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The Silent Smile Meditating on the Future of the Earth

by GIM Jun-gi, Art Critic

LIM Youngsun sees the future of East Asia through the children of East Asian borders. In order to look through the reality of the lives of the local children, LIM’s perspective focuses on the minorities of various East Asian countries. This point of view allows the horizon of our awareness, which has been forced to fit into the box of political and economic metadiscourse such as East Asian discourse caused by localization on the hidden side of globalization and the sudden rise of Chinese hegemonism, to expand. LIM’s extensive knowledge of East Asia is a medium for realizing the seemingly impossible dream of transcending all national boundaries through artistic imagination. To create art, she visits peripheral villages of countries like Mongolia, Cambodia, and Tibet, which have minorities. There, she holds fresco and art education programs for the local children and makes paintings of the innocent, pure smile of the children overlapped with the local landscape. She does not merely work from a tourist’s perspective, but goes through the process of keeping in tune with the local situation and paints based on her local experiences.

Many artists wish to participate in the stage for cultural exchange. Yet, they are too absorbed in seeking to exhibit their works at internationally famous galleries and museums. The fact that LIM, on the other hand, travels in search of poor East Asian villages and holds art projects with the local children, distinguishes her from other artists. LIM is both an artist and a volunteer at the same time. That LIM’s motivation to start painting the East Asian children originated from her experience as a volunteer is very meaningful. What is more significant is that she has not been visiting the children for the purpose of creating art, but that she considers her relationship with these kids an essential part of her life. As she is painting the East Asian children in front of her canvas, a smile lifts up the corners of her lips. She is a true romanticist. In the 80s she was a member of the student activist group that sought to achieve reunification and democracy. Recalling that the ideologies and sentiments of one’s twenties hardly change even with the passing of time, I am confidant that the traces of her ideals still remain in her heart. In 2009 when the former president RHO passed away, she raced to Bong-hwa village with a portrait of the late president. She also donated a massive hanging picture to Bong-hwa village. LIM is an artist, who is passionate about democracy and contemplates deeply Korea’s domestic situations. However, the fact that her stories are not about Korea, but about the children of East Asia signifies that she does not put limitations to her perspective. She intends to examine the issues of Korea not only through the lenses of South and North Korea, but also through the common future of Asia.

LIM has succeeded in raising interests for East Asian discourse through her own artistic language. From the beginning of history until the 19c, East Asia has been repeating rise and fall within its own boundaries. For few hundred years in the modern history, especially, even though Chinese hegemony has continued in the fields of politics, economy, and culture, the history of 20c looked entirely different. The loss of great power has borne new aspects of competition and war, and the mutual hostility remains until today. Moreover, with the passing of the Cold War years, because we have been too absorbed in American supremacy, our eyes have been blind to identifying East Asia as a zone or a community. Although there has been more discussions due to the rise of East Asian discourse after the end of 1980s, they were too shallow to go push the discussion further onto actual practice. Politics and economics have surely developed and set the stage for cultural interactions, which also went through rapid advancements. However, the reciprocity between nations, cities, and individuals based on artistic imagination still remains a far away story.

We can’t overlook the fact that some people already perceive Korea as an imperialist nation. And we can’t ignore the anti-Korean wave movement in Japan and China as trivial. In fact, to the public in minority nations like Mongolia and Cambodia, the mere existence of Korea may well act as a sort of cultural violence. Korean contents are not limited to Korea, but surfs through the waves of capital to reach the people of less capitalized nations and indiscriminately act as a form of cultural violence. It is improper to praise Korean mass culture’s strategy of putting up teenage girls as symbols for the purpose of maximizing profit from the perspective of cultural enterprise armed to the teeth with nationalist ideology. Identifying Korean mass culture as a national brand that contributes to the cultural unification of nations may seem sweet in the short run. However, in the long run, this is not something to be proud of.

At a time like this, when the idea of cultural enterprise screams, LIM’s soft voice that communicates with East Asian children seems ever more valuable and beautiful. She is an active artist, who acts with artistic conscience. She practices art on a very personal level. The East Asian interaction here is not one between nations, but has its basis on individuals, especially on LIM’s individual will to act. Most people associate artists’ international activities as international interaction. However, this word ‘international’ refers to national reciprocity. Sometimes, this reciprocity is based on competition between nations, and is not suitable for artistic practice or communication. LIM does not advocate or represent her nation’s identity. She just acts as an artist in a city named Busan. Even though we cannot negate her identities embedded by her origin, sex, or age, it is important that we acknowledge LIM as an individual artist, who seeks to create art grounded on the spirit of the age and a grip on the reality.

In LIM’s paintings dwells the silent smile of Gaseop, who sees through the spirit of this age. As Gaseop read his teacher Buddha’s mind and responded with a silent smile when Buddha picked up a flower, LIM’s paintings possess the power of interceding intuitive communication. The biggest characteristic of LIM’s painting style is that each and every brush stroke is vividly alive. The attraction of here painting is totally different from that of a photo. For example, whereas a viewer who looks at a photo of an East Asian child is most likely to recognize the image as the ‘child’, a viewer who looks at a painting of the same child is more likely to find the image of a ‘picture of a child’. The gap between an image of a child and a photo of a child does not seem as wide a gap as that between an image of a child and an image of a painting of a child. Therefore, LIM’s painting allows viewers to be aware of their own eyes that are introspectively reflecting upon the children, who are the subjects of the painting. In other words, the wider gap lets viewers to examine the deep, wide world of LIM’s art more meticulously. LIM paints with bright colors and fancy brush strokes and invites us to meditate upon the spirit of our age. And beyond her paintings lies the silent smile Meditating on the future of the earth.