Jung-hee Mun Searches for Presence at Fl!ght Gallery

“In Minds, with Rhymes, on Lines,” by Jung-hee Mun. Close-up with tape recorder. Photo courtesy of the artist.
“In Minds, with Rhymes, on Lines,” by Jung-hee Mun. Close-up with tape recorder. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Click to see the "In Minds, with Rhymes, on Lines” photo gallery.

Since graduating from UTSA with a BFA in printmaking in 2008, Jung-hee Mun has established a reputation for using realistic figuration to uncanny effect, exhibiting in a number of venues from small art spaces such as the late Cactus Bra, to large institutions including Southwest School of Art and the McNay Art Museum. Though she has painted dark, brooding urban landscapes depicting her native Korea, Mun, who moved to the U.S. 10 years ago at the age of 19 and lives in San Antonio, is better known for portraying the body in fragments on bright voids of negative space. In “Proprium Cycle,” her 2011 solo show at Sala Diaz, clusters of disembodied hands and feet caressed each other on blood red backgrounds. Earlier drawings portrayed almost-cherubic children’s faces embraced by cartoonish garlands, floating wistfully through a white void.

Mun’s current exhibition, “In Minds, with Rhymes, on Lines,” at Fl!ght Gallery in the Lone Star Art District, presents some of her most ambitious work yet, but you won’t find any of her signature work on view. No matter, this departure to installation art is worth the visit, and those familiar with the peculiarly unsettling nature of Mun’s work will recognize the moody tone.

Perhaps cued by the artist’s new adaptation of Asian forms, the front room of the gallery exudes a meditative aspect, if not a tranquil one. A droning, but oddly high- pitched, and fluctuating sound fills the room like a metallic chant or the soundtrack of an abstract film, matched visually by a light projection filling a wall with shifting shadows of un-nameable shape that glide and fade like wraiths. One wall is covered with yellow sheets of paper inscribed in red writing, a reference to good luck charms used in Korean folk magic. Two paired drawings on either side of the arched entrance to the back room are self-portraits on paper, made after Tibetan Buddhist thangkas, votive pieces that depict deities or enlightened beings. Executed in simple lines, the slender figures are modeled closely after works recorded in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but slyly modified to be androgynous, even missing nipples. Another wall seems at first to also have an Asian theme, hung with strands of hair like over-sized, detached queues interwoven with photographs.

And here, the illusion of exotica falls apart — or rather, reverses. Behind the hanging strands, which hold over 250 photographs that have been used, at one time or another, on the artist’s Facebook page, is an old, broken tape recorder that Mun used in her English classes in Korea. The mechanism busted, the whining drone is all that is left of a long-ago lecture in a course she had difficulty with; after a decade in America, she still speaks with an accent. For natives living in their hometown, the exotic is far away. For the immigrant, or the traveler, the exotic is right here.

There are other strange territories. The quickness of instant messaging on Facebook or phone seems to collapse distance, and create possibilities for new intimacies. Referenced by the images of the artist in the photographs, which have been sewn, as if hiding, between strands of human hair (some, the artist’s own), social media and other disembodied forms of human presence, telephone talks, letters in another time, are revealed as the not-here. Not now, anyway. Place matters. When we are away, touch is at best a metaphor, we are disembodied — only parts of ourselves.

A performance involving sewing will be enacted by the artist during the closing reception.

In Minds, with Rhymes, on Lines

New Work by Jung-hee Mun
Free; 7-9pm, Monday April 8
Performance at 7:15pm
Fl!ght Gallery
1906 S Flores
(210) 872-2586

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