This happened in April 2017. Juae Park joined an artist's residency in New York. It was a decision made in search of a new creative driver for her work. Life in Big Apple was much more challenging than she had anticipated. Between the strange environment and the language barrier, it took her 3 days before she broke down in tears. Tears fell on her paintings. There were only two; neither were complete. She tried drawing a nostalgic face on cotton cloth. She borrowed cotton from her neighbor art studio and stuffed the cotton duvet which she had now sewn to resemble a bust. It was wonderful to see such a nostalgic face come to life.
The first stuffed doll the artist made was her boyfriend who she missed dearly. She states that she wanted to draw it as close to his likeness as possible. It was not a clothed doll, and it represented her boyfriend anatomically correct in the sense that all his physical characteristics that she could recall were all present. Without a doubt, art addresses absence. Simulacre, synonymous to a replica or fake, also denotes an apparition. Figure once carried the meaning of ghost. Image was derived from the word imago, meaning the waxen mask used to lift the face of the dead. As such, art was born from the most absolute of absences; death. The dead (either in the second or third dimension) are resurrected via surrogate material. The cotton-filled doll of the boyfriend is both present and absent, a trick to anchor the invisible by the side.
All things serve a purpose. Of all things, dolls are born of the most extraordinary purpose: to captivate the human affect. The dolls embody a human (or animal) resemblance and in magical silence conjure an illusion for people to partake. Park's description that 'the process of drawing a face unto the sewn white fabric and filling the flat emptiness with cotton to give it a sense of volume, or being, was how I imagine it feels like to imbue something with a soul.' is hardly surprising. Dolls are just glorified stuffed pouches. No matter how realistic, they lack a soul, is not real, and is devoid of function. However, is it only the functional that enriches human life? For example, the crucifix or other paraphernalia serve a purpose, simply by their presence. Through the transcendent powers of a fetishized subject, fear and doubt is dispelled.
Park's dolls take on a therianthropic, that is half-man half-beast forms. They are not new to her works, as they frequently appeared in her earlier paintings. A Time to Warm My Blood (2016) shows such beings somewhere between a roe and a human in a large bath with a willow tree in the center. Park shares that she wanted to initially draw human facial features, but didn't know how, so she drew the roe instead. Roes are timid animals but have a tendency to lunge at bright lights. Park says she felt like a roe. She borrows the partial figure of a roe as a form of circumlocution as a confession of her own identity, unable to self-define and unable to claim a full upbringing into wholesome adulthood.
This form of zoomorphism is metonymy, a type of circumlocution where a term stands in for an object or concept. It is an act of denial to the original object, while also an act of designation. The charm of metonymy lies in the sentiment and poetic symbolism of the placeholder word. The human form and the animal form combine to gain the special characters and symbolism of the animal. Thus, dolls of half-man half-beasts are not merely zoomorphic depictions of human beings, but a step away from the symbol of the human form.
Who are the ones that are presented on these chimeral dolls? They are the artist's husband, a motherly and intimate relationship, and others that Juae Park gives her care wholly to. The question of who the figures are on the doll is inseparable from the question of who 'Who is Juae Park?' Those people special to the artist are defined by the answer to the question of why they are special to her. Herself, her husband, her mother are all her witnesses who complete her alibi. Why and what about is so special? Well, it has not been told to us yet. Would it be possible for us to look at the dolls the way Juae Park gazes upon them with affection? This too, is not known to us. Perhaps it is not for others to know, ever. That is where mystery lies. From the very beginning, a doll does not come with a soul, but is imbued with one. Inspired, blown in. Mystery lies not in what is beheld but in the beholding gaze, and the root of mystery lies not in the form but in the spirit.
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