The Anatomy of Discontent
Dealing with insecurities remains one of the toughest hurdles to the human pursuit of happiness. Though some people might manage such tendency a lot easier than others, it is nevertheless a familiar emotion that confronts us all in varying degrees. Even the most confident and self-assured personality may experience moments of self-doubt, though barely bothered by the thought. But for some, it is a malaise that takes over their being and strains interpersonal relations. Though probably as ancient as human consciousness itself, the feeling of envy has gained more potency in the modern times. Unpacking the link between European oil paintings and contemporary publicity, John Berger in his landmark writing Ways of Seeing argues that personal envy has become a more common emotion in the modern society in which social status is theoretically open to everyone, though in reality enjoyed only by a few. Consumerism capitalizes largely on these anxieties, manufacturing an unending sense of discontent that needs to be satisfied. Now, the advent of social media has intensified this inadequacy even further, programming a more crowded space that allows users to observe and compare lives beyond what they would normally encounter in the physical world. This virtual environment has increased the pressure to be better than others or exceed achievements and possessions, bloated the craving for validation and social acceptability, and designed a realm that triggers people to imagine their self-image as being probed by a constant surveillance.
In her presentation POV at Art Busan, Yeo Kaa recounts instances of such fragility frequently gripping the human psyche. In works that bear her imprint of sugary palette coating mostly themes of distress and anguish, she pictures how one struggles with dissatisfaction and the scathing effects of social standards and expectations. Heavily drawn from autobiographical inspirations, the pieces navigate through issues of the body and outward appearances, paranoia over social judgement, and fixation on acquiring material things, among others. The paintings contain the compositions in a range of imperfect squares, an allusion to our flawed nature as human beings ironically striving for an elusive perfection. In these episodes of torment, one thing is revealed: that the most severe critic is none other than one’s own self. This self is suggested by subtle outlines of the subject’s head, slightly visible in some works. In a diptych, it appears as identical faces superimposed on a crowd seemingly looking back at the viewer. It is the reflection one sees through a mirror set at the center of large eyes. Perhaps the works encourage us to transcend our own insecurities—to break free from standards that we impose on ourselves from the dictates of society, and to reverse it from within.