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Half-human, half-bird creatures at night

2012/03/17 | 1129 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Printmaker Han Ji-min poses in front of her press at her studio in Mullae-dong, western Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Noh Hyun-gi

Humans have admired birds' wings from time immemorial, but printmaker Han Ji-min instead reveres their beaks.

As a shy child, the artist confided in her pet birds. "Every time they would nip my hands, I realized it was those peckers that empowered the caged creatures", she told The Korea Times at her Mullae-dong studio in western Seoul.

So the 30-year-old borrows their weapons to use in her defense. Her engravings of nude bodies topped with the heads of birds represent a whole being; the sleek bills complete the insecure and fragile human flesh. "Birds were considered sacred messengers between humans and higher beings. I adopted them as my totems to overcome my insecurities".

For her second solo exhibition of linocut titled "Night at Dawn" at Gallery DOS in Jongno, Seoul that opens today", Han chose ravens to be her messenger. "Ravens are known for their intelligence and ability to relate with humans".

Standing or in flight, the half-human, half-bird figures evoke unease and reverence. The daunting atmosphere comes from the large scale coupled with fine and fluid lines - unusual features for type of wood-carving. Her wooden plates look like drawings. Inked up, the sharp incisions of knives bring to life even the puffiness of feathers. Han is in full control.

In "A Beak Night", a meter-long figure stands awkwardly. Despite the female genitalia on clear display, the wide shoulders and large hands impede identification of the sex.

The visible vulnerability of prepubertal and intersex bodies intimidates the viewer. "I started out with adult bodies, but eventually I stripped them of parts such as full breasts or pubic hair". This exacerbates the discomforting nakedness.

In "Sounds of Footsteps at Dawn", a tiny figure with a green raven's head taking up half of its body runs across the whiteness of the paper. The wide-open beaks cry - perhaps in pain or in sheer panic.

"This method (engraving linoleum or compressed sheets of wood) is not ideal for producing this level of detail, but I insist on it because I feel like a bird indenting a tree with its beak".

This painstaking method is also a ritual for the artist who actually pursued painting in college. Han finished her graduate studies in printmaking at Sungshin Women's University this year.

"The anxiety we have over our relationships with others is similar to the feelings we have about death - fear of the unknown. We can never fully understand another person and that agonizes us, makes us vulnerable".

By adopting the head of the winged creatures, Han becomes indestructible. Not only their strong beaks but also their mystical powers honored in various ancient civilizations make her alter egos whole.

Her figures are usually singular in reference to practices in which one waits alone to be reborn as a shaman.

Though she is happy to have refined the visual language to convey her longings, Han stressed the hardship of pursuing printmaking. It is notoriously time-consuming and the results undervalued. For this reporter, Han inked up an etched plate and ran it through her analogue press on the spot. Even the abridged demonstration - Han skipped paper prepping, plate marking, and adding color - took up almost half an hour, not to mention the consequent rollers, plates, and workstation that required thorough cleaning.

"The art industry is tough in general, but it's even worse for printmakers". Though individual artists can rarely reproduce over five editions; the unfounded assumption that prints can be mass-produced drives down the price. "Established printmakers don't print themselves - they only design the plates and give instructions to professional printers". She shares the studio with a painter and keeps a day job.

"You know, ironically, my prints don't reveal any of my insecurities".

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