Ik-Joong Kang

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Visual Arts (installation art)
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May 12, 2003
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Article

Art is easy

Ik-Joong Kang was born in Korea in 1960 and has been living since the mid-1980s in New York. Typical of his art are small (7,6 x 7,6 cm, 3 x 3 inch) formats, a constantly extended mosaic with more than 100 000 parts. In continually new juxtapositions they describe processes of translation and transformation as regards language, religion, world-views, historical perspectives and cultural levels.
Ik-Joong Kang loves the simple credos: ´Art is easy´, ´I live in Manhattan´, ´I am very happy when I paint´, ´Art = Energy´. Time and again such statements are strewn into an ever-growing cosmos of things found in various cultures and composed by Ik-Joong Kang a new and enriched with new experiences for each venue. Hence, through all its complexity, there shimmers the fun of being an artist and of playing with everything one encounters.

Kang tells about colonisation, war, conquest, alienation and adaptation between the Asian and the Western systems, but he does not trace this centuries-long history in a perspective of sadness about lost traditions. Rather his big installations, made up of images and language, reveal amazement. He observes and explores the world of cultural confrontations without prejudice. From the point of view of a Korean immigrant to the USA, who is studying his surroundings with amused surprise, he has found his way to an attitude which may seem superficially to be a naiv wish to gather and integrate impressions in a great crossover. But in translating these into the format of small images or text-surfaces and in placing them in the great mosaic of his life, he also opposes ideological segregation and structural hierarchies.

Ik-Joong Kang was born in 1960 in Cheong Ju near an American military base whose souvenir-shop gave him, as he later recalled, his first visual lesson in the fusion of high and low cultures. In 1984 he came to New York - a time referred to in many of his works from the early 90s. Hence in 1992 there arose ´Buddha learning English´ with exercises in English and Korean in a tiny script in blue and red on millimetre-paper. Seen from a distance, the colours recall those of the American national flag, and seen from close to, the sentences recall the effort of daily grammar. For his exhibition in the Berlin ´House of World Cultures´ in 1998, Kang extended his language studies with souvenirs bought along the former site of the Berlin Wall.

An anecdote refers to the saucer-sized surfaces used. As a poor student, Kang had to move from job to job but was able to work on surfaces 3 by 3 inches even in the underground. Hence this diary of his arrival recalls not only that he overcame a linguistic hurdle but also that he found a rhythm of his own in working flexibly on a small scale. ´Flexibility´, says Kang, ´has enabled Koreans to survive even amidst the harshest of foreign invasions and has been the source of my own strength.´ Moreover the 3 by 3 inch squares are also ideal measures in Zen thought.

So far 100 000 of these modules have been produced as small canvases, woodcuts, wooden blocks, prints, ceramics and chocolates. In ´8490 Days of Memory´ (1996) a mosaic of bars of chocolate surrounded a chocolate statue of General Douglas Mac Arthur, typifying the American conquest of South Korea. The chocolate insisted sweetly on its own significance, recalling on the one hand the history of colonial trade and the exploitation of raw materials in continents conquered, and on the other hand Americanisation and the urge to consume, as it tempted visitors fragrantly into the halls of the exhibition.

In Tokyo, Kang stood for the New York art-scene; at the Biennial in Venice in 1997, he stood for Korea in its pavilion; and in Germany (Berlin, Aachen, Cologne), he stood for a contemporary art-scene drawing its strength from balancing between cultures. His exhibitions in Europe have left traces in his work. In the installation ´Enter the Heaven´ in 1999, he showed Bruce Lee opposing Christian iconography. Bruce Lee was made of plaster and stuck all over with grains of rice to embody clichés about Asia. At one end of a red carpet he posed with knee raised, as if about to attack an altar-wall at the other end. Some writing at his feet recalled the ´Boxer rebellion´ of 1900, when Chinese revolted against German and English colonists. This date elucidates the figure´s anger towards Christian ideology, as also the source of the western cliché of Asians as being fighters.

Kang told the tale quite differently at the other end of the installation, which was accompanied by music from Bach´s ´Matthew Passion´ and the cries of Bruce Lee. There the double Gothic arch of the altar-wall was made up of more than a thousand small wooden squares, which he had painted with Marias. They were like replicas, yet each of them differed slightly from the rest, as if the coloured layers of red and gold had been faded by age, kisses and candle-smoke. In this multiplication of the mother of God, the Christian notion of uniqueness melted into the Buddhist faith in the collective, in which single individuals can become part of a whole. In turning their backs on the madonnas, viewers saw a screen on which birds were flying peacefully through the evening sky. In effect, it depended only on one´s point of view whether one read the installation ´Enter the Heaven´ as a history of confrontation or of the hope of a joint heaven.

This openness of interpretation make Kang´s installations especially attractive. They are shown and understood as a sign of hope for a time in which culture will no longer serve segregation. That this gesture of goodwill may also be a euphemism of actual developments is ironically accepted by Ik-Jong Kang in his ongoing mosaics. In ´Things I believe in´, there stand shoulder to shoulder on the level of symbols, as pointed out on one of the squares, not only Buddha and the mother of God but also Superman, little plastic rockets and hints at contemporary flash-points like Afghanistan. The ease with which Kang playfully brings the various levels together is also a privilege of art.


Events at the HKW:
3rd April - 28th June, 1998
Im Jahr des Tigers (In the Year of the Tiger), Contemporary Art from Korea
Organiser:
House of World Cultures, Berlin and Forum Ludwig Aachen

Author: Katrin Bettina Müller

Bio

Ik-Joong Kang was born in 1960 in Cheong Ju in South Korea. Since 1984 he has been living in New York. There he began his life as an immigrant with a course of education at the Pratt Institute and with many part-time jobs as a student, which soon served him as a theme. In 1994 he worked together with Nam June Paik. Exhibitions in New York, Japan, Cuba and Korea brought him many prizes and fellowships. In 1999, Seoul nominated him ´Korean Artist of the Year´. In Korea, near the border to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, he has launched a project to gather 100 000 dreams from children of both lands, so as to get to know their hopes for the future.

Works

GROUP EXHIBITIONS (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2007 Kunstfest Weimar, ACC Gallery, Weimar, Germany 2006 13 Artists in New York, Korean Mission to the United Nations, New York, NY, USA 2005 Thirty ways of making painting, Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH, USA; In Search of Dreams Across the Pacific, Howard County Arts Council, Ellicott City, MD, USA 2004 Pedestrian, Bronx River art Center, Bronx, NY, USA; Ghwangju Biennial, City Museum, Ghwangju, Korea; Declaration (100 Artists for Peace), National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwa Cheon, Korea 2003 Der Rest der Welt, Neuffer im Park, Pirmasens, Germany; Explaining Magic, Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, USA; Dream and Reality, Smithsonian Museum International Gallery, Washington D,C., USA 2002 70 Artist around World Cup, Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, Korea; Buenos Aires International Biennial, National Museum of Arts, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2000 Continental Shift, Forum Ludwig Aachen, Bonnefanten Museum Maastricht, Liége etc. and ACC Virginia, USA; Koreamerica Korea, Art Sonje Center, Seoul, Korea; Neuerwerbungen aus der Sammlung Ludwig, Museum Ludwig Cologne, Cologne, Germany 1999 Art Worlds in Dialogue, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany 1998 Where I am, Galeria Municipal da mitra, Lissboa, Portugal; Im Jahr des Tigers (In the Year of the Tiger), Contemporary Art from Korea, House of World Cultures, Berlin, and Forum Ludwig Aachen, Germany 1997 American Stories, Setagaya Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Ghwangju Biennial, City Museum, Kwang Ju, Korea 1996 Just Past/Permanent Collection, 1975 - 96, The Museum of Contemporary Art, LA. Sites of Chinatown, Museum of Chinese Arts in America, New York, USA 1994 Old Glory, New Story, Capp Street Project, San Francisco, Santa Monica Museum, CA, USA; Havana International Biennial, Centro Wilfredo Lam, Havana, Cuba

SOLO EXHIBITIONS (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2007 Moon of Dream 2 (with 35,000 Citizens from Ulsan City), Tae Hwa River, Ulsan, Korea; Small pieces for Peace , Organized by Eurasia Foundation , Alexander Ochs gallery and UNICEF Germany, G8 Summit meeting Project, Heiligendamm / Münster Bad Doberan, Germany; Mountain-Wind (Dream of Kwang Hwa), supported by Korean Government, Kwang Hwa Gate, Seoul, Korea; Ik-Joong Kang, Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH, USA 2006 Chance of Space, Public Project with Princeton Community, Princeton Cultural Council, Princeton, NJ, USA; Amazed Children (with 25 Children’s Hospitals around the world), Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, OH, USA 2005 Amazed World, Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, KY, USA 2004 Buddha with Lucky Objects 2004, Speed Museum, Louisville, KY, USA; Moon of Dream (126,000 Children´s Drawings from 141 Countries), Ho Su Lake, Il San, Korea 2003 Happy Relief and other works, Hutchins Gallery, Long Island University, Long Island, NY, USA; Kang & Zhang, Shanghai Contemporary, Albrecht, Pruess & Ochs, Shanghai, China; Amazed World and Other Works, Goethe Institute, Berlin, Germany; Buddha with Lucky Objects and Other Works, Sabina Lee Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, USA 2002 Cologne Pagoda and Other Works, National Museum of East Asian Art, Berlin, Germany; Bridges - Interspace - Sky ( in part of Space, Time and Architecture, organized by National Gallery and Deutscher) Collaboration with Zeiger and Schell Architecture firm, Pruess and Ochs Gallery, Berlin , Germany; Buddha Eating Rice, Shanghai Contemporary at Bund Center, Shanghai, China 2001 Enter the Heaven, Stadtforum Munich, Germany; Amazed World (34,000 children´s drawings from 135 countries), United Nations, New York, NY, USA; Cologne Sculpture, Cologne Messe, Cologne, Germany 2000 Enter the Heaven, Asian Fine Arts Berlin / Prüss & Ochs Gallery, Berlin, Germany 1999 100.000 Dreams, Panmoonjom, North/South Korea 1998 Confucius Installation, Seoul, Korea; 1997 Throw everything together and add, Venice Biennial, Korean Pavilion, Italy 1996 Throw everything together and add (20 000 works), Capp Street Project, San Francisco, CA., USA; 8490 Days of Memory, Whitney Museum of American Art ab Phillip Morris, New York, USA; 365 Days of English, Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, C.A. USA; Buddha Eating Chocolate, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK; 1994 Multiple/Dialogue, collaboration with Nam June Paik, Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion; USA 1992 Ik-Joong Kang, 3 x 3, Queens Museum of Art, New York, USA; Buddha, Asian Art American Center, New York, USA; 1990 Sound Paintings, Main Gallery, Mountclair State College, Mountclair, New Jersey, USA 1987 3000 Paintings, Thesis show, Pratt Art Institute, New York, USA 1985 1000 Paintings, Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, New York, USA

Merits

1996 The Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship.
1997 Louise Comfort Tiffany, and Foundation Fellowship. Special Merit Award, 47th Biennial, Venice, Italy
1999 Nomination for ´Korean Artist of the Year´, Seoul, Korea