Assemblages, Aggregations, Accumulations
Chun Kwang Young’s solo exhibition, “Assemblages”, opened last week at Art Plural Gallery to much anticipation. Consisting of two floors filled with life-size canvases, walking into the gallery on the opening night was an instantly eye-grabbing experience. Each piece is a vivid, shifting textural experience that tricks the gaze into imagining movement.
The first piece to greet you through the door is a deliciously colourful and vibrant example of the contemporary Korean artist’s oeuvre. Challenging the vast space, it consists of thousands of tiny mulberry paper triangles that display texts up to a hundred years old.
Mulberry paper, or hanji, is a well-known traditional material of the older Korean household. Ubiquitous in its use, Chun often jokes that it was the second thing he consciously recognised as a child, after his mother. His choice of medium is highly significant to both his work and his development as an artist; despite an earlier art education in Seoul, he moved to Philadelphia in the USA to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts.
America filled Chun with horror at the state of modern society, and he found solace in the style of Abstract Expressionism, which enabled him to explore his disappointment and confusion through a visual format.
Speaking with Chun on the gallery’s expansive fourth floor, his passion for the exhibition is visible; he can barely sit still on the sofa. When asked about the one moment that his distinctive technique came together, he explains that he was searching for a way to feel at home again. “I was painting with an American technique, an American style… but I was not American! I had to find some way to display who I was. It was very important for my art to represent my own life, my own history.”
His eureka moment came during an illness; memories of being back at the doctors in his childhood sparked his remembrance of an old Korean tradition. “There would be the wrapped paper packets hanging from the ceiling, containing herbs, medicines for the patients. I remember looking up and being fascinated with the suspension of all these tiny units.”
Enthused with the newfound inspiration, Chun knew he had finally found a style that would ring true with the message he wanted to convey. The incorporation of mulberry paper spoke to his cultural heritage, something he considers deeply important. His work uses paper taken from old books, some between eighty and a hundred years old. Each unit is wrapped in words from a separate story, eventually coming together in a choreographed cacophony. But the printed stories are not the only ones that interest Chun. “The reason I chose old books is because I am intrigued by the thought that each one had previous owners… I like to think of the people who read these books all those years ago, what happened to them when they encountered the text for the first time. Each book’s story is a legacy, because it has entertained and interested each viewer that chose to own it. I like to imagine each past reader and their situation when they read these texts.”
The paper, wrapped around Styrofoam triangles and arranged onto a vast canvas, turns into a sea of units that gives Chun the opportunity to explore contrasts, borders and dichotomies.
The ground floor of the exhibition is mostly Chun’s later works, which also contain visual craters. Chun explains that these craters are a sign of both hope and despair; “the bright colours and the strength of the mark they leave is a sign of the way we can bring change. I want the marks to demonstrate that amidst confusion, chaos and disagreement, order can still regain control.” However, they also symbolise scars that have been left behind, and the potentially influential outcome of what happens when a boundary is crossed.