Its sights firmly focused on Asia, with a dozen Chinese artists pinned to its wall, the Société Générale Collection has just incorporated the work of South Korean artist Bae Bien-U into its Collection. His photos of “sacred forests” can be viewed this spring at the Art Paris Art Fair, which is dedicated this year to the South Korean scene, as well as on the walls of the prestigious Chambord Castle.
He may be one of the newcomers to the Collection – with the piece SNM5A-011H (SONAMU), acquired at the end of 2015 – but South Korean photographer Bae Bien-U is anything but new to the scene. Born in Seoul in 1950, he has had several solo exhibitions among his accomplishments, including one at the Musée d'Art Moderne of Saint-Etienne in 2015. This devotee of film photography, who turned exclusively to the medium in the 1970s, has made a speciality of black-and-white snapshots, panoramas and unique angles. His sole subject is nature, but this doesn’t necessarily suggest a naturalistic approach. Bae Bien-U builds his images upon an abundance of mists and light – which he prefers at dawn or dusk – and tight or dizzying frames – which confer an abstracting finish to the work. His preferred landscapes – the volcanic slopes of Jeju Island, the seaside, or the sacred forest of Gyeongju – borrow from traditional Chinese painting its science of emptiness and contrasts, its quiet spirituality.
Bae's pine trees
“The symbol of the soul of the Korean people” and “the link between earth and sky,” according to Bae Bien-U, the pine tree is central to the vast majority of his work. He photographs their trunks or the treetops during his long walks, trying to reveal their formal dynamics. Just like Gustave Courbet's Oak of Flagey, the tree is not represented in its entirety, as if it's too big to fit into the frame. Rough, striated bark, twisted branches, patches of leaves overhanging like mysterious formations… Bae Bien-U lends the pine tree – symbol of longevity in Korea – an almost divine power. These unnerving floral idols can be seen at the Art Paris Art Fair from 31 March to 3 April 2016 at the stand of the Parisian gallery Rx. Five of the artist's large-format works, dating from 1995 to 2014, will be on sale.
A mythical forest
Invited to be an artist-in-residence, Bae Bien-U stayed at the Renaissance gem Chambord Castle several times in different seasons in 2015. He wandered the dense woods that border the building (and that are characteristic of anatomy), an exploration that led him to conceive of a series of original shots which are on display until 12 June 2016 in the castle's keep. In them, the French forest – the hunting reserve for François I and the biggest park in Europe – comes off as pure energy: an untouched fantasyland where humans, and animals – quite numerous at Chambord – are absent; a paradise lost that we can delight in through Bae Bien-U's photos.