On the Colors That Cannot Be Named



Lee Seon-yeong (art critic)


If someone comes across Cheolwon Chang’s works in places other than exhibition spaces, he/she may not recognize them as artworks. Although Artience Daejeon is an exhibition that pursues the interactive dialog between science and technology and art, his ‘works’ appear to be devices for visual perception experiments concerning colors and shapes. However, as exceptional and enigmatic phenomenons are needed to stimulate research in the fields of science and technology, artists need a medium to put together and analyze the abundant outcomes of their experiences generated based on their intuition. Chang’s works fall under the latter category. [Splitting the Rainbow] at the entrance of the exhibition hall shows repetitions of 12 colors painted with acrylic colors on the canvas. This ‘geometrical abstract painting’ seen with naked eyes is painted with colors that recall the rainbow. Isaac Newton is the first scientist known to have separated the light that came into a dark room into the colors of the rainbow by passing it through a prism. After that, the colors of the rainbow were divided into pieces and analyzed at the labs.

In [The Enigma of Color], Margarete Bruns saw Newton’s achievement as the development of a new model for the accurate analysis of the natural phenomenon by splitting, quantifying and reassembling it. Chang leads viewers to watch his painting of rainbow colors through a piece of acrylic panel in the shape of a smartphone. The painting looked through this simple device does not show different colors of the rainbow but a single solid color such as red, yellow or green, Rainbow has analytical colors, but the intervention of the device reveals a color reverted to its genuine state. The next work, [Stars from the CMY] expanded the room for the intervention of light through colors/shapes printed on multi-layered transparent panels. The combination of colors or lights takes place real-time according to where a viewer’s eyes are. The artist says that ink is originally a subtractive mixture, but he has achieved the result of additive color mixture as in the case of light through the transparent device.

[Two Frames] presents the effect of two straight lines interfering with each other to appear as curves. These ‘curves’ formed by red and green straight lines are the results of optical illusion known as the ‘Moiré effect.’ Experiments are primarily carried out by combining the minimal elements to distinguish significant differences. The results should be shared universally and repeated in other tests by third parties to ensure objectivity. In general, art is considered to be the opposite. Art deviates from standards. However, when standards are lacking, art sometimes creates new standards, or provides the starting point for them. The standards last only quite briefly, though. Art is reproductive. In seeking reproduction, it is also scientific. Art history records geniuses who were both scientists and artists. Nevertheless, most of these geniuses pay attention to mysterious phenomenons that can’t be (scientifically) codified in the latter parts of their lives. It was the same in the case of Newton, who disassembled light.

The true nature that can’t be reverted to any other thing itself becomes art. It can be compared to the distinction by Claude Lévi-Strauss of the differences among science, myth, art, etc. through the contrast between structure and accident. Unlike science, art creates structure from accidents. However, science starts from structures. Chang, as a formative artist, must have been interested in phenomena fundamental for the forms of colors. He must have wanted to know an accurate method of classifying the unnameable colors that he saw in numerous famous paintings, and he needed to overcome his personal weakness of not being good at using colors. The scientific and artistic theme in which he has been absorbed for the last few years was the standard for colors. His collaborators in the project were scientists from the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science. It is also a philosophical topic, concerning that it involves accurate definitions (or naming) of certain phenomena. In addition, the question of who establishes the standards recalls ‘the relationship between discourse and power’ (Michel Foucault). 

The reason Chang could focus on the issue for a long time is because it is a fundamental issue, and not a peripheral one. He may not have gotten a satisfactory answer until now, but there are always some accomplishments derived from such an attempt. It would be reckless to imitate Ludwig Wittgenstein in his later years and say ‘The color that can be named is not the color,’ citing the experiences of various painters. In his previous works, the artist tried to get standard colors by painting dozens of color paints and measuring them with color calibration devices. Through experiments using the matter of paint, which poses numerous variables, the artist realized that the basic color particles do not exist individually but interact with one another, and that measurement is relative. Of course, being relative does not mean being indeterminable. Determination is not causal but probabilistic. Contemporary science, which has broken away from Newton’s paradigm, is known to be dependent on probability.

Meanwhile, it is necessary, but not sufficient, to define colors from the perspective of science and technology. According to Chang, ‘Colors are related to light and light is defined as wavelength,’ but the physical receptor that perceives them differs from people to people. The result of his research shows that the conditions of sunlight are different in various areas of the earth, which has a somewhat oval shape. Above all, a color never appears alone. Colors also change according to the context. As they come into view in combination with matters including the materials that constitute paints, they are exposed to a variety of variables. Colors may have no constants, just variables. However, these uncertainties are the charm of colors. Novelty and diversity come from such uncertainties. In today’s world where everything gets systematized, humane and artistic freedom may be found in such an area. We can’t argue about colors as easily as we do about shapes, which can be connected to meanings. It may well be said that a painter’s weapon is not the shape (meaning) but color (style).

However, people’s naked eyes can’t always be the standards. Our environment is transforming into the display environment, as it happened to printed matters in the past, and new systems have their own standards. For example, by entering a certain number, you can get the color that you want. ‘Objectivity’ in this sense will be further universalized as the territory of machines such as AI becomes wider. The goal of these systems will be to gradually eliminate factors of uncertainties including human nature and expand phenomenons that can be numeralized. Many things in the human domain, that used to be untransparent, have become transparent little by little in the gleam of enlightenment since the modern era. The enlightenment efforts did not end at some point in the past, but they are becoming stronger in the advent of an age in which machines wrap around our bodies and minds. Chang’s [Residency Diary], a work made of printed OHP films, is the record of his thoughts related to his work for five months, where transparent printed films interfere with one another to substantially diminish readability.

It’s a documentation that started when he first joined the Artience Daejeon program, and it must be containing details of his attempts to find the standards of colors and his intentions related to the works he created using the standards. However, the artist wanted to merely see rather than read it. Still, we can see the numerous layers that filled up all those hours. It looks like some kind of a lump, but those who have the will to read it may be able to read it by separating the films and inserting something bright below one of them. To see and to read are two different activities. To make something that one saw readable, to understand it in depth, and to reproduce it or enable its production, comprise the process of symbolizing the intransparency of objects so that it can be transparent. Today’s world is more transparent than the world of the past. However, it’s not clear whether this transparency further diversifies the world and enriches people. Chang’s work/research is one of his attempts to understand the untransparent phenomena including colors in a more transparent way. That may be an extremely difficult task of determining the possible boundaries, in an attempt to cross beyond them in the end.








Fractal World: Where Shapes Strut Along



Sun A Moon (independent curator)


Nature is the ground zero of Cheolwon Chang’s work. It always starts in observation of the world. And here it goes to this question: Does a pattern exist while objects are alternatively moving to somewhere? For instance, there is no such thing as a core inside a single orange, but when you cut it in half, you are able to see that every pulp grain is arranged towards some point around the center. Moreover, they seem to be related to each other making a shape which is what we called a pattern or a law of the nature; what an incredibly astonishing truth! Those are why he, Cheolwon Chang, has tried to use a geometrical figure to embody this amazing law. This is quite the same approach that all of us can think of the hexagon out of honeycombs or imagine the Fibonacci sequence from sunflowers, geometrical figure always symbolizes the shape of nature.


Here are the processes of his artworks. Once the observation of the nature or the other objectives in the world finishes, he extracts very fundamental shapes out of the objects and uses digital graphic tools to turn them into a simple and well-balanced figure. And those simple figures are put to rotate or overlap in order to create a certain organic body that consists of balanced constructions. Therefore, the final image of his work is basically intended to be simplified, but it contains quite complex structures. Chang calls those processes compounding, not producing. As anyone all around the world can make David’s star with a common and a reversed triangle, but they are not able to own the copyrights of it; likewise Chang insists every first image that he create should be considered only to be a slice of the nature, and nothing more. 


On that account, Chang doesn’t stop, but steps forward. He imparts handcrafted properties to those images that he creates, but according to his words, his creation might already exist in somewhere around the universe. More like some kind of ritual, he sharpens his pencil and draws something from what is in his mind or his laptop considering a canvas as the present state in front of his eyes. Of course, this is hard work collecting several straight lines to make a shape and rounding up those shapes to create a simple figure, and then bringing up the image of those processes to pile up the layers and embody the structural image on a canvas. Because a single mistake during making a space out of some features divided by those straight lines causes a complete failure of his work. In spite of that, the reason he keeps up with the sophisticated drawing without a plan B seems more like an ascetic practice in art


An intuition based on geometrics is the most important condition of Chang's work. The beginning of his interests in geometrics trace back into the past when he was studying in the United Kingdom, and it has amplified ever since. He was very into the equation of time, and that made him come down to a concept that there was a spatial figure which connected the United Kingdom with South Korea. He realized that the geometrics was, of course, very substantial and organic, and it also had a potential of transformation, but no more to be an exclusive property for mathematicians. For him, geometrics and nature are not to be opposed to each other constituting the binary structure, but to complement one another. Furthermore, they could be messengers that tell about the law of nature and its theory. He also insists that a simple figure should contain an unlimited possibility and the sublime in nature.


In recent days, Chang had an opportunity to straighten up his works and introduce them during his solo exhibition. Throughout his [Macro and Micro] series which is delicately created by hands, he completely transmitted the sublime in nature to people. After an overlap of small shape images builds up a large structure of nature, nature give orders to those images to become Macro or Micro structure at the same time. The new pieces that Chang chooses out of the previous work, scales up and redraws explain that geometrics is not based on Bitmap images, but on the system in conceptual Vector images. No matter how much you enlarge an image, in the Vector system, point, line and plane are not broken any, and which brings us to the infinity of our rational thinking and the nature.


His work reminds us of 'fractal' which is one of natural science notion that simple structure constantly repeats and makes a complex and intricate whole. The fractal that can be microscopically contracted or macroscopically expanded, and no matter how many times you cut it in pieces, it keeps creating another of the same structure itself, and it seems more like having a circulatory and permanent structure. The conclusion of this theory is 'everything in the universe is based on fractal system,' and that brings us to think what Chang’s doing is creating the universe on the canvas with his little hands. 


He also wishes to install a geometric pattern of people’s relationship in the motivation of 'relation lines' besides his video project where plane drawings are geometrically moving, but considering a solid design drawing has to be prepared in advance, he decided to keep focusing on the plane drawings. However, as he has written down all the ideas thoroughly in his working journal, the day that he carries on three dimension works above the plane works will come in the near future.