF

For the Italian theorist Renato Poggioli, in his book, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, 1971, Avant-Gardism is characterized by a declassed sensibility motivated by vocation a kind of quasi-transnational avant la lettre. The genesis of this distinct and unique feeling arose from a new-found historical awareness and reflexivity singular to artists in the age of mechanical reproduction. Now, with the age of the global artist and digital reproduction upon us, I find the former an apt point on which to open this critique on Jinny Yu's current exhibition.

"What Is to Be Done" is a recent collection of works that continue a trend in Yu's oeuvre that has been under development since roughly 2005 and is characterized by the use of aluminum as material form. Consistently, the artist has reduced her canvases (I use the term loosely) from complex, geometric-based abstraction to a gestural-based abstraction typified by a lessening of the hand, replaced with a heightened sense of place and underscored by material form and concrete experience. This recent exhibition consisted of 14 works noted for utilitarian titles such as Halves, Folded and Bent, and the aporetic "Non-Painting Painting" series.

Materials included mirrors, aluminum and a digital video scored by Korean born musician, Jung Hun Yoo. In addition to a minimal palette, Yu further abstracts the material base of her paintings through the structural alteration of the tableaux. These interventions into traditional structure include bends, folds and cuts. In this way, many of the objects jut out from the wall, reflecting and betraying an allegiance to situational aesthetics. Thus, physical position and phenomenological experience inform the overall structure, composition and material choice. Yu demands a total experience, her work seeking to envelop and reveal the space of its exhibition to claim it as its own. Indeed, it is difficult to experience these works without engaging with the space around them and the juxtaposition of conflicting forms.

Mere Mirror Painting (2012), a diptych of two mirrors placed leaning against the wall in portrait style, manipulates in a cunning way. One mirror is untouched save for the cracks that break up its image space into quarters. The second mirror is coated in Yu's signature brushstrokes, highlighting the material form of the paint/brush, fracturing the sign-function of the mirror and realizing its limit point and distortive potential. The work operates philosophically somewhere between Nam June Paik's Zen for Head (1962) and Donald Judd's Untitled Work in Milled Aluminum (1982). Bent, 2012, Halves, 2012, and Folded, 2012, each deconstruct surface. The titles act as cues to material process and general functionality. Bent, consisting of brushed oil on aluminum, is divided in two, illuminating the triangular twin born of the square. Slightly folded from the middle, the monochromatic palette is skewed through the play of light and movement in space. The piece disjoints from formal considerations but is neither clearly sculptural nor painterly- thus the grey area of perception vis-a-vis medium fixity is stretched to a limit point, a process exposing the liminal position in-between. Halves follows a similar methodology of execution, yet in function, confounds expectation. The tableaux has been cut in two, ending off what was begun in Bent. The two peaks rest parallel to one another, leaning against the gallery wall, on the floor. Mimetic and repetitious of the other, Bent and Halves augment a sense that the artist is moving closer and closer to a zero point of execution where material form and artist's intention collapse. Folded, then, sees the image space double over, the aluminum left to its own devices and hanging from the gallery wall, its contents hidden away from view.

This interest in breaking down the physical structure of the aluminum and the ideological structure of the painted surface comes to the fore in the "Non-Painting Painting" series. One work consists of a plain aluminum sheet resting against the gallery wall, accompanied by a painted sheet that again is hidden, this time standing up on end and folded over, coerced into a new stasis. Yu has reduced the entirety of her practice to a hidden meaning, eclipsed by the very material that she's exploited. The experience overrides the object's simplicity and it appears that what Yu may be searching for with these works is a way in which to convey the dire need for physical presence in the critical engagement with the painting as medium. As such, Bent in Motion, 2012, abstracts the material form and renders visible the translation of physical objecthood to digital image. The piece is a single 180-degree pan shot passing over Bent. Tellingly, once translated to digital projection, all sense of spatial depth is removed and what is left is a perceptual shift. The work, a lament to the poetics of space and time, echoes constructivist concerns of universal form, which is further punctuated by a nearby homage to Malevich's Black Square, 1915, that occupies a space typically reserved for a corner relief.

"What Is to Be Done" does not ask us so much to consider the art of painting as it does the art of looking at painting and experiencing the real-time presence of space. Much of these works in arrangement and composition signal the unavoidable consequence of our digital landscape-they will be experienced and mediated through the screen, another frame with which the tableaux must compete. As a result Yu postures an avant-garde agonism that beckons for the return of space itself, the value of position, the potential for transcendental experience, not as a reproducible constellation of digital offering but a contingent and visceral immersion within the space of contemplation-where no reproduction can touch the unique experience of being there. Further, the exhibition is a reduction of the artist's hand in exchange for the specificity of a material-based abstraction; a zero point has ultimately been achieved. The question is then not so much what is to be done, but what will be done in the aftermath of work such as this?

Michael Rattray is a PhD Candidate in Art History at Concordia University.