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Life as voyage: Choe U-ram asks 'Where are we headed?'By Park Yuna
Published : Oct. 25, 2022 - 09:40
Where are we headed today?
Is our life going toward the right direction?
These are questions that we rarely ask ourselves on a daily basis, busy as we are just living day to day. In the time of a pandemic and political turmoil at home and abroad, these questions are worth asking ourselves.
Korean artist Choe U-ram unveiled his mechanical sculptures at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, posing those fundamental questions to viewers. The solo exhibition titled “Little Ark” implies where the ship -- a ship as a community of people -- is sailing toward.
The kinetic work “Round Table” portrays today’s society. The 4.5-meter-wide table is supported by figures covered in straw. The crouching figures -- who are in fact headless if looked at closely -- located around the edge, lift the table up and down, as if they struggle to grab a hold of the round head placed on the top of the table.
The head escapes from their grasp, and even those who do not want the head cannot escape the competition as all figures are ceaselessly moving. Meanwhile, three black birds rotate leisurely from the ceiling, gazing at the straw figures as if waiting for a loser to emerge from the battle. The movement of the straw figures is almost pathetic, posing the question, "What is the struggle all about?"
In a dark room, one may see “Little Ark,” a huge ship with black-and-white frames. The arms that form the body of the ship slowly fold down, extending outward to a maximum width of 7.2 meters. With tense music, the arms start to move, and the 5.5-meter-tall “Lighthouse” in the middle of the ship, a symbol of surveillance and control, illuminates the entire exhibition space.
Near the ship, an angel made of stainless steel, resin and gold hangs from the ceiling with its wings and body sagging with exhaustion. The viewers might leave the space asking themselves, "What is the purpose of a voyage?"
The exhibition is not entirely pessimistic, however. Choe offers a silver lining. One may feel some comfort from kinetic flowers “One” and “Red,” which were made of Tyvek fiber that looks like "hanji," or traditional Korean mulberry paper. It is the same material used to make the protective suits worn by medical professionals at COVID-19 testing and treatment sites.
The two flowers are on display at different rooms, their petals slowly moving as if offering condolences to those whose lives were taken during the pandemic. Staring at the movement of flowers evokes a sense of calm, leading one to think about life and death.
At the hallway outside the exhibition space, there are two circular sculptures emitting light in various patterns. They are made of headlights and taillights from scrapped cars. The artist gave life to the components of the cars that were no longer usable, which now look like stars from a distance.
The exhibition “MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2022: Choe U-Ram -- Little Ark” runs through Feb. 26, 2023. The MMCA Hyundai Motor Series, sponsored by the automaker, annually introduces works by an established Korean artist at the state-run museum.
By Park Yuna (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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