Reviewing Bora Min: Beauty of Ambivalence
At first, it seemed like many other Korean paintings done with Indian Ink, but Frankfurt Cafe (2017) grabbed my attention amidst the bustling of Art Asia, a fair that focuses on work exclusively by contemporary Asian artists. Bora Min is a young up-and-coming artist. Her use of lightbulbs behind the canvas painted with Indian ink, melds harmoniously to embody the warmth that is rendered. Inside of the little cafe, her subject is lit with amber yellow that hugs the whole scene. As I looked into her work, my own surroundings started fading until there was just me and the painting. My mind was at work, reconnecting with myself and focusing on my inner thoughts.
Min’s philosophy, and the intention she set for her paintings echoes this experience. In one of the few interviews she has given, Min described the “warmth of 4PM afternoon sunlight” that she experienced while she was napping one day. She also said that she tries to capture that aura in her work, that sensory feeling of the full state and awareness of possessing the luxury of free time.
Even the LED light bulbs she chooses sensorially emanate that ephemeral moment, she says, are “not for the aesthetic purpose of the painting, but rather a choice I made as a medium to deliver the message most effectively.” LED light, considered an offspring of industrial development can be considered unnatural and man-made. But Min’s subtle use of the light instead paradoxically neutralizes that feeling of modern machinery and renders an atmosphere of nostalgia. Min attempts to go back to the rudimentary state of human being. She takes us inward, to empty our minds from the voices of others and explore our inner subconscious thoughts.
Her choice of Indian Ink on Han ji, a traditional paper made from the bark of a mulberry tree, a plant native to Korea, is material that deeply reflects Korean culture. For Min, life and the ink limitlessly spread throughout a blankness yet to be painted with stories. She finds freedom reflected in the way ink flows on the paper and yet controls it through much practice and calculation, similar to our lives having the freedom to do as we wish but kept on track in our daily lives by obligations — routines, chores, and jobs. With simply their properties, the ink and Han ji trigger the viewers to return back to nature and earth, a place of serenity.
Throughout her work, when choosing her point of reference, Min searches for a space, an image, an atmosphere where she feels time lingers. She takes photographs of the exterior of architectures, which she uses as her points of reference. She maintains her distance, never fully immersing herself in where she is in. Yet her cross-cultural subjects range from the streets of Lisbon, Portugal to ancient Korean palaces. From the outside, she captures the wholeness — the scent, the color, the texture — that a place radiates as a total entity. She recreates these places as sites where everyone belongs and at the same time doesn’t belong. But oddly, even that oscillation is welcomed there. To this place, she invites all of those who need to simply just settle and “rest.”
Perhaps Min’s subjects reflect her having to spend a lot of time away from home, in Germany to create shows. Her displacement into a foreign country and the pressure to grow as an artist may have rendered a sense of longing for belonging. The play of camp-fiery light amidst the darkness of the paint produces a feeling of ambivalence toward living in a stranger’s land. Min’s paintings not only build a space where no stressors such as other people’s voices and hierarchy exist but only their purest selves ultimately manifest as a balm to heal the lost souls of the contemporary world who seek for a place to return after a long day.
Min’s paintings show the potential to enthrall diverse audiences as what she attempts to provide through her work is an intersubjective idea that is sought ubiquitously beyond cultures. At the same time, her unique style leaves room for more storytelling. Min is an artist whose tomorrows I await, as a writer constantly chased by deadline pressures, always seeking a spare moment to connect to myself. Frankfurt Cafe, for me, was like looking into a halogen-lighted and carol-playing cafe on a Christmas night. It was as if I had finally found a perfect peaceful spot of my own. Perhaps, in the future, she will surprise us with an invitation inside for a cup of hot cappuccino.