Stories may represent an inextricable part of human history. Legends, myths, and stories passed down through oral traditional have been with us throughout the years – and the telling and hearing of stories has thus long been familiar to us. Using the imagination to envision a story has also played a certain role in people’s lives.
In difficult times, we have used imagination to dream and hope; at times, we have drawn comfort from the enjoyment of a story. But while stories have been significant in terms of the role they play, they have also existed at times as beautiful works in and of themselves.
As she travels around on her own, the artist Hannah Woo imagines other sides to the things visible to the eye. She overlays imagination onto what might seem like a trivial reality, and thereby enriches it. Her work involves attaching stories to the kinds of humble things we see all the time, and thus elevating them to the realm of the special. In Woo’s work, everyday things that might otherwise seem dull appear fresh thanks to the new filter that is her artistic imagination and interpretive capability. But her work’s role is not limited to simply giving form to her imagination. It also leads the viewers to imagine, guiding them in an artistic activity of their own.
· Creating stories through questions and answers
Hannah Woo configures specific situations and composes stories within them. By using ordinary objects to create special visual situations, she opens up a kind of setting for the viewers to create their own stories. She creates the stories with the situations she produces, and the viewers who encounter them create their own stories within the stage she has set.
The table for Yadwiga was created as the artist imagined the armory of someone preparing to take revenge. In her imagination, the person girding for vengeance uses a dinner table as an armory. The vengeful protagonist is given form as we imagine what kind of a person would casually lay weapons on a dinner table, out in the open within a home. The protagonist is posited as someone whose choice of weapons includes prosthetic limbs, wigs, hand weapons made of short and sharp screws, tambourines, pasta painted blue, and cutlery embedded upright. This set-up is then presented to the viewers, who unravel the work in their ways as though visitors to an escape room who have entered the space where the situation is presented and must figure it out before they can leave.
The people who observe The table for Yadwiga are especially curious about what kind of person is responsible for the dinner table. But the scope for imagining the dinner table’s owner is quite broad. The items laid out on the table do not seem at all like the kind of implements we would ordinarily imagine a person to use in executing vengeance. Some of the things do look like weapons, such as an axe and nails – but others like the tambourine and hair would seem to have nothing to do with revenge.
The avenger conjured in the imaginations of The table for Yadwiga’s viewers does not converge on any one typical image. As they see these somewhat odd “weapons,” the viewers come to envision Hannah Woo’s vengeance situation in unique ways. Viewing the work, we come away with questions and hypotheses, and the stories we individually imagine in the process of quenching our curiosity are varied – leading us to encounter our own individual new creations.
A.B.Suit is another work yielded from the artist’s imagination after she was inspired by a particular situation. In this case, she has designed an imaginary stage outfit for an American pop singer. Woo was quite startled at the aggressive and energetic image conveyed when he first saw the singer perform. She describes it as feeling like she had discovered a new, forgotten style, which made her want to produce an outfit for the singer.
In some ways, A.B.Suit is hard to understand as an outfit. The shoes and bottom are familiar enough to how we imagine clothing, but it is difficult to even imagine how the top might be worn. As the viewers look at this oddly formed outfit, they imagine what kind of person she might be, this American pop singer who inspired Woo. The outfit appears boldly revealing, but in another sense it can be seen as omitting unnecessary elements. It looks suited to the particular situation of a stage performance, but it also seems like it might suit a combat situation that calls for strength and agility. What kind of performance might this outfit appear it? What kind of lyrics would we hear in the songs sung on that stage? What would the outfit look like when worn? A number of different questions arise, and with them a number of different answers. As they pose these questions and find the right answers, the viewers paint several different situations within their minds.
Produced in collaboration with the graphic designer Mat-kkal, The table for Yadwiga and A.B.Suit were shown in an exhibition titled The Revenge, It’s Ma Power, Huh! To the viewer, they prevent a visual illusion originating in the artist’s imaginings.
“The starting point for my work lies in turning reality into fiction and considering everyone as protagonists striving to defy their mistaken destiny within the fiction. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s someone else who passed by me and seemed like they could be the protagonist in fiction. I perceive a crowd like a fleet within history and posit them in tragic scenarios. What I’m doing is imagining that anonymous crowd or that fallen object on the side of the road as a protagonist driving a narrative. I find the motifs for my work as place them on a stage that represents a scene out of breathless urban life.”
The above is from an interview with Hannah Woo. As she imagines special things with unspecial objects from reality and using this as an impetus for creative work, her process may be similar to the viewers’ as they observe the results.
· The practicality of unrealistic objets
In art, the term objet refers to a method in which something that appears unrelated to art – such as an object from daily life or nature – is used in art. It is an approach that introduces new impressions and means to objects by incorporating them into works without concern for their established use.
Quite a number of objects appear in the works of Hannah Woo. There, they become new protagonists in the piece, irrespective of their previous roles. This approach of gathering raw objects that seem rather unsuited to an artwork and turning them into art creates a fresh kind of stimulation within their awkward intermeshing.
D.E.M Flash is a photographic record of small, incomplete objet works by the artist. The items that appear in it were created by Woo as “totems.” D.E.M Flash was based on the artist imagining that these different objet works – small, but each with different colors and textures – might exhibit supernatural powers the moment they were reflected in light.
The items that appear in the work are familiar: a curtain, a tape measure, a screwdriver, yarn, and so forth. But it takes some time and focus to recognize them as such – for the items are not positioned in situations familiar to us. Typically, items have some object associated with their use. Tape measures conform to the human body, screwdrivers to screws or tools. But in D.E.M Flash, the tape measure is not used as a tool to take a person’s measurements, but as a cord to bind the curtain; the screwdriver is used not as a tool, but as part of a structure entangled with rubber clay. As these known objects are used in different ways, they leave behind their everyday meaning and become unfamiliar objets. In D.E.M Flash, the familiar tape measure, curtain, screwdriver, and yarn become totems, as well as visual objects supporting the staging of a supernatural situation.
Created through post-processing of a flash photograph showing Woo’s objet work, the image appears like a document of a supernatural situation. The result comes across like a somewhat poorly staged photograph – calling to mind an image from a B-grade fake news report. Woo creates something that immediately appears false, and by marking the moment when the photograph was taken, she also gives the impression that a real-life event has been recorded.
This contradictory presentation seems to illustrate the interesting way in which Hannah Woo’s fictional imaginings exert actual influence. To her, imagination and fiction are not illusions that could never be documented in reality; rather, they function as powerful impetuses for her artistic work, becoming actual things that exhibit effects at some real-world moment.
· Richly observing reality
A number of different words are used to signify the activity of envisioning something or painting vague images in the mind – “imagination,” “delusion,” and “fiction,” to name a few. “Fiction” in particular refers to envisioning something that is not realistic and stands little chance of coming to be. But is it not true that ideas that are unrealistic and unlikely to materialize can influence reality?
Hannah Woo sees herself as someone enduring the urban life in Seoul, seeing and hearing the same things as other people. Her work starts from the way she focuses a bit more on things from an artist’s perspective, but the artist also hopes that viewers who see the results will experience a different kind of vividness from usual in their daily life. Observing an object and creating an imaginary story for it presumes an affection toward than object and an uncommon perspective on it. Not only that, but this kind of storytelling brings out the gleam in an often dull and repetitive everyday experience. Hannah Woo’s work is like training to strengthen the viewer’s ability make ordinary life into something special – and the effects of that carry on outside the exhibition hall.
By Seungmin Kang, columnist