By Kim Bok-young (Former professor of Hong-ik University, Art Studies)

An allegory is an indirect mode of revealing one’s intention through some kind of object, instead of directly conveying one’s inner thought. The term ‘allegoria’ is Greek in origin. Greece is known as a country of many allegories. That is because they were able to create a number of myths. The Greeks had a habit of personifying plants and animals. Unicorn, Pegasus, and Narcissus are well-known allegories. They are all substitutes the Greek people employed when expressing their intentions. They are not the names of the subjects but the names of subjects that refer to other things. In this regard, the Greeks said they borrowed ‘others’ (alla) when speaking of (agorein) their true intention. The Greeks called it ‘allegoria’. The Korean word ‘우의’ refers to ‘adding one’s own meaning to other objects’. This is a composite word of implying ‘adding’ and 意 suggesting ‘meaning’. This world is often replaced with ‘풍자’ signifying ‘likening something to something else and accurately hitting the core’.
The reason why I use the concepts of allegory and satire in introducing Jeong Ji-hyun’s work is that, since her first solo show Repose in Unfamiliar Space in 2003, she has embraced objects such as eggs, fish, pillows, chairs, jewelry, and cactuses, as the substitutes for revealing her intention. She tries her utmost to depict them and tries to persuade others to believe that they actually exist somewhere in this world. The artist clearly represents unknown objects that may be discovered in the world of fiction by appropriating a realist manner. This means her work is made in an allegorical type. In the artist’s statement, she remarks:

“A cactus with blood-colored thorny leaves set in a bleached space of silence, a faded chair covered with red mold, and mutative flowers embracing a thorny cactus – these all provoke gentle yet acute, comfortable yet sinister, beautiful yet inconvenient feelings. They are all stuffed and seem to be taking repose in eternity. Time completely disappears and this resting state seems to be perpetual.”

In this statement, she alludes to three points, obviously expressing the state of her mind. She expounds on the fictitious characteristics of eternal repose rather than her longing for it, and she makes known her painterly impulse and desires to occlude the gap between reality and fiction. This doctoral degree exhibition creates all the necessary conditions of an allegory. She makes them public under the title of A Desert Garden. The following is a delicate description of the allegorical aspects of her recent work, A Desert Garden.

‘The room of allegories’ is the concept I embrace to help viewers understand this work. The ‘room’ was appropriated from the titles of her work. In her early pieces (2003), unfamiliar spaces appear instead of rooms. For example, she placed eggs and fish in a transparent bottle, on the tender cotton, a cold steel plate, a mirror reflecting the sky, and a vast desert.1 The room was clearly embraced in her 2005 solo exhibition. Under the title In My Room, she began actively using the motive of rooms along with depictions of red mold flourishing in drawers, pillows, chairs, and sofas, as well as figures of thorny cactuses, soft seeds, and fragile beads.2 At that time she also presented two solo shows in June and August consecutively.
In her 2005 exhibition titled Persephone’s Secret Room, Jeong displayed Kore’s Room, representing her allegorical ideas. Kore’s Room and Kore’s Room – Looking into the Inside, made of synthetic resins, consist of the repetition of tiny white rooms, reminiscent of beehive cells. The rooms are filled with pink and cobalt-colored gem eggs, recalling Alice in Wonderland.3 In her series of pieces featuring Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld in Greek mythology, she represents her secret, imaginative room. Proserpina is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Persephone. She is also the Queen of the Underworld. They were all enchanting young girls as the daughters of Zeus and Jupiter respectively. Their destinies change after being kidnapped due to their beautiful appearances. They may be allegories suggesting a Korean saying, “Beautiful women are often ill-fated.”
As the cost of accepting their destinies, these ill-fated women lived in weirdly beautiful rooms, changing into the deities that govern the underworld. What is quite regrettable in this story is that such beautiful girls transform into the women who govern the world of darkness. Through this allegory, Jeong implicitly signifies the existence of evils that are perhaps pervasive in this world. This is closely associated with the allegorical meaning that Jeong’s Persephone’s Room implies. The gloomy yet flamboyant colors and atmosphere of the world of evils she depicts in Room of Allegories are accurate in describing the world today.
This up-and-coming young artist presents luxurious substitutes to signify the height of gaudiness and hypocrisy in our times. 2006 and 2007 were decisive years in this regard. In 2008 she produced many variations such as Spring in a Desert and Desert Flowers. All objects in these paintings become rearranged and systemized. These objects are all based on the archetype of huge dark-blue narcissus flowers Zeus, her father, used to abduct her. The artist modifies these narcissus flowers into cactuses by adding thorns. The narcissus, an allegory for incest, was the means Pluto and Hades, the gods of the underworld, used to camouflage their evil characters.
The myth that a good-looking boy, Narcissus, turned to a narcissus flower as the result of his love of himself indicates an allegory that one may change into something devilish due to his or her own arrogance and folly. Jeong’s beautifully modified plants are allegories of our times, suggesting our arrogant, vicious existence.

Jeong Ji-hyun depicts the variant of the narcissus and that is because of her fate to become Persephone or Proserpina. The artist alludes to the following in his recent statement concerning this fate.

“The things I depict are likely to be in perpetual repose, but they are actually fictitious. They are perhaps the manifestation of my nostalgia for something inaccessible. Red thorns and red molds thrive in my work. This means an attempt to eventually obliterate any eternal substance by shattering time. The thorns and molds flourish in the gap between eternity and transience. They appear in a hybrid of the senses - tactile, visual, and aural – and stimulate my imagination. I fill up the chasm of my feelings, transcending mixed time and space. I feel even a psychological, neurotic sense of disruption. I fall into chaos in a middle position, wandering between disruption and emptiness.”

Jeong has conceived allegories to make up the gap between symbols and actual beings. The pangs of creation bring about any mental, neurotic disruption. On the contrary, the artist has to reproduce Persephone’s Secret Room to heal this schizophrenia. She draws and puts the variant of the narcissus into this room by Persephone’s allurement and encouragement. That is why this is the only way to heal her schizophrenia. Broadly speaking, she wants to heal her own anguish and contemporary people’s agony like this.
This motive gives rise to the exhibition A Desert Garden. This show is of significance in that it extends The Room of Allegories to The Garden of Allegories. The room is different from the garden in its scale. She depicts one or several decades of species of flowers and plants to expand the room to the garden. The techniques to back up this expansion become varied. She modifies them to show that they are allegorical elements. The varietal plants and flowers signify gloomy aspects of our times. She shows this world becomes deteriorated through the ways of adding, smearing, and scattering blots and of setting a room in a desert.
Like a thremmatologist, she depicts the most savage imaginary plants and flowers of the world on the temporary stage of a desert. Good and evil compete with each other on this stage. A huge variety of mutants swarms here. They devour or hybridize one another. A desert is a place where only the most poisonous, vicious creatures can survive.
Jeong renders images in flamboyant forms and colors to survive in the age of mutants. Her artistic strategy for survival is to pictorially represent a room where such mutants dwell. Thorns appear dreadfully sharp while petals boast off their eerie beauty. A mixture and hybridization of blots diverse forms give rise to a savage quality that takes on the color of unknown red. They look rough and shocking yet beautiful. Desolate, dismal life forms such as withered flowers, flourishing mold, flowers in full bloom, and flowering cactuses assert that even a desert has the spring season. Those creatures in her work seem to compete with one another. That is surely Persephone’s garden.
The artist persuades us to recall Persephone’s garden, while seeing A Desert Garden. She emphasizes that we have to resemble wild creatures to survive in the reality like a desert where existential beings and souls become withered.
Jeong’s doctoral dissertation alludes why she induces us to the world of wild nature. A symbolic suture her dissertation underlines is a painterly strategy to narrow the split between reality and imagination. As did Louise Bourgeois who has showed the fierce spirit of our times, Jeong intends to make up the gap by propagating the variants of images. This is not useless but a strategy for survival. If seen from the framework of psychoanalysis, this is a politically retrogressive conception to return to a child. As Jacques Lacan pointed out, we lose our identity and become otherized, as soon as we began talking a verbal language as a child.
We are all like this and the gap between symbols and realities thus becomes infinitely widened. We have to return to the mirror stage of our innocent childhood days to make up this gap. The only way to do this is to identify ourselves with Persephone. To do this, we have to the simulacra of an Imago like the Room of Allegories. We cannot help do this. Jeong considers that our destiny.
Jeong stops here. She thinks we have to appropriate a spectacle like the room of a shaman, take is as an allegory, and then depict the Room of Allegories. Her recent work confirms there is no way except for this. A Desert Garden on display at the show connotes all aspects.