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A Thousand Tears, A Thousand Routines 

- Listen to the message of water

Noam Kim (Chief Executive Officer, Art Space Hue)


Images pierce the deep heart of artists like water and wind, and then they swing and soar to the surface of the world. This process is repeated over and over again, and meets the absurdity of the world. Her sense of touch, which cannot bear this absurdity, tries hard to reply with images that always connect her with society. This is her aesthetic morality as a creator. Dual movements of falling into narcissism and escaping from narcissism crash into each other inside the artist and spin around. 


Artist Song, Chang-Ae’s “Thousand Routines” is a project in which 1,000 citizens connected with the artist and have taken one digital photo of ‘My Routine’ on April 16th every year for the last 3 years, from 2015 to 2017, and have collected the results using social networking. The artist matches the images of 1,000 people’s routines to 1,000 images of water drops, called the “Thousand Tears”, one on one, and constructs the social landscape that the artist feels and interprets. Song connects and contemplates the traumas of each person, including the artist herself, who is living in the present time, with the theme of ‘Sympathy and Communication’. 


I try to connect my trauma with others' and contemplate them. I try to talk about organic lives by capturing moments from 1,000 people’s diverse lives through the movement of ‘water’. People connected with each other within the network of a society live their lives growing and evolving. “A Thousand Routines” is a project that lets people living in the contemporary era reflect on themselves through the perspectives of each other, and examine with introspection the meaning of ‘relationship’ in contemporary lives. – Artist's Statement


‘The Tragedy of the Sewol Ferry’ shook South Korean society. Song embraces the tragic disaster of this era as her internal conflict, just as ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, was taken by the French Romantic painter Gericault. This disaster incites the artist to obsessively agonize over the essential meaning of her presence. The traumas of a society become the traumas of its individuals. The opposite is also true. Song produces a thousand drawings to heal the wounds of herself and others, as if performing a Ssitgim-gut, a shaman ritual for cleansing a dead person’s soul in Korea. The ritualistic performance through art and image begins to work, and this performance becomes a collective activity rather than an individual activity. 


Sharing joy and sadness together is a virtue. Especially, empathizing with people’s sadness is the way to create the most fundamental energy needed to make a meaningful life and culture in spite of the numerous wrongdoings and mistakes in the history of humankind. If humankind loses its ability to sympathize with other people, it is no longer possible to form a community. History tells us that humans have been through countless conflicts, disputes, terrors, and wars, but have still not lost their dignity, and have pursued a good-hearted and noble vision, and have gone forward through the power of empathy and communication. 


Then, why is ‘routine’ so important? Why does the artist choose ‘routine’ as her theme? Because such a habitual, not special and not meaningful, relationship between time and action, called routine, is organized to create a huge accident. Judgment and actions that nobody pays attention to actually become an important trigger to make an immense change in human history. Microscopic forces that are invisible unless you look into them more deeply can change the world more than the great visible powers. As the labors of anonymous workers are the motive power that builds human civilization, so the individual powers of countless anonymous citizens unite, visualize the communion of empathy, and finally connect to specific actions. This process is the general rule in a society. The reality of social philosophers is the reality of that so-called routine. Thus, it is impossible to change the world unless the routine that forms life changes. 


Maybe art is not truth, in other words, but it is clear that there is truth inside the artwork that people empathize with and agree with. However, the artists’ dilemma in creating is that artistic activity differs from the usual activities that produce and move general routines, and reality can be easily considered useless nonsense, disconnected from the truth of life, separated from a radical change of environmental and social conditions, and can become helpless. What kind of truth can be put into indirect activities, even those with slow responses? Even though they contain truth inside themselves, images do not have words, and so we need to read the message in the silent images. 


Depending on the artists’ aesthetic stance, contemporary art can be traditional and conservative, avant-garde and experimental, or ideal or snobbish; the artists’ attitude and vision change. Most artists face the difficulty of witnessing a direct reaction - as it is called in reflection theory -  towards incidents and changes happening right now. With any knowledge or any great artistic approaches from the past, artists ‘feel’ helpless in front of tragic moments in reality. How can we free ourselves from this feeling of helplessness, and from this sense of defeat? How can we not run away from it, face it daringly, and sympathize with it in our heart and overcome it? Numerous thoughts fill the head. 


The Abu Ghraib Prisoner Abuse Scandal in Iraq in 2004 was such a shocking incident to Song. She produced a series of drawings that looked as if she had documented the incident as an artistic report. The images of Iraqi prisoners piled up naked were the most tragic loss of humanity. The experience of being a powerless being that can do nothing but stare when humans throw away their own dignity could be the most humiliating trauma for the artist. The artist cannot help but ask herself, "What can art do? Is the vision of art that tries to harmonize with nature still meaningful? Can I and my art convey a certain and sharp vision and truth to the people that I meet?" 


Listen to the message of the flowing water and the water drops. 1,000 images represent the images of all creation. These images become metaphors for the truth of all creation and the true emotion of all people. The face of others is the face of ‘God (Truth)’. Everyday life and reality contain truth, including the world and myself. Thus, disasters like the Sewol ferry sinking are difficult for artists to deal with through their usual artistic stance and activities. Such a situation is the time when artists should demonstrate their strong concentration and keen senses, together with their empathy and communication skills for their communities. Drastic times require drastic measures. In the same manner, artists use their extraordinary senses and wisdom as pure individuals and as members of a society, and the identities that subsist within the relationship with others search for a new breakthrough in this state of tension. Things happen without any notice, and the artwork goes somewhere the artist never predicted. 

Meet me in the water, like flowing water

Written by Kho, Chung-Hwan / Art Critic

People say that building house next to a river make one depressed. It probably is because you get assimilated with the river looking into it everyday. Getting assimilated with the river and get depressed? Is there some unknown ability in the river? Charm the people to suck them into depression. It only possesses man and captures them, and this, in traditional sense, is a stage of becoming one with the nature. Of course, becoming one means the state of an object and I tear down the boundaries to merge into one. But if we think of it in another dimension of host and guest combining into one, there is no better example than water. Substituting object with water makes the state of becoming one seem more vivid. Like this, water suck in, possess and capture man. Then it put you in depression. In this statement, depression is not just depression itself, but more like analogous expression of the inner side. Water, in other words, put you into depression and in truth into the inner side. Sink in water means sink in the inner side. It means, that water becomes full of inner side, and in that flow every thoughts run like panorama. Like this, water becomes me, and flowing river becomes flowing river of inner side.


In this manner, I become water and water becomes me. Therefore the statement that river makes man depressed, means that it actually internalize you and make you meet yourself. As a result, the act of painting water means painting longing for myself (ruminating the mythology of Narcissus), painting longing for the being, and painting longing for the ancestor of existence or canonical existence. (Should I even mention that Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia was actually portraying an artist, and this means the depression itself is a quality artists are born with, and the fact that the depression actually means the tendency to internalize?)


Chang-ae Song paints water. However, it is not just painting water, but paint water with water. Consider it in that water and I become one, you can say that this is an example of even better assimilation. If just painting water keeps the certain distance between water and self and host and guest separated, painting water with water eliminates that distance, and It is easy to be erased case. It must be why the artist paints water with water. Painting water at the same time she wanted to paint water itself (probably has different meaning from Kant’s water itself but also is same) and wanted to become one with water, and like this actually wanted to paint self as painting water. Then she wanted to say that I am water and water is me, and me, existence, world, universe is nothing but water (or something like water.) She must have wanted to paint that state and dimension. (In fact one of her paintings which she composed photos and painted gives an example of the artist becoming one with water.)


Before she started painting water, she painted landscape and seas. However, those landscapes and seas couldn’t exactly be called landscapes and seas. They were landscapes like landscape, and seas like sea. To understand what it means, we have to take a look at her unique way of work. First, she applies charcoal and pigment layer on surface and use air compressor to spray air to paint. She paints with what is left behind the wind. Therefore, to be technical, they are paintings done by wind, and like paintings done by wind the forms are not permanent or decisive. Only the prospect of stereotypes caught in the net of cognition remind you of the similar forms when compared to those stereotypes and that form looks like landscapes and seas by coincidence. The artist’s biorhythm enforces the indeterminate and variable characteristics. The artist’s works are, so to speak, painted by wind and biorhythm. Rather than painting with landscapes and seas in mind, the painting painted by wind and biorhythm by chance reminds of landscapes and seas.


The artist’s painting should be done fast before the pigment is dry while the wind and pigment still can interact, and so it should be finished at once. This is why she produces many works, and it requires high concentration and intuition. This is why these painting painted like this is like landscapes, seas, flow of aura, wavelengths of energy and light, negative film, and condensed(or spurting) vitality. It reminds of sensitive reality, suggests ideological reality, and evokes natural phenomenon like physical phenomenon.


Images are piled up in one image, and this must be because of abundant suggestive power. The artist suggests, rather than settles a form in painting. As known, suggesting is more like emotional skill that extends the painting’s area and category that opens the meaning or form rather than fixing it, so that they can interact with called in other forms and meanings, resulting in suggesting more than what is painted. Maybe art is technique of suggesting, and that technique especially gets reason and appropriateness from the artist’s art works. (Likewise, works with open meaning and forms show, at least with recent works, suggest things that do not exist in water like genitals and faces.)


The artist’s recent works have specificity in that they are water painted with water. Accommodating considerable amounts of major methods and results from previous works, it is different in terms that it is painted with water. The artist probably wanted to portrait water itself while drawing shapeless forms, or seas recalling water. Or it could be naturally lead to water by flow of life as these works that powered by the intuition and biorhythm that plays crucial part in painting the painting. Anyhow, the artist paints water, and this time she added water with wind in airbrush. The painting still comes from layer of charcoal and pigment above it, but this time, it is the water that is medium, not wind and the surface effect is comparably more soft, subtle, delicate, and internal. It is as if I am assimilated to the water itself and permeated to be in the process, state and dimension of becoming one. The painting is like watching gentle ripples on the surface of the water, and waves breaking, making small bubbles with tiny shapeless stains.


It is painting of inactivity and movement. The inactivity and movement overpasses natural phenomenon to expand into inner landscape. In other words, it is like watching faint light bundle floating in deep darkness, and watching slender thread of conscious wandering around the abyss of unconsciousness. It captures like raging wave closing in, and it leaves dim lingering imagery stepping back to the other side of endless darkness. Suddenly, where am I standing(belong,) am I watching the water outside of the water, or am I watching the water inside the water. If not any, am I watching the water as water? (Is it too sudden to recall the ‘butterfly passage’ of Zhuangzi in which the butterfly becomes one with Zhuangzi and the host and guest becomes one.) Like this, the artist’s water painting is geopolitical position and marks the topology of existence. It is caused by expanded reproduction of water painting from natural phenomenon to inner landscape. To this, the painting style of filling the whole surface with the surface or inside of water conveys the situation logic like I am facing the water itself and assimilated with water realistically.


Like this, the artist’s painting drops into water, drops into darkness, drops into unconscious and abyss, drops into the universe and drops into the original and original form in which the existence began. Is it womb or amniotic fluid. Is purgatory nothing, is it death or darkness itself. To the artist, the water itself means water, but to Kant, water is given intuitively and is the reason for sensible existence and is not a subject to reproduce. Under no circumstances can it be reproduced. The artist maybe wanted to paint water itself as painting water, wanted to paint what is inimitable, wanted to disappear without trace with what is inimitable, and wanted to reach the end of existence to burn like fireworks.


These capturing or dropping, disappearing or burning is partially to transparent blue. Deep transparent blue is part of the aura of the artist’s recent works with slender bundle of light floating in dark. In romanticism, blue was the color of death, and as we all know romantic period was an era concentrating on the after life rather than current life, and blue was the symbol color that guides to the after life. Only assuming that the interaction of charcoal, pigment, water and the paper’s soaking characteristics made such result, the mysterious color that maybe only the sense would know is borrowed by the artist to reveal the depressing existence, therefore showing the internal abyss of existence and maybe wanted to reach the abyss herself.



Waterscape 1305, 164x130cmx2ea, graphite, acylic on paper, 2013

Art Critic, Director of Tacoma Art Museum in USA

Rock Smith

In her landscape painting, collages, drawings, Chang-Ae Song references Asian landscape styles, post-minimalism abstraction, and Western figuration from the age of the Renaissance. She also incorporates her own psychological states. Through her deft handling of the subject matter and traditions and her exquisite self-editing, Song provides a profound yet concise statement about the world around her. Her works indicate a political and social awareness; yet, she expresses her concerns without an overt moralizing or limiting of the implications of her explorations. Bridging her Korean heritage and her complex relationship with American culture, Song clearly presents the psychological uneasiness of a turbulent age.



페인팅, 콜라지, 드로잉이라는 혼합매체를 이용하여 작업하는 송창애의 작업은 아시아의 산수화풍, 포스트 미니멀리즘, 그리고 르네상스 시대의 서양인물화 작업을 떠올리게 한다. 거기에 그녀는 자신만의 심리적인 상태를 작업에 반영한다. 작가는 주제와 전통에 대한 능숙한 솜씨와 자신만의 뛰어난 독창성으로 자신의 주변을 둘러싸고 있는 세상에 대한 진심어리면서도 분명한 세계관을 제시하고 있다. 그녀의 작품은 정치적인, 사회적인 각성을 요구하지만, 자신의 관심사를 표현함에 있어 도덕적으로 치우치지도 않고 자신의 관점을 내포하는 데 그 어떤 제약을 두지도 않는다. 송창애는 자신의 고유한 한국 문화예술에 대한 뿌리와 미국 문화에 대한 자신의 체험을 통한 복잡한 관계를 연결하여 그녀가 격고 있는 혼란스런 현시대에 대한 심리적 경험-불편함을 분명하게 나타내고 있다.

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