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TITLE : Charlotte, Cotton, "A Constellation of Ideas about Boomoon’s Photographs", 2013
DATE : 02/24/2014 17:06

In BOOMOON CONSTELLATION, Daegu Art Museum, 2013

 



Constellation surveys Boomoon’s photographic practices for over the past fifteen years. This exquisitely paced summary offers an experience that is akin to seeing his work anew.  In this exhibition, Boomoon takes us into the physical and psychological environments that he constructs through his sequencing and combining of photographs and video works made predominantly since the late 1990s.  I had previously appreciated the way in which Boomoon meticulously offers the best vantage points - amongst the infinite possibilities of photographically capturing his chosen subjects - in each of his series of photographs.  With the presentation of each new body of work, Boomoon has created an episodic journey of shifts in his photographic investigations and an overarching sense of a constantly evolving artistic enquiry.  It is not until this finely balanced survey book and exhibition that we could comprehend so well the arc of Boomoon’s practice as a constellation of investigations and experiences of the awe-inspiring presence of natural and universal forces.

The choice of Constellation to describe this thoughtful distillation of his work is both a literal description of Boomoon’s celestial work that commences the exhibition and an apt title for his gathering from his practice into an assemblage that is its own entity.  The word ‘constellation’ is an invitation to the viewer to hold each of the prompts and ideas that the work can engender in simultaneous play, becoming a cluster of equally meaningful and connected visual devices.  There are three ideas in circulation throughout Constellation that seem important to explore in more detail here. Boomoon creates works of art that work on our imaginations in a faceted manner and in particular call upon us to consider his artistic practices as photographic, material, and philosophical. 

Boomoon’s photographic practice is essentialist, both in his methodology and also in the anticipated experience of the viewer as one where the nature of a photograph and what photography can reveal about its ostensible subjects.  Boomoon’s photographs are made with a definite photographic position and his works convey the enduring idea of a photograph as a true vantage point onto a physical subject and the role of the photographer as one of seeking that most eloquent and clear perspective.  Boomoon’s bodies of work share this implicit sense of the photographer as our guide into the places from which we can observe the world and respond to it.  This essentialist idea is amplified by Boomoon’s choice of the natural world as his subject and, importantly, subjects including oceans, volcanic landscapes, and ice formations that (by molecular and tectonic degrees) share a profound state of infinite change.  Boomoon’s photographic narrative encapsulates the sublime possibilities of crafting a photographic perspective that is fixed enough to register the passing of time, whether perceptually too fast or slow for the human eye. 

 

The physical experience of Boomoon’s photographs is thoughtfully crafted by him not simply in terms of the viewer’s bodily relationship with the photographic vantage point of each individual work, but also in the material experience of his gallery installations.  Boomoon has deployed a variety of pictorial devices in the different series of works over the past fifteen years that range from a simulation of a human, almost empathetic engagement with the natural world to those that consciously disrupt that certainty and construct highly disorientating and even non-human perspectives.  In some series of photographic prints he uses emphatically vertical ratios that invite a distinctly non-Western scanning by the viewer from the upper edge to the lower foreground, proposing a vertical sense of time moving into the foreground and the present.  Similarly, Boomoon’s use of horizontal panoramic ratios have narratives that tend not to read from left to right but present dense foregrounds that foreshorten perspective into a shallow horizontal plane.  We readily feel at the edge of vast, ungovernable and (despite their photographic clarity) unintelligible natural forces.  Perhaps Boomoon’s signature formal device, pre-dating the earliest works shown in Constellation is the use of a graphic and commanding horizon line that cuts midway through the pictorial plane of a photograph.  This device is represented here most obviously in the On The Clouds skyscapes and the Naksan seascapes, which tightly control the recession of space within the photographic frame.  The viewer automatically adopts and identifies with the position of Boomoon’s camera. 

It is of profound importance to understand Boomoon’s capacity to create an experiential space for the viewer and allow us to embody essential vantage points upon the optical splendor and ordering of the physical world.  Significantly, Boomoon’s camera perspective does not simulate an overtly human scale or optical perspective.  He goes beyond being a photographer who offers us the sense of an omniscient but still human visual exploration of the world.  Instead, his acute avoidance of a hyperbolic signature photographic style means that we are liberated viewers that can move into, above and beyond the natural phenomena that his camera explores, unhindered by an overbearing sense of his authorship. 

Constellation’s material experience is not only derived from the accumulation of viewing Boomoon’s photographic investigations over the past fifteen years, but in the pacing of his work through the physical spaces of the exhibition.  Just as Boomoon demonstrates his impeccable economy of means in each photograph he creates and the number of images into which he distills each body of work, the material experience of Boomoon’s exhibition is an important act of restraint.  By working with no more than the essential number of sequences and individual framed photographs, Boomoon privileges our experience of the relationship between his projects (the primary ‘constellation’ of this exhibition and book) that is set up as a dynamic ebb and flow through Constellation. 

 

Constellation begins with Stargazing (2013), an installation of thirty-two video animations of night sky photographs made in various sites in the world.  It locates the viewer literally and psychologically within the concept for this exhibition, immediately sensitizing us to the extent of the emotional and visual journey that we are about to undertake.  It is significant that Boomoon begins this exhibition within a dark space, illuminated by the night skies emanating from the LED screens, anticipating the flow from night to day that will unfold in the exhibition sequence.  On the facing wall of this first room are three framed photographs from Boomoon’s Stargazing at Sokcho series made in the late 1990s, depicting the tree tops and night skies above the city in the Gangwon-do province.  The illumination of these night skies is a complex pattern of interference from clouds and the powerful artificial light of the city below.  They are stunning images, in keeping with the theme of the first room of Constellation.  But they are also an important statement at the outset of this exhibition to one of the meta-narratives of Boomoon’s artistic practice.  While Boomoon draws us into his experiential presentation of the natural world where the boundaries are presented as photographic, Boomoon’s works imply also the modern and contemporary boundaries that overlay the ancient sites, skies and vantage points that he depicts.  Sokcho, represented in the three photographic prints in the first room of the exhibition, is a city that has been under North Korean rule (from 1945 until 1953) and now South Korea’s entry point into the Seoraksan National Park.  The inevitable but not pronounced presence of a border point between North and South Korea is carried into the second room of this exhibition where three of the six works are chosen from Boomoon’s Odaesan (2009-2013) series made in the fertile forests of Mount Odaesan also in Gangwon-do province. This same region of South Korea where Boomoon  has lived since 2001 is also the subject of the two Sansu galleries, which are installed in the next rooms of Constellation.  Boomoon consciously brings the visual contradiction between political history, personal experience and geological time into play in these incredible landscape photographs.   The concept of time operates on a number of levels and in the Odaesan photographs we are initially drawn into the human-scaled idea of time within the work, of walking into the dense foliage of the forest floor.  Nature’s time is eminently complex in these works, both seen as a network of organisms in rapid flux and growth, of which a photograph can only represent a millisecond of its evolution.  But Boomoon’s photographs frame nature’s state of constant change as enduring and ancient.  Within this scheme, the idea of fixed and clear national borders is held as profoundly at odds with both the human and organic material reality of these landscapes, and the least consequential definition of these places. 

 

Sansu also depicts the Seoraksan National Park in all its graphic detail in the midst of winter.  Sansu I describes the sparse branches and trunks of forest trees from the same relative vantage point as their spring counterparts in this exhibition’s previous room.  Sansu II dramatically draws us way back into a position to survey the vertical panoramic magnificence and the horizontal expanse of mountains in Gangwon-do province.   These landscapes practically shimmer with the powdery clouds of snow that hover above the dark, bare wood of the forest trees set against the snow-covered floor of the landscape.  We are kept perceptually busy by the extent of detail and scope of all of these photographs, they are intense and hard work for us to adequately register.  Photography is incapable of delineating scale, a characteristic that is part of its enduring magic to capture degrees of detail and expanse that are impossible for human vision to hold or even properly conceive of. 

 

The exhibition experience of Constellation is well-paced to encourage a meditative state.  We are moved next into On The Clouds, a sequence of nine dazzlingly abstract photographs taken from a plane journeying across a thick carpet of cloud over the perfectly blue atmosphere of our planet, and shown in this exhibition embedded within a curved sculptural support.  It is only after the scrutiny we have been called to give the work in previous galleries that we fully appreciate the level of mental concentration that these visualizations can provide.  Having metaphorically come out of the night and into the day, up mountains and through seasons, we reach the high horizon of On The Clouds and have the experience of everything being in front of us. 

We return to Boomoon’s black and white palette and the sites of his predilection  in the sixth room of Constellation.  A group of three horizontal and four vertical photographs depict the  coast at Naksan and across the sea towards Japan, the beach covered by a carpet of snow and the lower half of each image becoming a two-dimensional shape and a voided foreground.  Three recent photographs of a mountain shot from the same vantage point near Byeongsan show the commencement of a snow storm.  While this room is a continuance of the close looking that Boomoon has already constructed for us in this exhibition so far, a new facet is added, which is the activation of imagined sound.  The waves crash, the snow falls onto snow, the landscapes creek and crack as the snowstorm commences and with this acoustic triggering via the representation of the landscapes’ liquidity, we are sensuously within these sites with all their unforgiving and non-human character. 

In turn, the enveloping experiencing of these liquid landscapes prepares us to engage with the hard and isolated boulders that arrest us in the seventh room of Constellation.  Principally in 2007 and 2008, Boomoon shifted his practice to the remote landscapes of Iceland and Greenland.  In this work, Boomoon demonstrates his capacity to draw out the photographic, material and geographical strands in the northern hemisphere, creating experiences for the viewer that similarly meditative and metaphorical as his ongoing work in South Korea. The ‘stones’ depicted in the seventh room of this exhibition are these curiously sculptural and discrete forms. They are framed in the centre of each of Boomoon’s photographs as the totems or even guardians of this unearthly-looking landscape.  Their solidity is juxtaposed with a counter-definition of this extreme and remote part of our planet found in the final room of Constellation where eight vertical photographs construct a panoramic view of an icescape in Greenland, alongside discrete photographs of the glacial outwash plains of Iceland, where pale blue ice formations reach the black volcanic sand of the seashores. This place is astoundingly beautiful and fluid, and it is an emotional privilege to be led into the material and psychological place to experience time and space that is not meant for human perception.

It is through the concept of a constellation that Boomoon brings us into the direct experience of his motivations and meta-narratives that drive his incredible photographic practice.  The idea of the constellation is also played out in this exhibition as the character of the visceral and philosophical journey that Boomoon maps out for us.  We comprehend one body of work through its connections with others, we become more perceptive and open to the profound meaning of Boomoon’s photographs through the related experiences of each room installation.  We refine our understanding of deep and even non-human time, change and perspective through the vantage points that Boomoon offers us.


 


 


 


 


 


 



 


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