Blue and red. Red and blue. These two colors are loaded with significance and symbolism. In many scenarios, such as gender definition, their meanings stand firm and stable, truthful representations of male (blue) and female (red). Yet, in other cases, such as red as a sign of good luck in China, becomes inconsistent as the definition moves across other cultures. Much of my work deals with how truth is manufactured in the image. Throughout True Colors the levels of truth, fiction, real, fake, honest, dishonest, natural, synthetic, alive and dead are constantly being pulled and prodded in multiple directions, all at once. These color truths are not fixed in the direction symbolic associations.
The series Blue/Red Still Life continues the vanitas tradition of painting, which sought to depict the “transience of life” through realistic representation. In a previous photo series, Production Infinity, I accentuated the aesthetics of product packaging. Here in Blue/Red Still Life are more “traditional” objects and compositions. The photos play with the truthfulness of materials. In the photographs are real life and fake flowers, fruits and foliage. In these images, accuracy of object depends on the honesty of the blues and reds, which have been heavily manipulated in the camera and in digital production. Therefore, the colors are what betray the “realness”, not the objects’ shape and material. The interplay of saturation and contrast, to me, is similar to the moving definitions and symbolic associations of ‘blue’ and ‘red’. These color truths are not fixed despite how much cultural reinforcement is applied.
We tend to think of color primarily as a visual sense. We also tend to accept what we see as true. “Photos or it didn’t happen” is a common colloquial phrase to test the truth of one’s account. But it doesn’t take much philosophical argument to crack this “universal” perception. When colors are translated into words, their meanings shift with the tides of history and culture as 남선우 has written in her essay In Search of Red. Color is also something felt physically and even auditorily, as demonstrated in 민구홍’s list of rhyming words. Color, as Master Ohan in Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red insists, can be felt and understood by a blind man. These color truths are not fixed in their sensual understanding.
One pop cultural example of color perception turning into chaos was The Dress. On February 26, 2015 a photo of a dress was posted on Tumblr and immediately went viral, because it exploited human inconsistencies of color perception. The internet argued for days over whether the dress was black and blue, or white and gold. What was fascinating about this silly image meme was that it exposed a very specific and scientifically unexplainable “glitch” in the way humans see. Since this viral incident, several scientific scholars have conducted serious research attempting to explain why the image revealed such widespread inconsistencies. These color truths are not fixed despite how much science has advanced the understanding of ourselves.
Blue and red are also colors that are both commonly represented as harmonious, but simultaneously in direct opposition to one another. One direct example is how blue and red are applied to the Taegeuk found on the South Korean national flag. Another example is the blue and red significations of the American Democratic and Republican political parties. Both are significations of concepts that are in simultaneously in opposition and harmony with one another. Again, these color truths are not fixed in their relation to one another.
True Colors questions how true colors really are. Through the tradition of vanitas, hypnotizing patterns and manipulations of the body, the collection of work presented plays with the dials of meaning embedded, attached and connected to blue and red. I question these truths at time when it appears the many cultures around the world are questioning the foundations of civilization. Ultimately, the meaning is in the eye of the beholder.