The works on view each explore the versatility of the unique Korean paper tradition while examining themes of duality, nature and cultural heritage. Drawing on the centuries-old craft of hanji, handmade paper produced from the bark of mulberry trees, the artists in the exhibition not only translate their inspirations onto paper, but also completely alter the medium itself. Through their innovative rediscoveries, everyday materials are transformed to reveal contemporary works in which sustainable, age-old cultural traditions are metaphysically morphed into our realm of modernity.
Included in the show are collage works from Sup Ham’s (b. 1942) One’s Home Town series. Using antique manuscripts made of Korean hanji paper, Ham explores themes related to cultural heritage and sustainability. Ham refashions the original appearance and nature of his materials through a process of dying, soaking, tearing and kneading the pieces of paper before superimposing them in layers, lending a painting-like character to his canvases. Employing a palette of traditional Korean colors made from natural dyes, Ham’s works of contemporary abstraction bear traditional Korean references while simultaneously revealing a stylistic synthesis of Eastern and Western practices.
Jeong Min Suh’s (b. 1962) three-dimensional constructions recycle paper scrolls of calligraphy and ink paintings. Works such as Absence of the Worldly Desire 12 and Korea House Roof 17 present fusions of painting and sculpture which draw on the cultural heritage of Suh’s native Korea in both material and theme. In his works, Suh reuses discarded paper scrolls made on hanji paper, which he compresses, rolls and hand-cuts into the thousands of tubular units used to assemble his relief compositions. The faintly discernible ink marks visible along the cut cross-sections of the tubes reveal the former life of his materials, with their internal dialogue between the past and the present expressing the duality of existence and a continuity of traditions in contemporary culture.
In her Seed Universe and Space Sample series, artist Ilhwa Kim (b. 1967) creates three-dimensional macrocosms composed of tens of thousands of paper “seeds”, each representing its own tiny microcosmic universe. Each unique seed is formed through a meticulous process of hand-dying thousands of sheets of hanji paper, which the artist then layers, cuts and rolls before arranging them in rhythmic patterns of vibrant colors. Inspired by the Cheonhado, a seventeenth-century world map from the period of the Korean Chosun Dynasty, the tactile, wavy surfaces of Kim’s works suggest topographic aerial views of an energy-filled universe.
Other works on view include Sung Hee Cho’s (b. 1949) relief paintings, constructed from Korean hanji paper and oil paint, which explore themes of multiplicity, unity, and the inseparability between nature and human existence. Often appearing as highly tactile monochrome surfaces tempered with restrained color variations, Cho’s works convey a transcendent simplicity mediated by a traditional Korean sensibility. In constructing her paintings, the artist employs a laborious process in which small fragments of hanji paper are hand cut, shredded, rolled and formed, then meticulously attached to the canvas and painted with oil pigments.
Artist Won Ha’s (b. 1952) video installation, Forest, comprises video imagery of trees, underbrush and woodland projected as a myriad of squares onto hanging sheets of paper. Exploring perceptions of the real and the virtual, the interactive video provokes questions tied to subjective relativity versus an objective absolute. Repeated on a continuous loop, the projection of trees onto paper presents a virtual reunification of source and creation, revealing the cyclical nature of life and the process of change as essential to nature.