Walter Benjamin said that the birth of the new art forms in the 19th century brought about the decay of the aura of traditional art forms in the age of mechanical reproduction. He judged that with the advent of mechanically reproducible art forms such as photography and cinema, art departed from the ritualistic basis of traditional art and entered the territory of sheer exhibition values and he saw this change as signalling the beginning of new art - modernism.
'The decay of aura' conceived by Benjamin was a metaphor to capture the essence of the art of the new era when the aura of art started to be disintegrated individually, aesthetically and realistically. It was a prediction of a revolutionary change that encompasses a great turn in the realms of vision and perception, and also on the level of the ideas and philosophy. Benjamin's astonishing prophecy made in the early 20th century came true thereafter.
The idea of aura can lead us to the nucleus of Choi YunJung's paintings.
Clearly, 'aura' should not be identified with the word 'atmosphere'. Atmosphere, which is related to image, is closely linked to 'banality', as Roland Barthes elucidated in Rhetoric of the image.
Banality is the question of a certain form, generally perceived as a situation codified in a stereotypical and mundane way, and can be understood, in the widest and most serious sense of the word, as an ideology working on the emotional level. Therefore, atmosphere is translated into the subject's codified reality which is not free from surrounding atmospheres. However, aura operates as a force, working independently of the effects of codification and ideology. Aura illuminates the subject solely with its own light, regardless of the condition of the subject bound by the forces of atmospheres.
Choi YunJung's works reveal this. Let us direct our attention to her painting of panorama type first. Presumably, even those who are familiar with this type of grotesquely rectangular frames, with the popularization of panoramic photographs, are bound to confess their sense of uneasiness when confronted with this piece. The atmosphere itself is not unfamiliar at all, but it is just an atmosphere. : the sheer wideness of the landscape viewed beyond the laws of perspective, obscure color palette, unrealistic scenes, symbolic objects and codified atmospheres hinting at all these factors. To call it as 'a dreamlike atmosphere' would not be too wrong.
But it is the result of a surgical analysis of component parts. An unbroken view of the whole piece projects the painting as unfamiliar scenes, with a sense of anxiety arising from not knowing where to focus, to start or to move on the canvas. In other words, the piece exhibits a visual integrity with a smooth horizontal flow but simultaneously appears psychologically fragmented. The work seems to allow interpretations based on the laws of perspective, yet at the same time its two-dimensionality blocks these possibilities. Colors seem to distinguish borders, but they are suddenly obscured. The scene looks realistic and at the same time feels unrealistic. Objects seems interpretable, however they do not generate further meanings. In this way, the work produces a series of uneasiness.
This uneasiness also looms overs the stereotypical rectangular piece spanning an indoor space from 360° angle. This piece demonstrates a visual clarity and neatness compared with the panorama type one. However, this impression does not differ much from 'a stereotypical atmosphere' - a stereotypical indoor, a stereotypical object, a stereotypical familiar thing'. Calm and stable hues offers a touch of smooth finishing yet the composition of the painting itself arouses anxiety. Also, the familiar interior and the blue sea behind objects and the plain green landscape which further fragment the painting itself, makes the viewer unease as the panorama piece does.
Choi YunJung's paintings are founded upon this uneasiness. The uneasiness felt from her paintings is different from unpleasantness. Unpleasantness gives the sense of having already seen, usually dubbed as déjà vu. The scenes in the paintings look familiar as if encountered before (I will not dwell on the fact that this expression does not mean formal affinity). But if we pause to contemplate, they are felt as unfamiliar scenes we have never acquainted with. In reverse, they are unknown landscapes yet strangely familiar, thus, suddenly(This adverb is very important.) remind us of familiar atmospheres rather than prompting us to grasp familiar atmospheres. We know the most appropriate word for this expression. That is aura, which becomes a light to each and every one of us and throws a light on our heart.
I think that Choi YunJung's paintings cast a light on nostalgia rooted in our heart. Nostalgia refers to longing for our past and origin in the narrow sense of the word and 'the innate yearning of the human being' in a broader sense. Using usual and conflicting codes and ordinary visual devices which are not easily digestible, Choi YunJung's paintings effortlessly evoke our longing for going aimlessly somewhere without knowing where it is, what it is like and why we want to go there. That is the very aura Choi YunJung's paintings radiate and at the center of the aura's light, situated are Choi YunJung's paintings
People of the religious age never imagined themselves 'seeing' holy paintings. They, instead, believed that they were lightened by circular lights beaming above the heads of saints and angels, that is, a light arising from paintings themselves.
Holy paintings were a light that gave consolation to those vulnerable, hopes to those in despair, and ultimately, illuminated the human condition of being lost in darkness. The paintings were received as familiar because their light was seen and felt, but the viewer was seized by the paintings and helplessly gazed at them.
Even today, this light - aura has not died, but it just has changed its appearance. it can never evaporate. Choi YunJung's paintings are not easily consumed by our eyes, despite its formal familiarity resting on familiar signs or seemingly popular codes. The initial expectation of an easy digestion by a quick glance is to be broken and we find ourselves held powerlessly gazing at her works for some time. The reason might be that they lighten our nostalgia residing somewhere in our heart and we do not hesitate to enjoy that aura.