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Aesthetics of Chaos and Order

Posted October. 06, 2004 11:06,   


The Old War Between Messing up and Putting Things in Order-

Doesn’t it sound interesting? Things that are “well in order” are considered to be in a status of “entropy” (disorder) to mom, and vice versa. An ardent student eager for order is found universally in the desire of human beings, and each individual has a different definition of order. No, it might not depend on individual taste, but a matter of given social roles. At any rate, due to this different angle, the fight between order and entropy never ends. In fact, that is how the laws of nature and the universe unfold.

I thought the fight between order and disorder would end in my generation. My goodness! The fight between mom and son now has different players: grandmother and grandchild. My mother, who has been a grandma to my four-year-old son, is repeating the old battles now with my son. “How come you messed up your room like this? You can’t say this is a human’s room,” she says. From a grandmother’s perspective, all her grandson is doing all day long is breaking interior order. “Grandma, you destroyed my work!” But from my son’s perspective, all grandma is doing at home is vandalizing his great artworks.

Playing with magnetic blocks is “a game” for children, who spread all those magnets into different shapes on the floor. And, taking, gathering, and putting them all back into their case is “work” for grandmother. She even searches under the table and the couch not to miss a single block. A “game” for someone can be “work” for the other. It creates pleasure for one, and a nuisance for the other. How unfair is that?

A Painter Putting His Artworks in Order-

Swiss born artist Ursus Wehrli is an artist as well as a comedian, entertainer, and designer. His recent work shares something common with my mother’s work of putting things in order. First, take a look at painting “No.1”. Everybody notices it as the bedroom of Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, Netherlands. His room is as messy as my workroom when I paint. Wehrli couldn’t tolerate the messiness. So, he cleaned up the room. He put a table, chairs and frames on the bed, and hid the rest of his things under the bed. Where did he hide what? Try finding what is where.

The next picture is Peter Brughel’s. It is full of vaguely described eccentric scenes. The underlying reason behind the surrealistic features of this painting relies on Brughel’s motive of translating plenty of Dutch proverbs visually onto a picture. For instance, imagine how you would picture literally the Korean proverb: “You’ve got a bigger navel than your stomach.” (Which means you happen to spend more money than you make.) How ludicrous that would be. I remember when I first heard this proverb when I was a kid. I laughed almost to death picturing the image of having a bigger navel than stomach.

In this single painting, the meanings of 100 proverbs are implied according to the artist. No doubt, having messy flea-market-like scenes helps. Then, Wehrli stood out and cleaned up the crowded space. The flea market suddenly became empty. Isn’t that familiar to you? When an air-raid alarm rings during civil defense training, it sweeps through the crowds and leaves the streets empty. Where have all the people gone? They all gather together somewhere else. Back in my childhood, my mother used to collect all my miniature soldiers and sweep them away like Wehrli did.

The World Where a Job Can Be Play-

The “Skylark’s Song” by Joan Miro, a surrealist painter, was not an exception for Wehrli either. The painting consists of geometrical patterns and doesn’t show anything resembling a skylark at all, unlike the impression one might have from the title. Wehrli dissembled the geometrical patterns and stacked them by shape and color. It looks like an art made of blocks being taken apart into pieces. While Miro’s original painting reminds one of blocks randomly displayed on the floor by a child, Wehrli’s work resembles blocks arranged neatly in a box by the child’s mother.

The idea of “cleaning out art” is original. (Will a mother also enjoy cleaning a room as a game?) Wehrli said this idea came to him while going to buy bread one morning when winter was just about to start. He has “cleaned out” two volumes of art so far. Still, there is far to go. For centuries, artists have made messy works and called them art. In order to clean them all, he may have to spend his entire life doing it. He will not have any free time to feel bored.

Think of Tom Sawyer, who wittily transformed a painting job into a game. There is no clear distinction between job and game. The job of cleaning a place can be a playful game if thought of in a different way. The world where a job becomes play: isn’t that the ideal society dreamed of by Karl Marx? We don’t need a revolution to make such a society. Once a while, although it may happen very rarely and not all the time at all, by changing our views, we can fly to a world where a job can be a playful game.

Chin Joong-gwon, columnist and professor at Chung-ang University