By Kim Ju-won (Curator, Aesthetics)

A garden in an arid desert…? Even the title of Jeong Ji-hyun’s exhibition presupposes contradiction and paradox. Her exploration of a natural and yet artificial garden is an attempt to discover the lost Garden of Eden, and also a gesture, filled with her aspirations to embody her world. The problem is, in Jeong’s work, this world is a desert. Jeong’s Desert Garden is a place with the psychological potential of uncertainty and instability.

Jeong’s desert garden presents realistic and unrealistic aspects in connection or disconnection with the land. Her garden is represented through natural objects, such as cacti and flowers, as well as artificial items like furniture. Jeong’s garden is full with these natural and artificial objects. The garden is part of nature, a resting place, or manifestation of utopia and order, and simultaneously a lack of nature, and disorder, a manifestation of dystopia, thus suggesting her want to overcome the harshness of reality. As the artist stated, “The objects I render appear in eternal relaxation”, but they also show nostalgic gestures to bring life to objects through death and ruin.

The natural and manmade objects in her work, likely to disappear like a mirage or illusion, seem to have embryonic features, with luxurious colors. However, their achromatic bodies, lying in a process of bleaching or de-coloration, appear on the verge of death, signified by red thorns and mold. Both of these signify the transition of time, and the intersection of life and death. The reason Jeong’s garden looks hallucinatory is due to these.

Jeong’s unrealistic garden has motifs from reality. As the world of illusion is isolated from reality, her Desert Garden involves reality, but deforms it, without seeking any eternal entities beyond reality. This implies Jeong’s garden is the place her uncertain, unstable psychology resides, not just a place described by novelty, weirdness, or magic. Therefore, Jeong’s garden is not isolated, or objectified, or ousted from a present viewpoint or present time.

Spring of Desert(2008)1 is a mixture of cacti and flowers, butterflies and fishes. In a garden, colors and fragrances that might brim in a real garden are removed. Sprouting red thorns and flowing blood generate anxiety and oppression of emotion. Nobody would stroll through this garden, uncertain whether it is on solid ground or in water. Desert Flower(2007)2 evokes an uncertain, unstable atmosphere, and depicts one flower. Eye-catching is its tender stamen, encircled with petals, transformed into something beastly with sprouted thorns, rejecting its function as a reproductive organ. The stamen seems to relinquish its botanical role, bringing life with fragrance, and suggests an aggressive will, to grope the world through a sensitive gesture.

At a glance, Jeong Ji-hyun’s garden is interpreted as a contemporary revival of a didactic phrase Momento mori meaning “Remember you will die.” associated with still life painting in the Netherlands in the 17th century, or vanitas, a symbolic still life painting referring to emptiness or vanity. The difference between this type of painting and Jeong’s work is in a prayer for revival and the will for life, unlike still life like a skull that brings all to nothingness or eternal time. Platonic Eros asserting that there is no love without deficiency is adapted like this by Jeong Ji-hyun.