A young girl stands upright in a hallway. Her head tilts slightly to one side listening to sounds emanating from various parts of the house. A drawer closes, a door opens, something cumbersome is dragged to one side. Voices rise and fall and at times, shout out in an arbitrary manner. When she arrived home earlier, she found luggage stacked by the door. She was sent on an errand to another room to fetch a forgotten item to be shoved into an already overstuffed suitcase. However, something caused her to pause, something silent yet timorous, a distinct sense of the inexplicable immobilized her. She lingered underneath the doorframe absorbing the linearity of the hall and aligned herself in conjunction with the shadows on the walls. Hours later, after packing into the car, driving to the airport and kissing a teary grandmother goodbye, she tilts her head back to feel the ascent of the plane as it heads west towards a blue American sky.
If she closes her eyes slightly, she can see the view inside her mind. It hovers beneath a mist that transitions into full view. Black mountains, gray sky, the whiteness of the clouds trail by in a horizontal monochrome shimmering deceptively with an indistinct hue. A landscape rendered during imperial time, a scholar beheld a view and deftly committed it to aesthetic memory with water and ashy pigment.1 It hangs on a scroll in a space inside a museum where she often lingered. It hangs now in the synaptic space of her consciousness where recollections are mistaken for reality. Those mountains, that sky, the haptic imprint of an ancient mind constitute her native past, her place of origin and her sense of home. Years later she will sit on a beach under a California sun and summon the scholar’s vision of a cool grey monochrome.
“We now begin our study of the mind from within.” William James’ words are found in Chapter Nine of his Principles of Psychology whose title is “The Stream of the Thought.” The young girl has evolved into an adult who now stands in a white studio with lofty ceilings inside a building that hugs the side of a mountain. It is the same mountain in her mind, situated near the city center of Seoul. She returned home after experiencing a childhood abroad and after feeling the pangs of the newly exiled. There is a journey shaped like the arc of a boomerang that many individuals undertake. It is one that catapults them as children into the diaspora of migration where they mature into citizens of multiple worlds. Within the arc of this trajectory, they develop the knowledge of memory as being poignant, culture as being malleable and history as being a Bedouin-like trek where misinterpretation lies in ambush at all times. They learn to live within the subjective terrain of their own making as strangers compress them into statistics. Inside this geography they become adept scholars of perception. When the migratory boomerang finally returns them to the place from which they have been flung, they feel as if they have studied time.
The girl is now an artist with a peripatetic nature and a mind that envisions a chromatic world composed of line, shape and form. These ciphers appear innocently as arbitrary abstractions, but are actually reclamations of an active subconscious realm. Remember the hallway? Recollect those lines? Textures were scrimmed onto walls and diaphanous grey shadows obfuscated the wooden boards. She had stood within the stillness of that hallway on two bare feet feeling rooted in temporality for she knew it would be a long while before she would feel this moment once more. This is a memory of the artist, Seo. Though archived in her cognitive past, it is felt as if it is the present. Her mind can never discern that present from this present and it can never be usurped by tomorrow’s present. The memory has made a permanent home inside the shape and space of her mind. Streams of thought undulate as Seo bends and folds her intricate models and allows them to flow like a deluge over long horizontal bands of paper. When her pencil glides it travels swiftly like a plane ascending and descending to land in a convergent line that is part spatial, part compartmental and wholly ensconced in that hallway lying within her mind. Whenever she plucks the ciphers from that space to create a new installation, she reanimates a study of her mind.
Cerulean, aquamarine, periwinkle, indigo, powder blue, baby blue; each hue delineates a moment in time. It is not a clearly defined chromatic chronology, but a genealogy categorized by a compendium of tints and shades that assemble into an archive of memory. Find the blue in Seo’s installations and the color leads you to corollaries. Her grandmother’s bolts of fabric, a beach in Santa Monica, a displaced tune, and perhaps the emotional joy of a young girl being reunited with her mother. Blue resonates as a tonal and lyrical chromatic cipher that implicates an analogic human sense. The action is similar to the manner in which the lyrics of a popular song reverberate within one’s mind.
Every time I think of you
I feel a shot right through with a bolt of blue
It’s no problem of mine, but it’s a problem I find
Living a life that I can’t leave behind 2
In the confounding lyrics of a new wave song, the words evoke without offering concrete meaning. Longing is present, perhaps for an injection of a narcotic or of a past love that was once fresh and new, the uncertainty enhances the joy of listening to the song. The lyricist wants us to perform a decryption in order to understand something that he could not or perhaps, would not. Similarly, Seo will never fully comprehend the childhood experience of having to leave behind the familiar, but with her ciphers she can evoke the sensations that occurred. She has developed a personal cryptography, a disguised manner of imprinting a message in order to keep a secret. It is a visual code that instructs the mind to traverse synaptic space to cross over conscious boundaries and explore the subconscious plane. In all of her installations, a line palpitates into shape and turns a corner to evolve into amorphous form. Mountains will appear while the color, blue, morphs into a lyric, a tone, a bolt of emotion that injects itself into the soul. Seo is attentive to our unconscious search for these ciphers as we go about our day. They exist everywhere and we need only to ascertain one in order to become enveloped into the stream of our own thoughts and memories.
a New Order
Find the line in Seo’s installations and use it as a tether. Viewers of her installations often travel on a journey through the landscape of her memory. Those hallways, those lines, black mountains, a swath of blue are all ciphers that would thrill a synesthete for line, color, shape and form exist in a crisscross
of cognitive pathways. In synaptic space, a mere second’s perception is comprised of millions of sketchy lines. Look for these lines in Seo’s installations and find the essence of cognition. Linger within the web of lines that appears most often in her compositions and you will notice the peculiar rhythm of a particular order. That order consistently evolves into a panoramic view. When deciphered it envelopes vision, encapsulates time, and sends us somewhere beyond the borders of consciousness.
Wander / Wonder
End of the Rainbow
Seo’s titles are ciphers as well. If they are read through the guise of poetic structure, the titles form stanzas that describe a journey through a geographic plane. Blue borders in transit wander wonder, storm, end of the rainbow, wave. Spoken in free verse, the titles illustrate a migration from stasis to movement to turbulence to calm. Seo’s text nudges us towards a new ordering of esoteric experiences. One that is subjective, historic, monumental yet intimate. And, one that portrays the life of her mind.
1. Jeong Seon,Clearing After Rain in Mt. Inwang, 18th century, Joseon Dynasty
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul
2. New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle,” 1986
Visual artist & film maker