Built as a royal retreat to satisfy the young king François I’s love for hunting and art, the Chateau de Chambord sits on a swath of french countryside as large Paris itself. The palace has 282 chimneys and has never been inhabited.
Korean photographer Bae Bien-U has spent a year in residence at this surreal palace. He guides us through grand rooms hung with his recent work: equally surreal photography of the surrounding countryside that he displays compellingly alongside photos of Korea’s Gyeongju forest.
The forests of both Chambord and Gyeongju have royal histories. They are sacred forests; Chambord as the past hunting ground of kings and Gyeongiu as a royal cemetery. In his photographs Bae Bien-U becomes a « passeur » from one forest to the other. Moving from image to image, from Korea to France, one finds that only the trees change. Korea’s « sonamu » transform into oaks, and the sacred nature of these places remains.
It’s easy to find a resting place of calm in these images, noting perhaps the sense of zen, a fluidity with the natural world, evoked in Korean gardens. Trunks become long black lines, calligraphic, moving gradually into the fog. I think of Lee Ufan’s Korean rocks at Versailles.
Bae Bien-U guides us through his work, honoring us like the royal host that the Chateau de Chambord never had. At points, the reflection of stained glass windows glances off the exquisitely fine surface of the photographs. Hung on stone walls, their size and quality are impressive. I learn of the exceptional nature of their printing at Dusseldorf, a capital of photography.
Asking Bae Bien-U where he’d like to pose for a portrait, he points to a small room hung with photographs of refined greenery—they call to mind the great painter Gyeomjae Jeong Seon (1676-1759), the first to paint the countryside en plein air.
Bae Bien-U’s work possesses a disarming magic. His still, dark trees evoke in us the quiet awe of childhood fairytales. I think of the little crumbs dropped by Hansel and Gretel. Under this spell, I’m afraid of losing myself in that mythical forest where the luring trees have souls, intertwining trunks dancing a subtle rhythm against the wind.
Time passes through the woods and before Bae Bien-U’s interpreting eye. Rain, sun and fog strike the imperturbable trees, majestic, calling to mind the romanticism of Four Seasons by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).
One wanders through the stark, black trunks in the foreground and into the increasingly indefinite shapes beyond. Moving through the image as if in a dream, magnetized, we give way to our imagination.
The photographs’ physicality cedes to the sensing of symbols; earth and sky, life and the death, reality and dream. As the sacred pines of Korea and the oaks of Sologne connect us to these symbols, Bae Bien-U tells a story that is more felt than read.
In addition to his residence at Chambord until April 10th 2016, Bae Bien-U has a retrospective, « Bae Bien-U, dans le paysage, » at Saint Etienne’s Musée d’art moderne et contemporain until the January 31st 2016.
PARIS PHOTO – Grand Palais – Salon d’honneur SH5 – Artiste exposé l BAE Bien-U – 12-15 Nov. 2015
Translated by Chris Gortmaker, Wesleyan University, Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris Fall 2015.
Catalogue : . Bae Bien-U, D’une forêt l’autre
Textes : sous la direction de Yannick Mercoyrol, préfaces de Jean d’Haussonville, et de Lorand Hegyi, avec un texte de Robert Fleck / Langues : bilingue français – anglais / 104 pages / 67 illustrations / Cartonné contre-collé 24,6 x 28 cm / Editions Somogy / Date de parution : septembre 2015 / ISBN 9782757210130