Until recently, pursuing perfection was the main driving factor in creating my work. By seeking utopia in a dystopian reality, I created a new set of order within a system. In literature, utopia is often stumbled upon by a traveler rather than narrated by someone who already resides in it, thus reflecting human desire to escape from reality. Utopia in Greek translates to “nowhere.” Perhaps utopia is meant not to exist. So to create my own utopia, I had to create something new but familiar. But as of this year (2020), we are experiencing something that was unforeseen at a global level, the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, my recent work was heavily influenced by this traumatic occurrence and the need to escape from reality was greater than ever.
“Legoscape” —a combination of the words “lego,” “cityscape,” and “escape” — reflects my desire to escape from reality to an imaginary, orderly world. As new buildings are erected and old ones demolished, I build my own city on an empty canvas. As a result, my work becomes an intermediary between the real and the imagined space, characterized by perfection.
All of my work share the same origin, the structural form of LEGO®, which is carefully deconstructed. These interlocking blocks are meaningless as an individual entity, but as a finished product, they fulfill their purpose. By losing its form, contradictory to its use, it goes through multiple stages of physical changes concluding once the final stage of geometric abstraction is reached. What started as an existing LEGO® building becomes an imaginary world, further reducing it to mere color and form.
With more than 4 million cases around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone in a way, no matter how big or small. Within months of its existence, it already created new ways of social interactions. Social practices such as self-isolation, social distancing, face covering policy, and washing hands for at least 20 seconds became the new norm. While technological advancements allow people to continue to virtually interact with each other, we are faced with the force that has no real end. This uncertainty has caused a sense of panic that was not present before.
As an artist, COVID-19 gave me the time to reflect on myself and to experiment and explore new ideas and medium, like the wood relief. Practicing social distancing and having never been alone for this amount of time, I experienced multiple emotional phases. In the beginning, it was uncertainty and apprehension as the number of positive cases continued to rise. The emotions directly reflected on the colors I chose for my work, away from the vibrant, cheery color scheme I surrounded my work (and my self) in, and into a darker, more subdued color palette. I then read how nature was healing itself, due to the drastically limited number of people spending time outside from the extensive stay-at-home orders taking effect around the world. I realized nature is a force that is to be reckoned with and that while we are just a small part of it, if we work together with nature, we can live in harmony. The sense of awe and fear towards nature reflected in my recent paintings as the images of nature such as a rocky cliff, a waterfall or a boulder emerged.
These changes and new realizations have altered how I perceive reality. The need to escape from reality is greater than ever before. As an artist, it is important to reflect what is happening around us through our work and to share with the future generation new findings, realizations, and also cautionary tales. People are still coping with losses, remembering what it was like before the virus, eating out with friends, being in close proximity with other commuters, or simply stepping out of your home without a mask. We may never go back to what life was before COVID-19 and we need to find new ways to cope. I chose to replace the feeling of loss with the happy and carefree memory of my childhood. Healthy regression is a positive coping mechanism that many find comfort in, and I wish to share that experience with everyone. Through my work, I hope to give a sense of security and relief that was so quickly taken away.
Artist Note – Jen PAK , May 2020 / K.O.N.G. gallery, SEOUL