Artist Youjin Moon

Boston-based artist Youjin Moon’s imaginative paintings, drawings, and videos invite exploration of a realm somewhere between reality and a dream world.

Text by Louis Postel

Will robots with artificial intelligence replace designers and artists? Count on it, say the futurists. No one is immune.

Not so fast, insist philosophers of art and design.

They have long held that practitioners have something even the cleverest AI robot won’t be able to hack: an imagination. Youjin Moon’s imagination is a case in point. It flies, burrows, swims—even keyboards—to that realm beyond the senses, reemerging with images that we all can see. In paintings, collages, and videos, those images tell stories of the cosmic to the microcosmic, the biological to the industrial, the solid to the liquid to the gaseous, to gold, black, magenta, frozen white, to birth and rebirth. Such layering and juxtaposition sets us on paths to our own truth.

Moon was born between sea and mountains bordering South Korea’s second largest city, Busan, in 1985. From elite grammar and secondary schools dedicated to the arts, she went on to earn a degree in oriental painting at Hongik University in Seoul, and two master’s degrees at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, one in painting and another in film and video. The copious imagination manifested in her painting, drawing, and video has attracted a growing following in shows from Argentina to New York to Czechoslovakia, as well as her adopted hometown of Boston.

Her ability to create images out of what is not seen and to make them into dream-like narratives awakens the imagination of the viewer to equally dream-like images and narratives of their own.

“If zero is realistic and ten is fictional, I want to explore four, five, six,” says Moon in her carpeted studio, close by MassArt. “And while exploring, framing entrance points into my work that are controlled and yet spontaneous at the same time, offering others those adventures in perception, just as one unrolls an Asian scroll.”

A work table displays a collage in progress of organic shapes, snips of her own film footage, and her calligraphy glued to rice paper.

A falling sun hangs on a honey-colored slope. An eclipse shrouds the moiré screen descending along this slope, far right. One yearns to follow down, see what’s what in those darkened valleys, but also draws back, afraid.

Named after the solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede is a still on Moon’s studio wall, taken from one of her three videos exhibited at the DeCordova’s 2016 Biennial. The images are personal as well as cosmic, a story of eclipsed happiness, the sliding off its very edge into the unknown. For why leave a sunny slope for a featureless penumbra? The moiré pattern of the screen, its flat, metallic flavor, its rude diagonal slash along Ganymede’s gold-limned circumference provokes that journey to see what’s below and behind, a journey that takes us through Moon’s fourth, fifth, and sixth points between reality and fiction.

In this particular realm, Moon moves easily between media. In an untitled oil painting, a materialization direct from Moon’s imagination, a crouching, silvery dancer on a moonlit night floats above a spiraling chasm, its extended foot touching a black chiseled wall seen from above. Meanwhile, a smaller shadowy figure inside the chasm ascends to a tilted, nightmarish cliff house. Will the benignly pinkish, helmeted figures in the left margin come to the rescue, or do they share the same fate as the silver dancer and the shadowy figure, being all one in the same?

In another still, this one from a 2015 video entitled Europa after Jupiter’s icy moon, one imagines looking through a New England window in winter where frozen striations reveal a thicket of bare branches. Somehow the branches and striations seem intimately connected, and yet how?—they are really quite different in pattern, color, and texture.

“I see interconnections wherever I go, though I’m not really looking for them,” Moon says. “I make those connections apparent in my work in a way that’s spontaneous and at the same time highly controlled. No connection is purely random.”

One can only wonder what unseen connection she will make next and how her powers of imagination will bring it to life, gifting the rest of us. AI robots take note.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To see more of Youjin Moon’s work, visit youjinmoon.com

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