Koo Bohnchang – In The Beginning #41 (1995)
It occurs to me that maybe what separates an aesthetically pleasing image from Art has something to do with connectivity–how carefully it is stitched together and to the world surrounding it.
For example, Bohnchang’s body of work entitled Soap, is clearly an exercise in typology. It’s antecedent being the preeminent practitioners of photographic typology Bernd and Hilda Becher. Followed by Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip and Chuck Close’s portraits and Sugimoto’s luminous Seascapes.
The thing is: once you start considering typology as a motivation for image making it’s difficult to know where to cease application. In effect, I can’t think of a single so-called fine art photographer whose work in terms of genre, subject or process can’t be interpreted as a inherently typological. (Francesca Woodman would perhaps provide the exception that proved the rule.)
There is something obsessive about typology. So what separates a genuine work of art from something compulsively collected–and I acknowledge the distinction between making the thing you collect and simply acquiring an object.
Bohnchang, in his own words, describes his motivation to make images as being driven “not [by] flinging a camera over my shoulder and heading off to some
unexplored place. For me the thing of real value is looking for what is
inside of me.”
I could take the easy way out here and attribute this sentiment to a sort of process as an act of mindfulness. And while I think it is, at least in part, exactly that, there’s also something of an underlying awareness of the connection between that mindful exercise, the form taken by that exercise and the historical interpenetration.
The Becher’s work is genius not because of obsessivenes, it’s brilliant because it finds dignity and beauty in the ugly and ordinary; Ruscha’s efforts and not extraordinary because of their comprehensiveness, they are vital because they expandied the way that photography can present the world as continuous within the scope of singe, static frames; Sugimoto’s ocean as landscape are straight up hypnotic as fuck.
Though I don’t love all Bohnchang’s work, it’s definitely Art. And the reason it is comes as a result of the way his work always contorts in on itself to draw attention to the process that brought it about.
I feel that Matthew Weiner‘s–despite how horribly enormously problematic I find him is as a creator–oft trotted quote fits here:
Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They
want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it
all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who
do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek
to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and
the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the
illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that.
People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged,
because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a
finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I
would not hide my brushstrokes.
The difference between Weiner and Bonchang is that the former’s brushstrokes point self-consciously to the creator whereas, the latter’s seams point to the historical context, the process of creation and the work itself.