Chun Kwang Young’s Assemblage at Art Plural Gallery is a series of three-dimensional sculptural works wrapped with Korean mulberry paper and assembled within the two-dimensional frame of a canvas. Taking the ubiquitous use of the mulberry paper in Korea—also known as hanji—as a material point of reference, the Assemblage series explores a desolate landscape of depressions, protrusions and coloured spots, all of which seem to reference abstract painting’s visual language of prioritising internal form over pictorial representation.
Up close, the careful triangle arrangement that is an accumulation of basic units of information yields an uncompromising, ravaged topography that rises and falls within the canvas. In some Aggregates, waves of tightly-packed, forward-leaning triangles pushes uncomfortably against an opposing tide of edges then dip under the onslaught of sunken projectiles and circular masses. In others, the surfaces resemble natural rock formations, showing no particular form. Put together, Chun’s surfaces are abstract, quasi-sculptural spaces in continuous flux or crisis, with the broad, expansive swaths of colour reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler and the gradients of Jules Olitski—a composite style that is the result of his efforts at reconciling two seeming opposing worldviews: the conservative values of a Korean upbringing and the overwhelmingly secular and material world with which he came into contact when he relocated to Philadelphia to earn his graduate degree in the Fine Arts in the 1970s.
The mulberry paper is a site on which these opposing forces meet, a malleable, durable agent that was once commonplace in traditional Korean life. In the Korea of yesteryears, hanji was glued onto doorways as an insulating material; at the same time it was used for wrapping food to keep it from decay; as writing paper, it was used to print journals, registries and books. In the Aggregation series, hanji forms the basis of Chun’s individual units, a symbolic statement of the strength of Korean tradition, yet the accumulative result of these units put together is an undulating landscape of forms that seems to play out the Western aesthetic of abstract painting.
But Chun’s brand of conceptualism is not just a series of colliding shapes wrapped in paper that embodies the Korean experience; they are inherently textual and perhaps derive their greatest power from the deconstructive impulse that is presented in the way the Korean and Chinese characters bend and twist on each polystyrene triangle. Apart from the strong nostalgic element contained within the mulberry triangles, the hanji that Chun appropriates is taken from various literary sources, and while the black print provides an additional planning effect to cast the entire canvas in three-dimensional shading, they also call attention to the embedded but splintered narratives that defy any attempt at contextualisation.
Chun Kwang Young: Assemblage will be on view at Art Plural Gallery through July 27, 2013.