It is enthralling to hear an ancient love story regaled beside an Art Deco pool, like that of Villa Empain in Brussels. The Korean folk tale of the Princess reborn as a silkworm makes for an elegant introduction to Chun Kwang Young’s show, Aggregation, with this performance part of a series to accompany the exhibition, on until 27th August.
Aggregation17-FE018, 2017 dominates the storyteller, a centrepiece over the water. The giant sphere, made up of hanji (mulberry paper) triangles stands and casts shadows, reminiscent of wonky skyscrapers, onto the pool. It’s like a future planet earth where, finally, man-made edifices cover every inch. The colours are grounding yet lifeless: ash, clay, dust. Even though these shapes are traditionally made from mulberry bark, you get the impression that a tree wouldn’t stand a chance in this particular world of Chun Kwang Young’s.
Yet, peering at the detail in the writing, the precise wrapping on these little tokens, you start to think of construction rather than destruction. Of the artist’s fellow Koreans, of their private worlds and plans, all laid out on these tiny shapes, some dating back over 100 years. The artist calls his works “the mother earth of our human mind.” The form dates from the ninth century as packaging, wall lining, or a kind of post-it note. What unites all of Chun’s sculptures is the scrupulous hand-crafting, from the tiny inscriptions to the architecture involved in piecing thousands of them together. It is the kind of endeavour that could bring meditation and peace or drive the maker to madness.
Chun spent his early life in a fracturing Korea, arriving to the US just in time for colour-field painting and pop art. He then achieved an MFA in Philadelphia College of Art. It wasn’t until some years later back in his homeland that the childhood memories of the hanji began to define this artist’s signature.
Orbital pieces like Aggregation15-JL038, 2015 and Aggregation12-AP014, 2012 revolve the zoom to the micro, so that you’re thinking of a pollen grain or a cell full of forgotten names from biology class. Piles of the triangles have been shed onto the floor and the remaining surface is smooth and symmetrical in parts, as if taking on a new skin. Palettes range from saffron to rose in Aggregation15-OC061, 2015, or baby blue to Yves Klein blue in Aggregation16-JA010 (STAR2), a flower where each petal is clamouring for attention.
Artistic Director of the Villa Empain Asad Raza curates this show. Running concurrently at the Villa until 27th August is Mondialité, co-curated with Hans-Ulrich Obrist and inspired by Edouard Glissant. These shows meet the Boghossian Foundation’s ongoing intention – for Villa Empain to be a home for addressing, splicing and maintaining cultures.
“Even though we are living in this developed world, people are always criticizing it and arguing about contemporary issues. I sometimes think about how our ancestors loved each other and had faith in each other under the circumstance of war,” says Chun to Raza in the catalogue.