The Korea Herald


A tribute to handwriting, solitude and silence

Artist Ahn Kyu-chul invites audiences to engage in his participatory art installations

By 이우영

Published : Sept. 17, 2015 - 18:01

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The job is simple – write pages of a novel on a piece of paper for an hour. Participants, one by one, walk into a small white room, sit down and pick up a pencil. They check at the page left open and begin to move their hand to transcribe it. 

This is an art project by artist Ahn Kyu-chul.

At his solo exhibition currently at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, the 60-year-old artist invites the audience to engage in his creative process of completing conceptual installations on display.

Through the project, Ahn highlights what is being increasingly lost in the technology-driven modern society -- handwriting, taking a pause, solitude and silence.   
“1,000 Scribes” by Ahn Kyu-chul (MMCA) “1,000 Scribes” by Ahn Kyu-chul (MMCA)

The exhibition is titled “Invisible Land of Love” after a poem by Korean-American poet Mah Chong-gi -- a show of his long admiration for the world of poets. 

“Creating a work with paper and a pencil has always been inspiring for someone like me who make figures out of hard materials. Writing has always been something I admire,” the artist explained in the press preview of the exhibition Tuesday.

During the exhibition running until February next year, 1,000 participants are to transcribe 10 literary works of Korean and foreign authors in a white solitary room. After the exhibition, copies of the handwritten works will be delivered to the participants.

The handwriting project drew attention before the exhibition started. The artist opened reservations for the project on his website. Reservations for September and October quickly filled. Another round of reservations for a portion of the project that will run from Nov. 11-30 will open in the first week of October at

“The writing project is related to the two scenes that have made a great impact on me,” Ahn said.

“The first is the scene in which my father writes and the second image is the handwritten signs that people who lost their family members during the Korean War held in desperate search for the lost ones,” he said.

He grew up watching his father copying pages from a thick book onto small pieces paper with a pencil. Ahn’s father, who was a medical doctor, spent his evenings writing down each chapter of the book, which Ahn said left a strong impression on him. 
“Wall of Memories” by Ahn Kyu-chul (MMCA) “Wall of Memories” by Ahn Kyu-chul (MMCA)

The handwritten signs, banners and posters with the names and descriptions of lost siblings, parents and family members are an image that Ahn remembers vividly from the 1985 reunion of separated families, the first such event held between South and North Korea.   

“They are the image of longing for me,” said Ahn.

The desperate images inspired Ahn to create a project that asks viewers to write down whatever names they miss the most.

“Wall of Memories” invites viewers to write names of things that they miss or feel bereft of on a wide wall to which 8,600 paper cards are attached. The words will make “the Book of Things Lost” after the exhibition

“My intention is to let visitors express what they miss the most,” said Ahn, who expects popular words to be “hometown,” “father,” “mother” and “youth.”

The exhibition also features six other sets of installations to make viewers emerge in unfamiliar experiences. 

Solitude is another key word in the exhibition. 
”64 Rooms“ by Ahn Kyu-chul (MMCA) ”64 Rooms“ by Ahn Kyu-chul (MMCA)

Ahn set up 64 rooms divided by dark blue velvet curtains. In this labyrinth setting, some viewers may anxiously struggle to find the exit. But Ahn wants visitors to put aside their fear, pause from their busy lives and have an uninterrupted time to focus on themselves.

The “Invisible Land of Love” runs through Feb. 14 at the Seoul branch of the MMCA, as part of the annual “MMCA-Hyundai Motor Series exhibition” co-organized by the museum and Hyundai Motor Co. For more information, visit

By Lee Woo-young  (