by Mary Hrbacek
The newly reopened Paris Koh Fine Arts presents, “artificial. Beauty: Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River,” an exhibition of six new (2021) large scale archival pigment prints and six smaller gelatin silver prints. The large daring staged images are startling and fresh, evocative and dynamic. River’s nature-inspired vision is augmented with colored bubble wrap, repurposed to replicate the leaves of trees and to function as the scales and fins of a male merman and female mermaid. He configures dancers from the New York City ballet, as he explores experimental artificial environments by positioning the volunteer nude models in composite relationships with the reimagined plastic substance of bubble wrap. River plays out mythological themes of transformation into human Bonsai trees; human-fish and jellyfish morph into forms with extended meaning and potential. Bubble wrap, a signature material in River’s creative vocabulary, adds a heightened emotional charge to the imaginative scenarios that stir in some works euphoric feelings of flowing freedom to be found in the movements of ocean-going creatures. These creatures are perhaps the next step in human evolution, as the Earth’s surface becomes increasingly uninhabitable. The freely floating pieces of bubble wrap, functioning as algae or other sea organisms, evoke the weightlessness of forms that thrive in the wind or in water.
The extreme realism of the figures, made possible exclusively by the camera, creates a marked shift in vision and contrast in feeling compared with the artificial material. The hybrid combination pushes the boundaries of imagination to the limits of belief by asking the viewer to consider two distinctive means of image-making that are especially provocative in the Bonsai pieces. The human elements of the Bonsai group diverge from the realm of evocative reality into a fully blown rendition of female anatomy. This effect overtakes the natural suggestiveness of the bio-forms. The bright supporting colors of the backgrounds and the tree “leaves” transport the works into a heightened non-naturalistic environment that speaks to an unconscious need for reverie and celebration by rejoicing in life’s ever changing vocabulary of experiences.
The male and female underwater fish figures that glide through the depths with tail fins and tendrils swirling behind, provide a lush sense of the buoyant ephemeral character of underwater existence. Nothing is static or rigidly fixed; every aspect of deep-sea life as seen in the photographs moves and undulates perpetually, beckoning us to escape our inflexibility and rejoice in life. The “Bubble wrap no. 21 (Jellyfish)” piece entices the viewer to realize the nature of the Id which can cause us pleasure and pain with its insistent desire and consequent burning sting. The warm enveloping range of light and dark red-orange tones in the “Bubble wrap no. 23 (Mermaid)” photograph stirs a sense of both water and fire, while the deep blue hues of the “Bubble wrap no. 25 (Merman)” expand our consciousness by presenting cool realms where a freshly created being, the Merman, dominates. “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” presents a trio of naked men grouped crouching on a mountain peak, where ominous clouds hover overhead. The men express their ascendency by relating to each other with outstretched arms, having conquered their worldly challenges.
The “Behind the scenes” series of 10” x 10” (frame 15” x 15”) gelatin silver prints gives the viewer insights into River’s creative working process by providing varying possibilities that add to the richness of the final visions, as seen in the large pieces. Here the Merman and Mermaid photographs have lights that suggest planets in the darkened “sky,” to provide a cosmic or otherworldly dimension to these new forms. The three male figures in “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” seem to be resting from a difficult struggle, contemplating their current position. The standing figure appears to be the chief in charge (River himself) who makes the fatal decisions.
These pictures are strange and beguiling; River has created unique narratives that touch the realm of fairytales peopled with creatures who may initially alarm us, but who ultimately stir our awe, empathy, and curiosity. He works intuitively, allowing the exploration process to spark his engagement, providing unconscious ideas and relationships that augment each other. River takes photographs before he assigns theoretical underpinnings to his endeavors. He focuses on what is unfolding in the “now,” moment by moment. This extreme commitment infuses the hybrid works with authenticity; the imagery may initially seem contradictory as the nude body reveals all its forms in contrast with the abstracted structures of the re-purposed bubble wrap, transformed into tree leaves, clouds, fish scales and flying or floating ephemera. By creating these diverse means of expression River takes the photographic genre into a more creative arena using wire, a flashlight and bubble wrap to augment the lush beauty of the nude figures. The artist considers the series “bizarre yet fun,” but it goes further than fun, it introduces the viewer to a surprising universe of visual ideas in artificial scenes that open unexpected doors to future explorations. These ideas have acquired their own ingenious reality.