The Secret Language of Jian Kwon aka Solbi

Humming, 2022 (Mixed media on canvas, 50x50cm)

Systematized Language: Humming

Paris Koh Fine Arts - Fort Lee, NJ

Starting in the 1800s the invention of the underground language Polari helped its adherents to survive at a time when homosexuality was considered illegal and a criminal activity. The Bagande in Africa created a secret language called Bangime so they could remain hidden from slave traders. Cant the secret language of thieves and rogues begun in the 16th Century, was used to circumspect the law. Such secret anti-languages as the one used by the Qumran people for the Dead Sea Scrolls and other documents, were invented as resistance of the oppressed to those in power. Jian Kwon’s solo show Systematized Language: Humming at Paris Koh Fine Arts features artworks dealing with cryptography. Ostensibly appearing as painted apples, or squiggly lines and candles, her works' elements hold meaning as secret communication that helps her fight against cyber-bullying.

Kwon is also known by her music persona Solbi, whose K-pop star fame only serves to intensify aggressive cyber-attacks. Over the years Kwon has melded music and art creating performances and artworks. As a music personality she is well-known so that everything she does including art-making, is open to public scrutiny and sometimes abusive attacks. When she created a 'cake' work she was cyber-attacked as a copycat of Jeff Koons's Play-Doh used for the purpose of sales. But Kwon was actually paying homage with a real cake to Koon's Play-Doh, a not for sale work. After the attacks the artist made a performance work consisting of eating her own version of the cake, and videotaped the act. The above is only one example of the type of cyber-violence and slander Kwon has experienced. To prevent any further abuse, she created her own secret language consisting of apple motifs, candles, and abstract lines.


As a response to another cyber comment "do you know how to draw an apple?" Kwon used the apple motif to systematize her own alphabet by assigning meaning to each color corresponding to a music pitch and then using it in messages. The first of these drawings on vellum is the language key that were it followed, would allow the viewer to read her comment. This interactive aspect in the Apple works is also indicative of installation art. She includes Tweets such as the mean one about Obama that states "is there any way we could fly Obama to some Golf course halfway around the world and just leave him there?" to which Obama responded with "I think that's a great idea". As a follow up and in her secret language the artist writes a similar message to Obama's with apples.


Music informs Kwon's art-making process in several ways such as 'humming' evidenced by the title of the show and as a continuous skein of white silicone lines around the gallery’s walls connecting one work to the next turning it into an installation. Part of what describes installation art is the fact that it is designed for a specific space which in this case its true. Kwon completed a residency at this space so that this body of work was made specifically for the gallery. The installation must be seen in situ and in total to be appreciated and is tied together through the subtitle Humming the equivalent of Kwon's own musical language and message. Music, according to Kandinsky and as seen in Kwon, is the most abstract of the arts thus can transcend the limitations of language. Consequently, Kwon found her independence by systematizing 'humming' as well into an aural language that is seen.

The Humming works are comprised of pure white melting candles and wax representing vigil ceremonies that entreat others to be kind. The skeins of silicone thread connect one piece to the next in peregrinating waves on the gallery's white walls. In her Humming, 2022 (Mixed media on canvas, 50x50cm) she uses horizontal lines to create jagged lines that appear almost like writing. The white textual references against the pure white backdrop surrounded by white frames, appear as if written with clouds or soft cotton. A diptych, one of her all-white Humming, 2022 series paintings comprise two partially melted white candles within a space filled with textual references that continue from the wall onto the painting's surface via wavy lines. The candles are guttered and one could almost hear their desperate sputtering flickers corresponding to the artist’s pleading for peace and civility.

When taking in the whole installation the effect is one of pristine purity and impeccable lightness. Through this work Kwon has found a way to profess her pain in order to do away with the hurtful experience of cyber-bullying. She dreams of a cyber utopia where people unload their pain by forgiving each other.

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