July 28, 2010

Won Ju Lim

(1968, Korea)

Schliemann's Troy
Foamcore, plexiglass, still projection and lamps. Overall: 204 x 144 x 60 in. (518.2 x 365.8 x 152.4 cm) Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Gift of Dean Valentine and Amy Adelson. Courtesy Patrick Painter, Inc., Santa Monica

Won Ju Lim is known for groupings of foamcore and Plexiglas architectural forms illuminated by still and moving projections of urban and industrial landscapes from within and dramatically lit from without. The structures double as screens or refraction lenses, creating shadows and distorting the projections as they hit the walls of the gallery. Lim's second show at this gallery offered a departure in a group of mostly rectangular light/shadow boxes (all works 2003) twenty inches deep and ranging in size from roughly three feet square to nearly four by eight feet. Hung at picture height in a darkened room, the boxes negate their own clunkiness and turn into hazy, glowing paintings that evoke hilly, home-dotted views of Los Angeles's Highland Park, which gave them their shared title, Terrace 49.

Those familiar with Lim's work might see this new project as a strategic streamlining of her more unwieldy earlier installations into manageable, consumable objects. There's no doubt the elements making up Terrace 49 have a decorative appeal; they even elicit a momentary flashback to novelty lamps and look-it-glows items for the home. A shift has occurred, but while it might indeed aid in marketability, I'm nor complaining: The work is undeniably stronger. The "packaging" is in fact a kind of concentration, an intensification of the viewer's experience, as Lim harnesses the elements that in past installations have tended to dissipate and raises effects that might have come off as merely nifty to the level of wonder.

Lovely and haunting, these works exploit associations with forms ancient and recent by which we entertain fantasies and memories, hopes and fears--all forms of projection, puppet theater, the shadows on the window shade at night, as well as painting, particularly Asian landscapes and Baroque and Romantic scenes. Part of a larger project the artist refers to as "Memory Palace," the pieces evoke the centuries-old mnemonic device from which her investigations take their name (as you move mentally through a chosen architecture, each room triggers the information you've assigned to it). But one need nor be familiar with the ancient method of committing speeches or literature to memory to find oneself moving through those land/ cityscapes trying to unlock meanings and memories and constantly gauging their tone and implications. Elegant as they are, the Terrace 49 pieces leave one unsure whether their scenes are calm or catastrophic: They're as close to one's recall of an amazing sunset or breaking storm as to one's memories of a fire, a World War II bombing blitz caught on film, or live night vision over Baghdad. These new pieces make good on what Lim's past installations have striven for: wonderful and uncomfortable overlays and slippages of present and past, presence and absence, and the strange commingling of memory, fantasy, physicality, modeling, and illusion. They harness illumination, distortion, projection, and shadow as method and metaphor, leaving their viewers standing in the light and in the dark.

by Christopher Miles

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