Suki Seokyeong Kang
Total Museum of Contemporary Art Publisher
Nathalie Boseul SHIN Editor-in-chief
Jiyeon Paik Editor
Daeil KIM Designer
September 2014 Date of publication
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Painting Tower + Circled Stair, 2013-2014 Gouache on mulberry paper mounted on canvas, piled up paintings, threading on the steel structure, wooden wheel, 40cm x 110cm x 287cm
Suki Seokyeong Kang
Song without a Beginning or End About the paintings and installations of Suki Seokyeong Kang All paintings are framed in one sense or another, although the frame itself may not necessarily be the traditional rectangle we have come to expect. Some pieces are forever preserved in the same frame, while others are moved from one to the next, the locus of their existence shifting. In the context of Kang’s art, the frame plays a unique role. As the viewer’s eye wonders from the flat canvases to the black and/or white cube-like structures of the gallery space, the resolve to stay focused on ‘the picture’ fails helplessly. Not only has the old metaphor of the frame become intransparent, but the frame itself refracts the picture in ever numerous ways.
This text was originally published in the catalogue of artistcritic workshop program by Sema Nanji Residency 2014.
Lack of definitive clarity, however, does not seem to trouble Suki Seo-Kyeong Kang as her Poetry of Mirrors – Chi Xiao (2014) shows. The line from the ancient Chinese book of verses, Shijing, “O owl, O owl, do not also destroy my nest” written on the mirror in black sits like a round song murmured in soliloquy. These words are legible to the observer who walks up close, but as she moves away at a slightly different angle they fade into the dark. Through the black mirror we come to sense that the words and the images the artist intended to show harbor variant sides that are revealed across the floor, ceiling, walls and the corridor each time the observer shifts her vantage point. The objects the artist has fortuitously come by 1 and the fragments of stories she has lived and built become the first strand with which her work is weaved. The attributes of the colorful strings she has reeled with repetitive motions are paralleled in the way her art keeps on changing the mundane objects and leading them on to a different path without coercing them by use of strong physical force. The elements of her installations are neither sewn nor glued together. They have come to form a single structure through the artist’s repetitive act of placing one piece on top of the other, more often than not leaving the structures in a rather treacherous state. During our conversation Kang once mentioned that when she’s working she often has the “ping pong and circles” moment. I wonder under what circumstances she experiences such moments. Perhaps they occur because the way she “paints in the space” does
1 In the Artist’s Notes Kang discussed how the “personified objects talk to and depend on each other as they together tell the stories of our lives.” The commonplace objects that she referred to include “things spontaneously collected such as rocks, fragments of building materials, scraps of cloth, faded yarn, discarded machine parts and metal pieces.”
2 This is precisely how Kang’s works differ from installations that employ paintings as mere spectacles to capture the eye or paintings that enjoy only a subjugated existence as a part of an installation and not as art in their own right.
not deliver a single final product. Perhaps the moment, quite possibly very brief but powerful, fuels her with the juice to carry on reeling the yarn, following the traces of paint and just to keep working. Kang, her paintings and her installations can come to life because they share that grain of strength supporting each other 2. Standing in one corner of the gallery and just following the paintings and the installations she has laid out will lead the viewer to see the white walls as a part of a vast canvas that spreads to the ceiling’s edge. To leverage that shared support, Kang juxtaposes and interlaces painting and installation using every nook and cranny of the exhibition space as a metaphorical canvas. At the solo show Chi Xiao Chi Xiao - Polite Owl in the Valley in June 2013, the space inside Gallery Factory was used as an open canvas on which paintings and installations were positioned to interface each other. The show featured various objects, such as a small owl figurine bought at a flea market in London, her paintings and installations placed on the bare ground uncovered by dismantling sections of the concrete flooring. The artist made more than full use of the moderate space the gallery afforded by engaging the paintings and sculptural objects in an interactive game-like dynamic. As the viewer’s eye closes in on the small owl on the floor, moves up the steel structure that seems determined to climb ever greater heights, then takes in the rock situated precariously on top, and finally flies across to the repetitious movement of the coils of string on canvas, he experiences time past drawn close to ‘the now’ and let go again for a view from the distance. The composition in its entirety is essentially a celebration of the accumulation and rhythmic nature of time, whether it is the time spent by the artist in handcrafting her work or the time contained in each thing that it consists of. I speak of the accumulation of time in Kang’s art for a number of reasons, most obvious of which is the reference to ancient poetic motifs, as in Mae Mae Jong (2013). While this reason appears more than self-explanatory, it is interesting to note the less ostensible parallel relationship between the original poem and Kang’s way of story-telling. In fact, the cited poem is less important as the precise origin of the owl reference than for the way in which its story evolved as the verse was passed on from lips to lips. As the story did not exist as an established documentation on a fixed page in a history book, it blended and merged with various physical and spiritual assets during its sometimes perilous oral journey. The reference is valuable precisely because it has withstood the test of
Grandmother Tower, 2013 Newspaper, stool, tree trunk, 50cm x 30cm x 140cm
Grandmother Tower, 2011 - 2013 Threading on the industrial dish carrier, 80cm x 80cm x 210cm
time. The motifs that served as inspirations for Circled Stair and Grandmother Tower (2013), like the owl, embody time, the time that is accumulated in the old body of Kangâ€™s grandmother and the time spent in love and sadness for her in illness. By investing time to cover up a neutral structure with yarn and change its whole texture, the artist has resurrected the time already pastâ€”such as the time it took for her grandmother to walk the feeble steps as she leaned on the wheeled walking support. It should also be noted that the time the artist herself has experienced and is, therefore, relatively more tangible is not directly embodied by concrete objects with clear origins. When the objects that captured the artistâ€™s curious impulses are introduced into her work, their hidden narratives and past histories follow them into
3 The acts of winding the yarn over objects and stacking things into standing structures suggest something akin to handicraft. Such affinity to the art of handicraft is rather rare nowadays, and it is all the more interesting to observe the way in which inorganic things like ironworks and objects bought in the market are transformed through the artist’s handicraft.
the studio. However, each one—be it a discarded dish rack or a spool of yarn—is meaningful not for where it came from but for its potential for a different way of existence. The materials and the traces of time they bear begin a new voyage as Kang piles them into a structure, adjusts their respective positions to achieve an unfamiliar balance and/or pushes the wooden wheels in search of the right place in the given space. By taking the time to transform things by winding yarn onto their frame and to stack the objects in a delicate balance, Kang alleviates the instability at least for the time being and establishes an “impermanent alliance of things”3. In fact, the collective body composed of the round tower and the things perched on its top may not last long. All that is needed is a hand that takes them down one by one to deconstruct, dissect and then to re-assemble in new combinations. Therefore, the time and space constructed by Kang’s installations and paintings always carry the seeds for new meaning and physical form. Kang rarely creates confrontational relationships within her work. There are, of course, tensions between the seen and the heard, between the act of piling and the possibility of dismantling, and between the found objects and the artwork into which they are to be incorporated. But such tensions are not oppositional, and they circulate from one to the other like a round song that goes on without a discernible end or the beginning. In Grandmother Tower, the dish racks wound with yarn form a tower of circles that leans at an angle just small enough to not topple over. The Circled Stair embodies the modern efficiency of the vertical and horizontal lines balanced by the round empty spaces that offer some psychological comfort. In this way, the work has both the warm and the cold. Kang’s works always create that “ping pong moment” which requires two incompletes going their separate ways but also engaging with the other. Although it would be very difficult to describe the art of Suki Seokyeong Kang in mathematical terms such as intersections, unions and functions, her paintings and installations have a common order. One of her recent works, Painting Tower + Circled Stair (2013~2014) is a monument visualizing the time paintings embody without actually showing what has been painted on the canvas. The question that naturally follows is: “How does the artist achieve this paradox of the invisible pictures?” Kang does so by creating several paintings only to stack them face down and allowing only the view of the edges of the canvases. This
‘paintallation’ as she calls it consisting of paintings of negativity is united with Circled Stair, which arouses the impulse to fall more so than to climb. The co-existence of the two structures is presented as an additive relationship as implied by the plus sign in the title. The observer can see the occasional circles that have been painted onto the edges, but the more pronounced are the traces of paint that flowed downward undeterred by the painter’s hand. The tower denies visual access beyond this, thus instilling a sense of deficiency. But in hindsight, Kang’s art has always evaded the attempt to grasp it at one view. The whole cannot be captured by a single predatory gaze from the front. It lends itself in full only to those willing to engage with it by taking the small steps as the figures in Asian landscape paintings would do to take in the whole scenery. The observer must walk around the Painting Tower + Circled Stair and see from different angles how various splotches of paint play out their drama on the narrow but contiguous stage offered by the canvases. Each unit of paintings created by the repeated act of stacking one over the other exists as a body of serial paintings. Rhythm – the order in continuation Another aspect of Kang’s work that stands out is the lack of clarity on where it all begins and ends. The state of indefiniteness is inherent in her paintings because they were never intended as means of representation. Perhaps more importantly, the end and the beginning remain illusive because the location of each painting evolves in a game-like dynamic as smaller units of paintings search for their frame, move about and perform variations. For example, paintings like White Net may be propped up on the floor rather than mounted on the wall. Sometimes Kang’s paintings placed on the wall expand their domain, claiming the white vacuum as their own. There are pieces that guide the viewer’s gaze in a certain direction, such as Purple under. This work, defined by the empty space in the lower part of the canvas, encourages the viewer to hold his gaze at the bottom of the wall. To be fair, Kang’s paintings are art in their own right. Her abstract pieces are complete with their distinct rhythms, palettes and play of forms and do not need to be allied with installations for justification. Pinked Voice (2013) done in gouache and acrylic, for example, exhibits a unique rhythm created by the accumulation of repetitive brushstrokes. Paintings like Greeny Wait (2013), Black Air (2014), Mint Armed (2013) and Yellow Armed (2013) embody
Polite owl in the Valley 鴟鴞鴟鴞, 2013 Concrete floor, stone, steel structure, owl object, engraved poem on mirror, Dimension variable
the work of the hands that freely draw on the space, wind the yarn and stack objects into towers. Perhaps Kang’s intention is to paint with intuitively novel sensibilities through motions that purposefully negate the self-sufficiency of the painting. Her goal in such exercises may be to pose new and complex challenges by showcasing the traces of the finished paintings. In doing so, she may be hoping for another serendipitous time in which she may find the joy of making art and the opportunity once again to paint a different color over the properties that she had previously masked. One question that is central to understanding Suki Seokyeong Kang is ‘what about her art makes us engage in a threedimensional gaze?’ Whether it is in the gallery or at the studio, Kang’s installations cannot be adequately appreciated from a single vantage point. The eye and the body must move with the objects and the traces left by her paintings. The clues Kang so tightly holds make their presence felt even after they have disappeared from sight. The artist herself moves about, pushing the wheels of the Circled Stairs and contemplating the optimal location of the owl as she places it on the tree trunk and then on the floor. Through a series of such small indecisions she creates a diagram of relationships among objects of her artwork. She pulls the order out of the context of the painting—which may have quite sufficiently embodied it had it been left to do so—to create tensions that the entire body can experience. This endless process does not follow a fixed set of procedures that operate like clockwork. It is in a sense a rhythm that has been generated by the immersive activities of winding and stockpiling. This rhythm is propelled by the order set by the artist.
4 Mel Bochner, The Serial Attitude, Artforum, 6:4 (December 1967), pp. 28–33
The American artist Mel Bochner once discussed what he referred to as the ‘serial attitude’ of the artist. In his view, serial order is a method rather than a style. He argued that the serial attitude is different from working “in series”, which he described as “making different versions of a basic theme.” The serial attitude, on the other hand, leads to the creation of variations through which the “order of a specific type is manifest”4. In other words, when an artist is captivated by a certain order, the physical structure he builds and dismantles reveals the artist’s way of thinking and leads to the creation of various spaces and forms. Kang’s paintings, the acts she performs and the scenes she generates through the relational installations come like waves that gently rock the dominant conventional order that defines installations. Like a round song
that continues and repeats itself based on a clear order but which lacks clarity as to when it began and will end, the art of Suki Seokyeong Kang holds in secret the joy of making that no one else knows. It may be compared to a situation where people are standing in different corners of a room singing about what they are seeing. The songs will resonate and fill the air, but no one will know where they began and where they will end.
Suki Seokyeong Kang Suki Seokyeong Kang was born in Seoul, Korea and live and work in Seoul and London. Her work exist in a wide variety of media including, Painting, Installation, Sculpture and drawing. Kang attainted her BFA and MFA in Oriental Painting at Ewha Womans University(Seoul, Korea), followed by an MA in Painting at Royal College of Art (London, UK). Her work has been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012, and as part of the group she participated in the New Contemporaries 2012 show in Liverpool Biennale and ICA, London. She recently finished her site-specific solo exhibition titled ‘GRANDMOTHER TOWER’ at Space Can and the ‘Polite Owl in the Valley’ at Gallery Factory in Seoul.
Hyun See-won (Independent Curator) Graduated Korean National University of Arts with a thesis about Korean contemporary art. Having published Walking Magazine with her friends since the spring of 2006, she worked as a reporter in the esc team of the Hankyoreh Newspaper. She has written diverse articles since then, including her book Design: Opposite Poles (Haggojae, 2010). Hyun also organized art exhibitions such as Cheonsu Mart 2nd Floor (National Theater Company of Korea 2011 / Festival “Bom” 2012) and Be Awakened, You Command Group (2010), as well as some projects like Writing band (2012, www.writingband.net). firstname.lastname@example.org
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