Han’s beholden beauties

You look at images of Debbie Han’s “Season of Being” series and you think, How clever she is to create a group of sculptures in the manner of the ancient Greek goddesses.

But looks can be deceiving, and while Han is a gifted sculptor as well as photographer, these are not neoclassical sculptures. Rather they are digitally manipulated images that seamlessly fuse the bodies of nude young women posed in groups of two, three or four with heads from the Hellenistic (post-classical Greek) period.

That, however, represents about “1 percent of the labor,” says Han, who exhibited two Lightjet prints from “Season” and other related works recently in ArtsWestchester’s “SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity.”

“There was a crazy amount of digital rendering to create the illusion of marble,” says Han, who painstakingly removed every hair and pore. Indeed, each of the four works — which represent the seasons and different qualities — required three to four months and 20 to 30 gigabytes.

But again, look closely: Marble does not have this warmth or this coloration. Rather the skin tones of these goddesses seem to suggest everything from alabaster to terra cotta.

“The viewers will wonder: ‘This looks so human.’ But then, they’ll focus on the figures and think, ‘What’s going on?’”

What’s going on in these tours de force are Han’s observations on time, beauty, power, culture and perspective.

“On one level, I wanted to comment on our time. What will the next generation think of us? You look at these goddesses and they’re a hybrid of the present and the past. They’re different ethnicities and racial backgrounds.”

A bicoastal artist (New York City and Los Angeles) of South Korean descent, Han has traveled and worked around the world.

“If you travel to different cities, you’ll see that there’s more than one way to look at life. There’s more than one way to look at beauty.”

And while the goddesses in “Season” are slim and young, other Han works present women who are older and heavier. One of her models had only one breast due to cancer.

Other Han works in “SHE” challenged the viewer to see past the ideal. The crusted cast iron bronzes in “Terms of Beauty VII” (2010) offered women with long noses, plump lips and small mouths. “The Eye of Perception No. 8,” a 2010 Inkjet print, gave viewers a distortion of the Venus de Milo’s head through a series of superimposed images.

But who is to say the Venus de Milo is the ideal, the standard? The influence of the West — what Han calls the Eurocentric perspective — comes from centuries of conquest and cross-cultural pollination.

“What if Japan had won the (Second World) War? Would we aspire to the Japanese standard of beauty? Of course. What if Africa had conquered? Would we aspire to African standards of beauty? Of course. It’s all about power, and our beauty ideal is a cultural perspective.”

But Han’s purpose is “to question the standard of beauty, not to replace it.”

“It’s about a new perspective, of seeing the world in different ways.”

For more, visit debbiehan.net.

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