First Type of Stairs (2010), oil on canvas.

My review of Christine Ay Tjoe’s solo as it appeared on ArtAsiaPacific:
A curator’s hand can make or break an artist’s work.
“Perfect Imperfection,” the first solo exhibition in Korea of prominent
Indonesian artist Christine Ay Tjoe, is evidence of one such making. The show
reflects the deep understanding the curator has of the artist’s work that is
needed to provide an informative framework of her artistic practice and
development: from Ay Tjoe’s graphic influences to her beautifully colorful oil
canvases. With over 60 works displayed across the three floors of SongEun
ArtSpace in Seoul, the exhibition—organized by guest curator Jasmine
Prasetio—leads the viewer through the past 15 years of Ay Tjoe’s practice by
following the artist’s recurring spiritual metaphors: from darkness and light
to somewhere between and within, and also the future. In her body of work, the
artist converts Christian biblical references into secularized, spiritual
inquiries of universal experiences that we share as human beings.

Jubah Barabas #01 (Barabas’ Robe #01) (2008), acrylic on canvas.

The title of the exhibition aptly summarizes Ay Tjoe’s
search for the balance between abstraction and figuration, and between control
and free flow. The artist’s works are visual representations of her struggle
with her own faith and its tension with her undeniable humanness. The painting Jubah Barabas #01 (Barabas’ Robe #01)
(2008) exemplifies this constant balancing act, featuring abstract, intertwined
figures, in which elements of light and darkness are inextricable linked to one
another. Insatiable hands reach out from the obscured, floating bodies—in
search of something and with a sense of perpetual longing. The constant strife
that arises from the coexistence of our earthly and spiritual desires is
perhaps the curse of being human, positioned somewhere between an animal and a
transcendent, or an angel and a monster.

Interior / wall view of Journey Without Distance (2011), oil on canvas.

While the theme of insatiable human desires and spiritual
transcendence over such worldly attachments pervade much of Ay Tjoe’s work, the
artist’s search for a resolution serves as an open conclusion on the last floor
of the gallery space. One cannot see the entirety of the large-scale painting Journey Without Distance (2011), because
of its proximity to an adjacent wall and the lack of light. Just like how we
often go about our everyday without pausing to take in the whole picture of our
lives, this expansive painting—suspended from the ceiling and meant to be
viewed from a 50-centimeter distance—allows viewers only glimpses of the three-paneled
canvas at a time. Viewers must cautiously walk the narrow and dark path between
the wall and canvas, following the painting’s soft fields of muted beige
gradations, outlined and entangled by the white, red and black lines traced
with her signature oil sticks.

The Last Layer (2012), oil on canvas, and video animation projection (2012-14).
The highlight of the exhibition is indisputably The Last Layer (2012), a red-hued
painting that hangs isolated in a darkened space partitioned by black curtains.
The chapel-like sanctuary achieves maximum effect when the projection of The Last Layer Video Animation (2012–14)
spreads outward from the center of the aforementioned painting. The projection
shows leafy, red shapes—a recurring motif in Ay Tjoe’s paintings—that turn
round and round, like an array of flickering coins gradually spreading out on
the floor and ceiling of the gallery space. The effect is mesmerizing: the red
canvas appears otherworldly and, for a moment, transports the viewers to a
sublime experience. Upon leaving the room, however, one comes to the
realization that the search for a resolution is not over, and that our
predisposition for inner strife will continue as long as humanity itself.

“Perfect Imperfection” is on view at SongEun ArtSpace,
Seoul, until June 20, 2015.