Cody Choi

WHILE THERE'S NOTHING NEW in talk of art in the computer age, or of the influence of digital imagery on visual perception and the artistic imagination, Cody Choi's exhibition “New Pictorialism—Database Painting” merits attention because of the artist's eloquent way of personalizing these themes. The exhibition consists of three parts: twenty-one “paintings” (actually vutek prints on mesh, backed with canvas); a desktop computer with an interactive software program; and a text stenciled along the gallery walls, narrating the story line behind the paintings, the personal experience from which the project derives.

Choi's previous work has been consistently intelligent—meditations on art history layered with his personal experience as a sociology student in Korea, then as an art student in California encountering Western art, and finally as a Korean artist continuing to live and work in the United States. In his 1996 show in Seoul he used Pepto Bismol mixed with toilet paper as a sculptural material to produce full-size versions of several icons from Western sculpture, including Rodin's Thinker. The antacid had become a favorite material of the artist's after two and a half years of consumption—a bottle every day, to relieve the constant abdominal distress caused by the anxiety of expatriate life.

The bulk of “New Pictorialism” consists of conventionally formatted canvases, but printed with high-resolution images of animals in dense junglelike settings, which Choi made using the coloring program on his son's computer and then revised using more sophisticated systems. With their dazzling video-arcade palette, the lush backgrounds imply a spatial setting of some depth, but the order of things in the paintings does not mimic the natural order that we inhabit, as did conventional mechanical reproductions such as film, photography, or video. Rather the paintings are the outcome of what the artist calls a “new pictorialism”: Originating in clip art culled from database files, it is imagery that has been found, edited, and synthesized.

The paintings are material evidence of the story line presented in the wall text, which recounts an experience involving the artist and his son. Choi recalls how, as a child in kindergarten, he was taught to use a pencil for writing and drawing. His son, at the same age, learned how to use a computer: “After he came back home [from a day at the zoo], he told me he wanted to draw a tiger. Then he went to his computer desk to find a tiger figure from his magic 3-D pre-schooler printing software. He made a very successful tiger painting and printed it out . . . . I was surprised at computer. It is a thinking tool, gives my son pre-given database and hyper electronic digital imagination. It became a new idea of imagination, instead of my son's imagination out of what he saw.”

The narrative is clearly and simply stated, thought-provoking, and nuanced with a Korean accent. The text conveys the artist's particular manner of speaking English: Choi communicates well after many years in the United States, but English is not his native language. His expansive meditations on such grand themes as new models of creative processes and the frontiers of globalizing technology and of the artistic imagination are contained by his idiosyncratic manner of speech. Language remains the most difficult barrier to overcome, binding the individual to a place of origin and distancing him from the place to which he's migrated.

Jae-ryung Roe