Aggregation 10 – SE031 BLUE, Chun Kwang Young, 163 x 131 cm, 2010
Walking without purpose two days ago, I wandered into Art Plural Gallery on Armenian Street, remembering that the last time I wandered in, I discovered Fabienne Verdier and sat quietly at the sprawling upper floor of the gallery drinking in her vast canvases of calligraphy and abstract brush strokes generated with a fat brush the width of a large bucket rigged onto bicycle handles. A brush that I imagine looks like the stumpy tail of a large beast.
This time I discovered the works of Chun Kwang Young and once again, confronted with his works, I drifted back and forth, from one side to the other, back and forth again, as though in a trance, performing a walking meditation on an invisible grid on the gallery’s cement floor.
Chun Kwang Young began the series called “Aggregations” in 1995. It is a network of triangles, wrapped in mulberry paper. Known as hanji, mulberry paper is used in almost every aspect of daily Korean life: for wallpaper, window shades, for books and as wrapping for herbs and vegetables. It has a hardy, imperishable quality. The hanji used in Aggregations have fragments of text, much of it from schools books, exercise books etc. These jagged triangles (equilateral, isosceles and so on) sit side by side, are pushed into claustrophobic juxtapositions creating an almost forced harmony on the canvas (they must be side by side, whether it pleases them or not). They jut out, they give in and sink into the canvas, they push their way out again. Each piece seems alive.
The work bristles. From up close, texts seem to be in dialogue or in mid-debate, so that contestation and contradiction overwhelm the viewer. From a good distance, Aggregation 07-D132 (a name that makes me think of obscure solar systems, nebulae, mathematical equations) looks like a dense, concrete jungle bathed in the ocher hues of sunset. And because we’re in Singapore, I found myself imagining the city on this canvas also veiled in a smoky haze, so that the sharp, clear quality of light in the evening as the sun descends, is muddied and diluted, the colours spreading, choking instead of inspiring awe.
Writing is a funny business. Hours of researching on a flower, a type of food, or a street, is often condensed into a line, or a paragraph at most. The labour that goes into writing is often unseen.
With this sort of work, the labour is unmistakably evident. Speaking to the gallery staff, I was told that Chun maps where these three-dimensional foam triangles wrapped in hanji will be situated on the canvas. There is a skeletal structure, an outline. After that, these pieces are individually wrapped, painted and then glued on the canvas following the “map” the artist pre-sketches on the blank canvas.
It is impossible to guess how many hanji triangles are on each canvas (each piece is anywhere from 3cm x 5cm to 5cm x 7cm and the dimensions of Aggregations 07-D132 is 250cm x 205cm). As they say, “do the maths”. The labour itself overwhelms and were I able to read the textual fragments, I imagine hours going by as bizarre narratives emerge in one’s mind.
Up close, it also looks like an array of miniature gifts wrapped in paper and string. I had the desire to reach for one, to tug it out of the canvas and unwrap it. But all that there is to see, is on the wrapping itself. Inside, there is emptiness, there is matter, but no substance to decipher.
The others in the series, like Aggregation 10 – SE031 BLUE (63 x 131 cm, 2010, the blue-hued photo in this post) do not use hanji from textbooks. As many have already observed, they look like a series of lunar landscapes, portraits of the moon, planets juxtaposed, the dusty trail of a bleak comet streaking across the large face of Saturn or the moon (the surfaces are almost always grey, so one does not think of Mars or Jupiter).
Sometimes, you wander on streets, or you go somewhere, get things done, see someone, all of the purpose taking the possibility of chance out of your meandering.
And sometimes, you do intentionally enter a space, but within its vast floors and walls, you are momentarily outside time and inside someone else’s realm.
Chun Kwang Young’s work left me gobsmacked and I shall return to see it.