Park Hyunjoo's Light Monad, The Eternal World

Park Hyun-joo’s Light - Monad, The Eternal World

Byeon Jong-pil (director of Yangju City Chang Ucchin Museum of Art, art critic)


When we think of Park Hyun-joo, we are reminded of gilt wooded cuboid bars that give off a golden gleam, geometric compositions of horizontal and vertical lines, and an optical illusion by lively long bars and dots in pastel tones, under the theme, ‘Light’, which she has long explored. She has repeatedly used simple formative elements such as parallel lines and circles, and stirred up a vibration or an optical illusion through the combination and arrangement of multiple colors. In terms of visual effect, her works are similar with those in optical art. But if you deeply look into them, you can see that she does not confine her art to a specific style but has developed her own world with different forms and stories.

Park Hyun-joo’s works are divided into two-dimensional works on the canvas and three-dimensional works on the wall. For this exhibition “Light - Monad” she has installed three-dimensional works made with wooden cuboids. The works in the exhibition have been more simplified than her previous pieces for which she attempted diverse formative experiments: the bars painted in the canvas have been evolved into three-dimensional units. In particular, she has given a gradation effect to the surfaces of wooden cuboids with a sponge roller, and expanded her color spectrum from a monochromatic to a polychromatic tone, as if the light passing through a prism is separated into multiple colors and covers a three-dimensional surface. If a line causes a visual effect of optical art, color causes a visual effect of Park Hyun-joo’s art.

Along with color, what maximizes the visual effect of Park Hyun-joo’s work is splendid gilt. Park Hyun-joo has been using the gilt technique, a core of her work, since she was first attracted to the technique in the reproduction of the Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico’s “Madonna and Child (Linaiuoli)” during reproduction practice at a research center for oil painting materials while she was studying at Tokyo University of the Arts. The gilt technique, which she encountered by chance, has led her to her current style. The holy light of tempera in gold color became a chance that has allowed her to contemplate the preposition of light. 

Park Hyun-joo’s gilt is a mirror that reflects her life’s attitude: “I want to show that contrasting elements, such as reality and unreality, material and spirit, two dimensions and three dimensions, verticality and horizontality, and squares and circles, can be harmonized on a canvas.” In the context of the German philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who stated that a monad with no window is a mirror of the living universe that makes every body and mind harmonized [1], the gilt of Park Hyun-joo, which has the characteristic of reflecting objects, acts as a mirror. Another characteristic of gilt is visual illusion. She did not apply gilt onto the fronts of her works but to their sides, so that they give off a secretive and mysterious feeling, stirring up a regular reflection, as if they are shining on their own. In addition, her gilt causes an illusion as if the pieces are two-dimensional owing to the reflection effect in which the lights of the pieces collide with each other. In this way, the gilt planes of her works are special as a formative element that features her unique world, along with the visual effect of the color. It is clearly different from the light art that reveals the effect of light by maximizing its display through scientific tools and technology.

Along with her expression method, what we must pay attention to in this exhibition is the title, “Light – Monad.” She has accessed the term, monad, in terms of its definition: a ‘monad is ‘an unextended, indivisible, and indestructible entity that is the basic or ultimate constituent of the universe and a microcosm of it, and is a principle of the life activity of the universe that expresses the whole ideas of the universe.’ The unit that she used for her objects shares many things in common with the monadology of Leibniz in which he formed a type of metaphysics by taking the ‘monad’ as the ultimate principle unit of the universe. As Leibniz explained through the composition of a monad in a metaphysical structure (a part and a whole), Park Hyun-joo has accessed the unit of light with such a metaphysics. Like the monadology of Leibniz, which emphasizes the transfer of perception that returns to the starting point again after moving from the small (microcosm) to the large (macrocosm) and from the part (one) to the whole (many things), her units are individual, and at the same time become a whole painting, relating to each other organically. This is related with the view that ‘one is a whole and a whole is one.’

Park Hyun-joo has adopted the ‘monad’ as the key word of this exhibition, but the world that she actually tried to express through ‘Light – Monad’ is light as a type of self-discipline and healing, like in her older work. She has paid attention to the spiritual and symbolic aspect of light beyond its physical characteristics such as wavelength, adsorption, and reflection. In short, she has laid emphasis on an inner realization rather than external splendor, thinking of the process of exploring light as the process of exploring herself. It can be related with her view of the world that has been held since she created the series “Inner Light” over a ten-year period (1997 – 2007). In her art note, she wrote, ‘I want to describe the world where contrasting elements can go together and the world can console tired souls and relieve their burden in today’s unclear and dark reality.’ She does not divide the East and the West in her world. Although her gilt technique was borrowed from holy images of Christianity in the Renaissance, the world she pursues is closer to Eastern spirits. This is revealed in Buddhist terms and topics that she used. Like the Buddhist term ‘gonggwan’ in Korean, commented upon in the documentation “Inner Light,” a term that means ‘meditation on voidness’ (this is a method of meditation by which one realizes the law that all elements in the world are non-substantial and empty), in this exhibition as well, she has disclosed her view of the world with the Buddhist term ‘Nirvana,’ a term meaning a beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness. After all, to Park Hyun-joo, light is a hope that transcends the religions of the East and the West and is the energy of her life.

Light is transcendental. We cannot confine it in a specific space and fix it as a specific image. As there is no absolute space or absolute time, there is no absolute light. As the monadology of Leibniz is a philosophy that surpasses the five senses and scientific systems, light cannot be defined as a single form or explanation. It only works as a power that allows us to be aware of beings in the time and space where we are. It is impossible to try to keep light in our time from the beginning. In this point, if the way in which she has held her exhibitions thus far is a limited attempt that uses light artificially, it is expected that she will try to make the inner side of her works meet with the characteristic of light more naturally. In addition, her future work needs a more elaborate logic that can cover the key words of Leibniz’s monadology (monad, god, and the world) and her world of light at the same time.

Ultimately, the illusion of light of Park Hyun-joo’s works is an expression of her faith in the world that she cannot feel with the senses of sight and touch. And it is a projection of eternity for which she has drawn monads, the true atoms of nature, into her own light world, “Light – Monad.” The exhibition “Light – Monad” is an aura of light that is revealed by the delicate perception of the artist Park Hyun-joo, who is always trying to change herself like a light that is reluctant to dwell in a particular place.


[1[ “Monadology” by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, translated by Bae Seon-bok, Book world publishe