Above: Nara Park, Never Forget. 2014. Plastic packaging boxes, vinyl. The Stamp Gallery.
When I first stepped through Nara Park’s Never Forget, I experienced a strong and unexpected cognitive dissonance. Shiny, striking, beckoning, Park’s work stands familiarly in our dimension, and is undeniably dynamic. My mental hesitance was not immediate, but seeped into me with closer inspection of the piece and its label. Park builds with “bricks” that are hollow, that have nothing natural about them, that have no part that ever came from earth or should ever return to it. “Moss” exists in a stagnant state that does not begin or end in growth, only geometry. I walked through “stone” that had no history beyond a factory print date and folds under Park’s hands. All of her work is made of mylar, plastic, vinyl, and patterned with ink printed off-site.
And I felt truly alienated. I felt an alienation that was amplified by my weeks spent with Never Forget, working in the site of its stature, and so I began to articulate a ‘why.’
I walk through Park’s work and am forced to recognize the bounds I tie to the trueness of materials. I have begun to recognize how much of the things that I love, I shamelessly love for their grounded nature. Grounded: I love not the space things occupy but the matter with which they occupy that space. Nature: I love not the things alone in this moment, but the things as a part of moments before and moments to come. It is not a realization of materialism in the traditional sense, but a sudden awareness of a strange attachment to materials nonetheless.
In other words, I was not rudely asked to reflect on how much I love to possess things, but rather asked to reflect on why I love the physical things I love. I love the buttery texture of oil paint. If you were to hand me an aerosol can of oil paint, I would not love oil paint. I grew up in a world of true-false questions and Holden Caulfield’s crises over phoniness, and so I grew up hating fake and loving transparency. And somewhere along the way, as I loved the transparent and honest and real, I either created or found the romance of those characteristics. These vinyl shipping boxes before me that held nothing but contained “PROTECTION,” “DIGNITY,” and “LOYALTY,” were completely artificial and completely without romance.
Really though, that’s the point. Like a poem you write and then find online in Comic Sans, my experience with Park’s work is not my own, and what Park is saying is not romantic. And despite how my staggered impression makes it seem, Park commits no crimes in her studio practice. She is openly and wholly un-aggressive about the altered realities she builds, and in a way, her written words seem to express greater humility towards her materials than many of those uttered by sculptors who wield the very materials she mimics.
Her goal is not to deceive, her goal is to understand. She asks us to figure out something with her. What really matters, to us as persons, and to us as a people? What about the things that matter, actually matter? What about the things that matter, should?
In the present, I continue to fall in love with the unique character of materials, the behaviors they practice that you take away when you only offer their image. I am still greedy: I want to experience an item with all of my senses, and am betrayed by the option of only using one. But I am also at times made humble by the way in which I consume the visual, tangible world. Here is Never Forget, filtering objects through one sense. Here are “inscriptions” that purposefully encourage dissonance. Here are items I have trouble connecting with because of their materiality, serving as a list of attributes that have no materiality at all.
Transparency is not about things that are true to their form, nor does it blindly communicate a harmony. Transparency is the champion of alienation, dissonance, discomfort. Because in this discomfort, we are made to reflect, and to grow.
In this way, there can be nothing more transparent, more honest, more real, than massless boxes building massless ideas.