Loving (Kim Hwan-gi) in the time of pandemic 

Seoul / Modern Art / Semi-abstract Acrylic

The Pandemic reduced my mobility to a radius of inches, not hrs in flight time.  Greatest challenge I had to endure is the oppression of the mundane.  Groundhog Day in this uninspiring Punxsutawney urban living in Seoul (since lockdown in Singapore I left to Seoul, first to maternal comforts of three hot meals during 2-week quarantine and then hunkered down in a service apartment). Little did I foresee this hunkering down to become months-long hibernation. ‘This great pause needs to become the great recalibration’ I heard someone say.  Are you for real? ‘Relishing the day-to-day mundane’ is something we say to console our broken heart…  My heart—my actual physical heart, nothing figurative here—has ran away from me, has become its own separate thing, beating too slow, its rhythm at odds with mine. This is an affliction not merely of the spirit but of the body. Flesh, muscles, organs are all compromised. No physical position is comfortable.  People are inviting me to speak in another Zoom presentation and regular notifications ping my iPhone. How is it that the world keeps going, breathing in and out unchanged, while in my soul there is a permanent scattering?

My heart—my actual physical heart, nothing figurative here—has ran away from me, has become its own separate thing, beating too slow, its rhythm at odds with mine.

How quickly my life has become another life, forcing to contend with second, daily trips to the gym and mindless resistance of the elliptical machine. Gripping the handle of kettlebell, I notice I am not even sweating properly anymore. Body temperature control is compromised … another sign of corporal dislocation in the time of involuntary shelter. Yet how slow I am to adapt, hastily donning the ever-uncomfortable PPE at the first sign of dirty look from the gym attendant – accusing me of lack of empathy for my fellow-man. In the changing room, my thumb executes a numbingly practiced tap on Instagram. I see a post of a woman in beautiful Tuscan sun, and I think, I should checkout that place next time I’m there.  In that small moment, what has been true for as long as I can remember is still true—that marking up my calendar months out, nominating places to visit, acquaintances to check in on is what I do.  Then, with a horrible lurch, I remember again. That brief forgetting feels like both a betrayal and a blessing. Do I forget because this world will return to normal?  I think so. I hope so.

Sheltered in my room 20 hours at a time, I’ve been staring at a pair of cheaply reproduced prints of Kim Hwan-gi painting hung against lackadaisical beechwood wall, so in character of this service apartment.  Kim belongs to the first generation of turn of the century Korean artists that adopted western technique of representation.  His paintings exist somewhere between abstraction and depiction, while establishing a vocabulary of his own.  Working, for the most part in oil and acrylic, Kim made paintings of varied hues and patterns – lines, dots, spaces. 

They give order to the chaos of displacement and communicates what feels to me like a dislocated body lost but finding harmony in this dreamscape. 

In this mind-numbing time of the pandemic, I sensed a particular bonding with his lines that meander without end and dots that drift boundlessly.  His pictures are cool in tone but psychologically charged. His blue semi-abstracts are particularly arresting.  They give order to the chaos of displacement and communicates what feels to me like a dislocated body lost but finding harmony in this dreamscape.  I’m told dots were typical of Kim’s style toward the end of his life when his work tended become even more pattern oriented.  Perhaps it was his yearning for a place where he found his true identity – a world to call his own.   Perhaps all the pandemic talk has taken an emotional toll – I must find a way to call this world, however disoriented, my own.

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