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Adventures in Perception | Artist Youjin Moon

Will AI-driven robots 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 most gifted AI robot won’t be able to hack: an imagination. That is, artists and designers can create images, forms and spaces from that which lies beyond the senses, is not wholly seen, is not real until made real, and is, therefore, unprogrammable.

Artist 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 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 set 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 masters at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, one in painting (2013), and another in film and video in 2015. Her 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 dream-like imagery and narratives of their own; something that not even R2-D2 can do.

“If 0 is realistic and ten is fictional, I want to explore 4,5,6,” says Moon in her carpeted studio, close by Mass Art. “And while exploring, framing entrance points in 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 worktable displays a collage in progress of organic shapes, snips of her own film footage along with her calligraphy glued to rice paper.

A falling sun hangs on a honey-colored slope. An eclipse shrouds the moire 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 the three Moon videos exhibited at the DeCordova’s 2016 Biennial.

The image strikes one as 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, why abandon Paradise? The moire pattern of the screen, it’s flat, metallic flavor, its rude diagonal slash along Ganymede’s gold-limned circumference provokes that journey to see what’s below and behind, a trip that takes us through Moon’s 4th, 5th and 6th points between reality and fiction.

In this particular realm, Moon moves easily between the handmade like this large, 60 x 40 oil and her digitized video work. She feels one reinforces the other. Here, in this untitled 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 this still from a 2015 video entitled Europa, after Jupiter’s icy moon, one can’t help see 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 quite different in pattern, color, and texture. Moon likes walking around Boston, especially along the Charles. “I see inter-connections wherever I go, though I’m not looking for them. 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.“

As Moon parts company on the street, what 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.

— Louis Postel in New England Home magazine