Jenny Cho

Jenny Cho’s Triangle Wheels: An Off-Kilter Balance between Paintings, Delusions, and Interpretations
, 2014, Geun-jun Lim aka Chungwoo Lee

Jenny Cho’s mission as a painter is to compromise/comprehend the artist’s system of visual perception, whereby subjects are recognized/observed according to organic changes in individual interests, to produce an optimized painting method. ‘In-Between,’ the headword of Cho’s works thus far, and in other words a ‘visual-perceptive intermediary’ or ‘visual-perceptual re-mediation,’ refers to the artist’s proposed painting method. Its meaning is as follows.

“When I first began painting, I focused on my visual perception when observing an object, rather than just painting the object, and that is how my interest in visual perception began. From then on, I gained the habit of observing an object for a while, concentrating more on how to look than what to look at. As a consequence, I started photo-relief work, for which I photographed a real scene and then created a relief based on the photographs, of which I made a painting. I thought that these processes were similar to humans’ stages of visual perception. As such, the concepts of ‘temporality’ and ‘repeatability,’ which are naturally involved in the process of creating photo-reliefs from photographed objects, were essential. I tried very hard not only to reproduce the visible and the invisible in the paintings that derived from these procedures, but to express all possible meanings of visual perception beyond the limitations of time and space. I suggest that this defines the concept of the ‘In-Between.’”

In the above, the artist gives the name of ‘In-Between’ to her method of analogically restructuring the processes of visual recognition and re-producing objects and space. In this way, she portrays herself as an integrator—referring in essence to an individual capable of painterly recognition—who generates multilayered meanings. Of course, the aim of realizing ‘integral visual perception’ in her work may be a typical painter’s delusion, but a useless vanishing-point or impossible aim of this kind is harmless and even potentially beneficial in motivating experimentation.

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In around 2007, Cho—then an unknown artist—established a humane-scientific methodological hypothesis and began producing experimental paintings. Since that time, Cho’s artistic world has progressively developed; her preliminary experimental phase ended in around 2009. The work entitled Study of a Visual Perception on a Stage (2009), which restructured the concepts of stage and mural in the Commons Gallery at New York University to produce multilayered photo-reliefs that were subsequently synthesized into a painting, might be considered the first fine example that matched the artist’s drive. (On the one hand, this painting reminds one of a staged work by David Hockney; on the other, although this was not the artist’s intention, it appears to logically document the off-kilter vision of an illogical artist, making it even more interesting.)

Since 2010, Jenny Cho has gradually gained (semi-)autonomy as a painter, moving away from the constraints she initially established for her own art. Unsurprisingly, this change in attitude has diversified her painting styles. The works that best represent Cho’s endeavor to represent the shared gaze are Three Men at a Table (2011) and Nine Picnickers (2011). If Three Men at a Table reflects an effort to depict the interactions of the gaze in a triptych (Cho painted the background black to emphasize the gazes of the subjects, managers of three Manhattan apartments), then Nine Picnickers reflects her effort to combine landscapes in triptych, based on photographs taken during a picnic by nine people who had been given cameras by the artist.

However, the works that best articulate Jenny Cho’s artistic project are two produced in 2013: Five Variations: The Corridor, Rob Lloyd, The Crowd, The Next Door, The Window Landscape and Suburbia Cul-de-sac. In Suburbia Cul-de-sac, Cho painted the edges of a circular canvas to represent a wooden frame, inside which she sequentially juxtaposed five suburban (cul-de-sac) landscapes. At the center of the painting, she depicted an object that looks like a convex mirror, a device for observing anamorphic landscapes, which makes the painting interestingly pseudo-optical. Although it appears to be structured by an optical effect, the overall appearance is largely pictorial. The pseudo-optical multiple viewpoints compromise this pictorial aspect by providing viewers with an odd visual stimulus/challenge. As viewers seek to restructure the painting in their heads, it generates a peculiar reality—as if fresh life had been infused into an old school realist painting.

The painting Five Variations: The Corridor, Rob Lloyd, The Crowd, The Next Door, The Window Landscape is paired with Photo Relief for Five Variations (2013). The five canvases are interlocked and cross-edited in several dimensions; Five Variations is thus an especially ‘pictorial’ painting in its careful matching of elements. The grey backgrounds in the five canvases are carefully adjusted to show an equally regular tone, texture, and weight; and the type and texture of the wooden floor has been restructured in harmony with its environment, specifically the texture of the snowy mountain outside the window. The direction of the gaze of the main subject (Rob Lloyd), and that of the individuals and crowds in the other paintings, have been carefully arranged to contrast with and balance each other.

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The artist has repeatedly formalized her interests with an ‘In-Between’ diagram in which the apexes of two cones face each other, resembling an hourglass. This diagram has a structural and conceptual symmetry, with one side representing a real world and the other a pictorial world. Cho calls the intersection of the real and the pictorial worlds, where the apexes face each other, the ‘in-between point.’ The conceptual coordinates of this point cohere multiple gazes into one, which is the problematic task for the artist’s eye. According to Cho, the photo-reliefs executed from 2009 to 2010 were ‘in-between points’ that photographically restructured real-life objects from different angles, before the images are transferred onto canvases. In the works from 2011 to 2013, the major object of consideration was no longer the artist’s eye but the intersecting gazes of various people. In recent years, Cho’s focus has expanded to include invisible descriptions and fictions.

Recently, in 2014, the artist has turned her fundamental diagram (with the ‘in-between’ point at the center) around to create an amphitheater-shaped diagram. In this way, she conceptually expands the ‘in-between point’ to create an ‘in-between map.’ (She also uses a model in which one side of the original diagram is modified to give a funnel shape, or turned inside out and then rotated.) The artist seems to believe that her paintings will form a conceptual market that integrates and encapsulates her interests in psychology, sociology, physics, and phenomenology with an innovative emphasis on visual perception. Is she trying to revisit the historical problems of perspective, modes, iconography, and the nature of the abstract in her ‘in-between maps’?

Cho is presenting four new works at ARTSPECTRUM2014: Landscape Study: Blue and Yellow 1, 2, 3, Running in Circle Backwards (After Malevich), Pattern Perspective Study, and a collection of small drawings. Landscape Study: Blue and Yellow 1, 2, 3 is derived from the image of the crowds that appeared in the third canvas of Five Variations. Cho explains the creation of this work as follows: “I tried to materialize the image of a crowd that came to my mind with no specific visual sources, as a painterly painting expressed in two tones of fantastic sensation. While planning the work, I thought of Dr. Seuss’s paintings, but most of all, I was inspired by the colors and simplistic perspectives of the medieval painter Jean Fouquet.” In comparison with her other works, the style of this painting is rather eccentric. In this regard, Cho notes that “I am interested in medieval style of perspective, a flat sense of color, and the medieval method of handling fictional narratives. I am focusing on restructuring medieval art from a contemporary perspective.”

In contrast, Running in Circle Backwards (After Malevich), as can be inferred from its title, is a painted reconstruction of Malevich’s 1932 work entitled The Running Man. Cho explains, “I was influenced by the works from the period of the Return to Order and such art-historical styles as Russian Constructivism, Bauhaus, etc.” This emphasis can be understood as the result of Cho’s desire to deal with the problems faced by avant-garde painters immediately after the First World War. The idiomatic ‘running in a circle’ describes a ‘fool’s errand,’ a vain effort. This work may thus offer an analogy for the artist herself, anachronistically moving toward a point in the past that she has not experienced. What kind of outcome will repetitive ‘art-historical painterly counterturns’ produce? Does the artist consider the legacy of modernism to be classical, as part of a very personal neoclassicism?

The most ambitious of Cho’s new works is Pattern Perspective Study, comprising just one canvas. This work came to life as an answer to the following enquiry: “You have dealt with multiple perspectives thus far; why not a painting with a single vanishing-point?” Regarding this work, Cho explains that “I kept in mind the intensity of a canvas, in which the perspective space is composed of two-dimensional, flat patterns.” The pattern used in her painting is the pattern recognition-realization diagram provided in the fourth chapter, ‘Two and Two Together,’ of Rudolf Arnheim’s book Visual Thinking (1969). This diagram arose from Arnheim’s comparison of the visual recognition-realization processes of humans and machines. He was indirectly criticizing the problems overlooked by postwar artificial-intelligence researchers seeking to represent human recognition-realization systems through computing.

In this light, what are the intentions of Pattern Perspective Study, which suggests perspectival vision by covering a flat surface with Arnheim’s diagram? Does Cho seek to examine humans’ painterly observational abilities with reference to the historical understanding of visual recognition-realization processes? The work appears to be a neo-expressionistic painting that compares the old agendas of art history. It is also anachronistic, in a strange way.

The most prominent characteristic of Cho’s new works is ‘painterly delusion.’ In light of her newly produced amphitheater-shaped ‘in-between map,’ the painting Running in Circle Backwards (After Malevich) can be regarded as the ‘result of painting an idle structure by drawing an in-between point that optimizes the artist’s desire and denotes a special referent shared by art history and painting.’ Pattern Perspective Study can be interpreted as ‘the result of producing a perspectival space-structure with an analogically useless vanishing point by drawing an in-between point that optimizes the artist’s desire based on the special referent shared by the visual recognition-realization study of history and painting.’ Is Jenny Cho seeking to establish an ecosystem of reflexive paintings of her own? What will be the effects on her artistic career of denying the stylization of the self-referential?

When we say that a work of art has artistic vitality, ‘vitality’ means the continuous creation of unknown ‘spiel-raum,’ a kind of Bermuda Triangle, between the work or group of works as reified terrain, as artist’s delusion, and as viewers’ interpretation. As Jenny Cho’s delusional vision expands its range and volume, resulting new canvases, it is critical viewers’ turn to manage the interpretation.




Geun-Jun Lim aka Chungwoo Lee is an art and design critic based in Seoul, Korea, and a founding member of D.T.Network. He has served as an assistant curator at Art Sonje, an editor of Craft and Culture Quaterly, Korea Art Research Institute/SIGONGART and Art in Culture. His numerous books include <Crazy Art Made in Korea> (2006), <SKMoMA Highlights>(2009), <This is Contemporary Art>(2009), and <How to Expand Ego like an Artist>(2011). To be published is <Contemporary Art Methodology: How do Today's art operate?>.