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U-RAM CHOE Metal Beast

A selection of kinetic sculptures by U-Ram Choe are on display at the John Curtin Galley at Curtin University until Friday, March 2, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival. It looks - almost - like a small jet engine that has been stripped of its cowling and many of its parts. It hangs, suspended from the ceiling, quite inert, like an instructional model in a mechanical engineering classroom. Yet the forward intake looks something like the maw of some deepwater animal, and the superstructure looks a little, but not completely, like a ribcage. A nearby plaque labels it Jet Hiatus, but beneath that, in smaller writing it says Scientific Name: Anmorosta Cetorhinus Maximus Uram. And then it moves. This, then, is the work of Korean artist U-Ram Choe, a man who creates machines that mimic the forms and behaviours of living creatures, strange artefacts of a fictional ecology evolved - in his mind, at least - to perfectly fit the interstitial spaces of the modern world. Choe, who speaks little English, attempts to explain his work through a translator, but one gets the impression that much nuance is lost. “I think the machine is so beautiful,” he says. “I don’t want to hide it - I want to reveal it: the machine’s function, how it works. I try very hard to make it more beautiful. The more a machine functions, the more beautiful.” That’s certainly no exaggeration. Choe’s works are incredibly intricate sculptures of gears and levers, planes and spines, motorised and motivated by light and motion sensors to move, flex, and wave like living plants or animals. To view his work is to see specimens from a world that is immediately both alien and familiar. It’s not surprising that Choe’s life’s work would involve technology and engineering; his father, he tells us, had a hand in designing and building South Korea’s first domestically manufactured car, and is quite proud of his son’s accomplishments.“My father collects all the articles about me and shows everybody who comes to his house, to show off his son. Sometimes it’s difficult, because he shows those articles to those artists who are not so famous, not as out there yet ‘Oh, my son is so famous. How come you’re not?’. He loves machines, and he gives me advice. ‘How about you make it like that? How about that?’.”

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Artwork by U-Ram Choe He also attributes much of his success to having found “The perfect wife. I do sell my works. My wife manages everything in the studio, like paying the staff and the studio money, the whole thing, and the contents.” However, he does admit that, at least initially, having to make art for hire, which sometimes brought him into polite conflict with his patrons, who did not share his unique and hybridized vision. “Initially I wasn’t able to pay for my own studio through my work,” he explains. “But gradually I was getting paid by selling works. I was just very lucky doing projects, and one person after another I could support myself to do it. I used to do public work as well, but after I became a little famous in Korea I sort of had to make work to please my clients. This was the first time I could make something that I want to make. As an artist it costs a lot when I buy materials, especially for me, so it was really good doing public projects like that. About seven years ago I drew a sketch and sent it to a client, and then the client didn’t like it. ‘What is it? It looks scary! Do it again!’. And then I redid it, redid it, redid

great, limbless, streamlined metal skeleton - a sculpture he based, in part, on the Weddell Seal of the Antarctic ice shelf. “When a seal lives in this kind of environment, to look for food he makes a hole in the ice. So the seal has to make sure the hole isn’t closed up by the weather every day, so every day it uses a sharp tooth to make sure the hole is still open. This creature’s behaviour looked like it connected two different worlds together: the world above the ice field, and the world below the ice field. The seal, lying on the ice field all by himself, very lonely, also reminded me it, and it ended up looking like a little toy fan! After that of an airplane lying abandoned inland. If you read my experience, I stopped doing public work. I didn’t want story narrative, it looks as if it is dead, but it’s not really to focus on something that I didn’t want to make, so I dead. So my work represents different worlds.There are just focused on my art-making. And now that my name cultural walls, walls of knowledge, and we lose interest, is a bit known in Korea, clients now say ‘Do whatever and this work shows how, when two different worlds you like!’.” stop communicating, the hole closes up, and then the For Choe, “whatever you like” means Custos Cavum feels useless and then falls into sleep drawing on the natural world to help conceive because there’s no use for it anymore.” of strange, biomechanical creatures who occupy _TRAVIS JOHNSON fantastical ecological niches, like the Custos Cavum, a

“I want to reveal it: the machine’s function, how it works. I try very hard to make it more beautiful. The more a machine functions, the more beautiful.”

X-Press – First on the street, Wednesdays

X-Press Magazine #1306  

Wednesday 22nd February, 2012