"Grandmother Tower", 15 Mar. ~ 4 Apr. 2013, Space Can, Seoul, Korea Mar 19 2013
Kang Seokyeong Solo Exhibition

○ Exhibition information

Dates : 15 Mar. ~ 4 Apr. 2013
VENUE : Space Can, Seoul, Korea
Open Hours : 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Mon-Sat)
URL : http://www.can-foundation.org
Adress : 46-26 Seongbuk-dong, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, Korea

○ Introduction

Grandmother Towers: Vertical Engagement of the Weight of Life

- Jay Jungin Hwang / Independent Curator -

The Old House – space as a found object

In the past couple of years, Suki Seokyeong Kang has created several spatial installations using objects she has collected from around her. These were objects that had once been rated valueless and thrown away by someone, more often than not disfigured and broken. Kang stumbles upon these objects, takes them with her, winds strings around them or colors and piles them one on top of the other to give the discarded and forgotten a sculptural status. These found objects are recycled into new settings and situations where they are joined together in unexpected combinations to form a work of art. In her latest solo exhibition, the prime object of her discovery and re-creation is the Old House located in a small street in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul.

In view of her dedication to expressing her personal reactions to these found objects and the way she has given them new life as part of an artwork, it is not surprising how Kang was able to see the Old House as more than just a space but as a large objet d’art. In this solo show Kang has expanded the realm of her artistic endeavors—which had consisted primarily of bringing together her serendipitous findings in the sculptural form—into the exciting world of spatial installation, the transition precipitated in large part by the Old House itself.

Layered relationships – Old House and Grandmother Towers

Among the works showcased at the Old House are the Grandmother Towers, prime examples of Kang’s passion for installations and the centerpiece of this exhibition. The artist came up with the title Grandmother Towers because of the way each sculpture, though looking dangerously close to tipping over, somehow manages to remain standing. It reminded her of her beloved grandmother. The Grandmother Towers series tell a story on two levels: at the high level, of the exchange they engage in with the surrounding space, and at a lower level, of the relationships between the objects that are components of each tower.

The Grandmother Towers are constructed with Kang’s collection of things found and picked up in her daily life. One of these towers is made of steel dish carriers wound with threads and piled one over the other. It stands at an angle as if just managing to hold itself up by leaning on an invisible wall. Another tower is a heterogeneous assemblage of a block of wood at the very base, a rock, a cold-looking motor of unknown purpose and some fleece. The components of this structure create a mysterious tension amongst them as their properties and textures clash, the disharmony of which may sometimes be neutralized by an unexpected motorized movement. Kang has created vertical communicative structures in which components of the towers with their distinct colors, forms, textures and various other properties react to one another and their unique features. These structures are interspersed with movements created by running motors at unexpected points, leading the eye to travel more freely over the whole body of work.

If we shift our focus from the objects that make up the tower to the towers themselves, we see that they communicate with the interior of the largest object in this exhibition, the Old House. The inner space is marked by numerous traces of repairs and maintenance over the years and the varying heights of the ceiling, all of which provide a unique physical environment. The slanted roof and the irregular ceiling line have led the artist to opt for vertical interaction as the natural conclusion. Within the rooms delineated by raised thresholds on the floor, these towers seem to have grown straight up aiming for the ceiling. So on the one hand, there is the internal correspondence between the objects that are components of the towers, and then at a higher level the towers interact with the physical properties of the Old House itself, thus completing a double layered structure of communication.

Objects personified

Personification is not infrequently found in Suki Kang’s art. She has done ink wash paintings of people metamorphosing into things like a car, a toilet and a lamp. She once created a theatrical stage featuring a ballerina doll and a painting. The difference between her past and more recent works is that she has replaced the human figures—whom we could reasonably assume were representations of the artist herself—with various things embodying her perspective. In making this transition, she has moved from the autobiographical story narrated in the first-person to talking about the lives of others through the mishmash of real and tangible objects. The way she works—personifying things using their unique features and collecting discarded objects and giving them life and movement—are testimony to her cyclical view of life. Kang is a believer in animism and reincarnation, which are two important keys to understanding her work.

Painting the space

Suki Seokyeong Kang works on her installations as if she were doing a painting on the space using objects. In the Old House, the faded grey walls were her canvas and the woodwork that once housed sliding doors were her picture frame. The installations were arranged in the space divided by the raised thresholds the effect of which is quite similar to the composition of a painting. Each installation set in the divided perimeters of the Old House constitutes a scene, and the scenes collectively form an environment in which all the vertically standing structures support the space like columns. The painting-like quality of Kang’s installations can also be found in the works showcased in the more conventional gallery setting. A great example is Breathing on the rocking rock. The assembly of objects, due to the distance between them, seem like they are both on and off the canvas at the same time. There they reside as a single image, commanding a presence that captures the viewer’s eye.

Kang calls this unique visual arts language Paintallation, obviously coined by adding the words painting and installation. The word appears appropriate given that her installations seem like three-dimensional rendition of a painting in many respects. It seems as if she has deconstructed the painting, dissecting the layers of paints that form the surface and modeling them into installations in three-dimensional space. Kang has thus moved from applying layers of colors to express the spatio-temporal gap between the layers of surfaces that make up a painting to the more physical methods of piling objects and winding yarns, strings and coils to create installations.

Piling and winding - the consoling act

For Kang, piling and winding have become a uniquely tangible way of expression that is essentially in the same vein as her methods of painting. The layering of images in her two-dimensional works has just been substituted by repeated acts of piling and winding in her installations. From a stylistic perspective, the element of repetition is common in both. In terms of substance, these acts are metaphors for consolation and healing that the artist wishes to carry out for her found objects. To color and wind yarns on steel-made structures embodies Kang’s unique aestheticism of consolation with which she seeks to embrace life and heal the suffering. By doing so she is reinstating the status of objects that were once thrown away and reviving their memories of a past when they had a purpose of being. It is in this sense a consoling act that she performs for her objects, but not solely for their benefit. These objects become truly meaningful and familiar to the artist alone through her repeated acts of piling and winding, and in that sense the time she dedicates to these acts serves as a time well spent in meditation and thinking. Meanwhile, the space in which these acts take place are transformed into one filled with painting by and of objects and with the traces of piling and winding, and of combination and arrangement. The space becomes very much like a painting that holds the thick essence of the artist’s deepest thoughts.

Artist as the mediator of disharmony and tension

At the core of Kang’s works is the role of the artist as a mediator of tensions and clashes that arise between objects as they are gathered and arranged. This role is very critical because while she successfully achieves harmony in her work as a whole, the constituents of that harmony have little relevance to each other and more often than not clash amidst the mishmash. Kang employs cloths and yarns to neutralize the rupture or discord arising from unanticipated combinations of things. She sometimes adds or removes seemingly minor elements to alleviate the tension. These efforts are both the mainstay of Kang’s creative activity and the core theme of her work. Take another example from the Grandmother Towers series. There is one consisting of heavy blocks of wood piled one after the other reaching almost to the ceiling. Buttressing this tall structure is a shabby wooden stool that looks overwhelmed by the weight it’s under. Kang quells the shakiness of the vertical tower by placing sheets of leather and cloth in between the blocks to add friction and support. Where there is instability, she finds a way to stabilize. In a situation of imbalance, she looks for some sort of a rule or pattern and uses it to build a balanced harmony. For Kang, these endeavors are what bring in the fun and play to the work of making art.

If we accept that the tensions and clashes arising from combinations of diverse things are apt reflections of our lives, the art of Suki Seokyeong Kang is a metaphor for life in general as well as a tangible representation of how she flexibly deals with conflicts and discord in her life by turning them into play. Opposite elements like strength and weakness, robustness and frailty, and weight and lightness co-exist in Kang’s works, but they strike a delicate balance amidst their own restraints and rules. This, indeed, is the way we live. Life is all about different people with their distinct appearances, personalities and stories coming together and managing to achieve a balance. Life is a process by which we become indispensable to each other, filling in the structural gaps, supporting one another, and barely maintaining a stable present despite the obstacles. This I believe is the consoling message Suki Seokyeong Kang—a committed mediator of conflicts and a skilled artist-cum-alleviator of tension—has been trying to deliver through such quiet acts of creativity.

Artist Link : http://www.akive.org/eng/artist/A0000106/Seokyeong%20Kang
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