Two artists at « Asia Now », Paris: Tammam Azzam and Youjin Yi. Kornfeld Galerie, Berlin

Tammam Azzam lives and works in Berlin, Germany. He received his artistic training from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus. Following the Syrian Civil War, he relocated to Dubai where he began working in digital photomontages. In 2016 Azzam moved to Germany, with a residency at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Delmenhorst. There and later in Berlin the artist began exploring a new technique in paper-collage alongside his paintings. His fragmented compositions highlight the physical remnants of conflict and showcase the importance to rebuild and create from destruction. […] On closer inspection, the many small scraps of paper seem to tell their own story, jumping from one piece of paper to the next. We notice the cracks and gaps between them and see that they are separated and broken or tattered. But if we take a step back, they join together to form fascinating painterly compositions of small and tiny paper scraps, which the artist has previously painted with acrylic.“ (Kornfeld Galerie press kit). 

Tammam Azzam, Untitled, 2019, papier collage on canvas, 160 x 240 cm, Kornfeld Galerie, Berlin | 63 x 94 1/2 in

The most surprising thing here is that Azzam manages to freeze the destroyed and still make it stand. In quantum mechanics, time is reversible, contrary to the laws of thermodynamics, so we could, with the help of a poetic comparison, suggest that Azzam shows the rubble reassembled, as if, destroyed, it were still standing, what in quantum mechanics is called decoherence (“Schrödinger’s cat”, to put it more simply). Do you follow? Let me start again. What we are seeing is recomposed destruction. So we’re seeing two images in one; one from the past, and the other from the present, or the current state of the scene. This is what the artist is actually doing: he is composing a building from fragments, but as we can see, it’s a very strange building, with a rough structure. And this superimposition of the past on the present points to at least two psychological movements: the refusal to accept the destruction of a beloved country, whose razed cities have been the tragic imagery for a very long time, and the trauma of a “world before” that persists in the memory, and which the mind refuses to consider as gone forever; because no reconstruction abolishes tragedy. In a way, we could say that Azzam is a “history painter” (as we used to say “history painting”), but a history painter brought up to date with contemporary trauma. Making what is on the ground stand up again, and all this from material fragments, provided by the artist himself, a gesture which amplifies the meaning of his testimony.  

It’s only with hindsight that we can grasp what it’s all about, and even then it’s our minds that smooth out the rough edges. But up close, we are lost, as in this detail:

Tammam Azzam, Untitled, 2019 [Detail]
Up close, no further identification is possible; we return to the pure arrangement of material, with no reference other than itself. But below, perhaps, we identify windows, washing in the sun…

Tammam Azzam, Untitled, 2019 [Detail]
But even when reassembled, the fragments have the last word.

Tammam Azzam, Untitled, 2019, paper collage on canvas, 160 x 240 cm | 63 x 94 1/2 in, Kornfeld Galerie, Berlin 

More enigmatic above. But, as the mind always seeks to interpret, we would be tempted to see there four things, at least, a landscape, figures, a city, all against a sky, rather a wall of wallpaper. We are in a setting. It’s very mysterious.  

Tammam Azzam, Untitled, 2019 [Detail]
Tammam Azzam, Untitled, 2019 [Detail]
Up close, it’s no less mysterious. Below is a landscape, you might suppose. But even the landscape is fractured. War breaks down everything, even vision. 

Tammam Azzam, “Prairie”, 2023, paper collage on canvas, 31 1/2 × 47 1/5 in | 80 × 120 cm

Another characteristic of Azzam’s work is what we might call saturation. Even in this landscape, the sky is saturated. Saturated with what? Cracks. War attacks the sky, pulverises it. 

Tammam Azzam, “Prairie”, 2023 [Detail]
And no god will come to mend it, no god will emerge from the rubble; it’s all over, the tragedy can’t be saved. 


“Youjin Yi lives and works in Munich, Germany. She studied at Sejong University in Seoul before studying for a Masters with Günther Förg at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, graduating in 2011, with a 2008 stint as a guest student of Leiko Ikemura at Berlin’s Universität der Künste. […] Regarding the artist’s technique, she combines lines and surfaces in the paintings; acrylic, oil, oil pastel, and graphite meet free background. Youjin Yi sometimes paints and draws directly on canvas, but much more often on paper, which she works on lying on the floor. She then glues traditional Korean paper, worked in several layers, onto wood or canvas. In technique as well as materiality, she brings together horizons of experience from the West as well as from the East, from Germany as well as from South Korea. This leads to a very unique mysteriousness that captivates the viewer. Evelyn Vogel” (Galerie Kornfeld press kit).

Since the death of God (“Gott ist tot”), artwork is the only one that can offer us transcendence. Fortunately for us, transcendence still has its finery and its guises. 

Youjin Yi, “Friends”, 2021, öl, ölpastell, kohle auf koreanischem, papier oil, oil pastel, charcoal on Korean paper, 50 x 40 cm | 19 5/8 x 15 3/4 in, Kornfeld Galerie, Berlin

Yi is imaginative, but surprisingly familiar, as if we know these parts. Or that we would like to know them, because, of course, with the death of God, a whole part of the mysterious has disappeared, but this began before his death, and was underway, for us in Europe, from the 17th century onwards. Yi brings back a bit of mystery, of those wonders that were once so familiar. There’s no need for nostalgia here, the mystery is just around the corner, all we have to do is open our third eye, like that of our “friend”⇑

Youjin Yi, “Fluffy Blue Bubble”, 2023, oil, oil pastel on canvas, 80 x 60 cm | 31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in, Kornfeld Galerie, Berlin

When looking at these images, it’s important to remember that Youjin Yi is from South Korea, and Asia has not experienced the death of God as we have, with deities, spirits and ghosts still very much a part of the mental landscape, as well as rituals and customs. In South Korea, for example, to celebrate the first full moon of the New Year, between January and February, the Jeongwol Daeboreum (정월대보름) is held. Of course, in Europe, we stopped paying homage to the moon a long time ago, long before God died. Another example: between April and May, on the eighth day of the fourth month, they celebrate Buddha’s birthday, Seok Gatansinil (석가탄신일). It’s hardly surprising that someone who has lived in such a world, which has become incomprehensible to us secularists, should have indelible traces in her/his psyche, mind and imagination of a certain plurality of worlds that has long been forbidden to us, such as this female figure ⇑ who seems to concentrate the cosmic forces over the Earth.

Youjin Yi, Untitled, 2021, oil pastel on canvas 200 x 160 cm | 78 3/4 x 63 in, Kornfeld Galerie, Berlin

In Yi’s work, landscapes are inseparable from an animal, human, monstrous or pseudo-divine presence, sometimes combining anthropomorphic and/or equally extravagant nature in a fusional, even somewhat parturient combination, as if from this female figure something was coming out that remains undetermined, but not strange to the landscape and its curls (yes indeed, Yi also paints landscape-curls). So, does this figure feed the world with hapax, new landscape elements? Are these trees and streams forming on either side of her body? Yes, it’s a Matrix.   

PS. I thank Youjin, and Tilman. 


Q&R with Youjin Yi

The imaginal and shamanic paintings of Youjin Yi (a South Korean Germany based artist) #1

Léon Mychkine,

writer, Doctor of Philosophy, independent researcher, art-critic, member of AICA-France




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