Hyangro Yoon’s Paintings Are a Bold Take on Our Data-Obsessed Era

This article was produced in partnership with the Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS).

In a 2013 New York Times article, columnist David Brooks coined the term “Data-ism” to describe the prevailing philosophy of our era, a mindset that gives precedence to the role and capabilities of data in our lives. In a period increasingly governed by data algorithms (with AI now becoming part of this picture), these inquiries extend into aesthetics, urging a reevaluation of artistic expression. Within this framework, the work of Hyangro Yoon presents a fascinating case study. Yoon’s art skillfully intersects data, emotion, and aesthetics, offering an insightful perspective on how art can adapt and thrive in the Data-ism era.

Hyangro Yoon begins with reconceptualizing the pixel, that fundamental unit of digital imagery. To do this, she manipulates digital imagery on a computer, often using Adobe Photoshop, and then transfers it to canvases through traditional analog painting.

In her celebrated series “Screenshot” (2016–present), Yoon elevates the pixel from a mere point of light to a dynamic entity pulsating with depth and emotion. This painting series represents a paradigm shift, ushering viewers into an ethereal threshold where the digital and physical realities intertwine and diverge in a harmonious ballet. These works are not mere visual spectacles; they are tactile experiences where airbrushed particles on canvas transcend the ordinary, oscillating between the realms of tangible reality and imaginative possibility.

Yoon’s work has undergone a vivid evolution, seen through later works, such as Drive to the Moon and Galaxy and Tagging-H (both 2022). In these pieces, Yoon further fragments digital images by shattering these traditional landscapes and reassembling them, crafting backdrops that challenge the norms of visual consumption. This artistic approach is not merely aesthetic; it’s a philosophical exploration of the nature of images and memory in the digital age, in which our collective memory often mirrors a series of transient, fragmented snapshots.

Yoon’s artistic practice is a deep and critical examination of contemporary image production and consumption. In this digital era, her work becomes a beacon of understanding, shedding light on the intersection of these once distinct fields. One of the most striking aspects of Yoon’s work is her ability to infuse emotional empathy into digital images, which are often perceived as cold and impersonal. Her Blasted (Land) Scape (2014) is particularly poignant in this regard. By intentionally removing central characters from familiar narratives, she creates a void filled with haunting emotional depth. The absence thus becomes a presence, inviting viewers to engage with the void and fill it with their own interpretations and stories.

Meanwhile, in Flag (2022), Yoon transforms wind, temperature, and humidity into visual expressions that capture the fleeting essence of our world. This piece, a canvas that adapts to the unpredictable whims of the weather, encapsulates Yoon’s vision of art as a living entity, responsive and adaptable to its environment.

Screenshot 7.03.15 1-002, 2017
Hyangro Yoon

DOOSAN Gallery

In a world overwhelmed with images and visual stimuli, Yoon’s work stands out as a reminder of the transformative power of art. Her work goes beyond being a mere reflection of the digital age; it is a profound commentary on it. It offers a nuanced discourse on how we interact with, consume, and interpret images in our increasingly digital world. Her work, thus, introduces not just a mirror reflecting the present but a window into the future, exploring what it means to be human in a world where data and algorithms are omnipresent.

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