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Issue 240

Suki Seokyeong Kang’s All-Enveloping Landscape

Multi-media sculptures and a video work installed at the Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul, create a playfully immersive environment

BY Hayoung Chung in Exhibition Reviews | 05 OCT 23

In 1751, during the late Joseon dynasty, the artist Jeong Seon broke with the tradition of idealized, imagined landscapes in Korean ink painting by faithfully depicting the mist rising after rainfall at Mount Inwang (Inwang Jesaekdo). Nearly three centuries later, Suki Seokyeong Kang is presenting her own interpretation of the same subject at Leeum Museum of Art, where Jeong’s painting is now housed. Comprising a series of curved reliefs that resemble mountain ridges, from which delicately hang metal chains and threads, Mountain (2020–ongoing) – installed in the museum’s white-walled lobby – introduces visitors to a practice that transcends individual works to create an immersive viewing experience.

A slightly asymmetrical mountain shape that drips different colored material that looks almost fuzzy
Suki Seokyeong Kang, Mountain – autumn #21–01, 2020–21, 147 × 93 × 40 cm, painted steel, thread, wheels. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Sangtae Kim

While Kang majored in Korean painting, her interests are interdisciplinary, ranging from music and dance to architecture. Her series ‘Jeong’ (2014–ongoing), for instance, draws on Jeongganbo – a traditional Korean musical score, which notates the length and pitch of a note in each section of the grid-like Chinese character jeong (). Having initially transposed this conceptual unit of time and narrative onto canvas in works such as Jeong 58 × 78 #06 (2014), Kang later expanded her exploration into freestanding sculptural pieces like Jeong Willow #2201 (2020–22), comprising curved poles from which dangle bunches of dyed rush and support a mirror engraved with text.

A freestanding sculpture with curved poles, supporting an engraved mirror
Suki Seokyeong Kang, Jeong – willow #22–01, 2020–22, dimensions variable, painted steel, wood frame, engraved text on mirror, dyed rush, thread, brass bolts, steel bolts, leather scraps, wheels, tree trunk. Courtesy; the artist; photograph: Sangtae Kim

In works from the ‘Warm Round’ (2012–ongoing) series, such as Warm Round 460 #2101 (2021), Kang weaves wool tightly through the contrasting material of wire mesh to create surprisingly harmonious, small-scale works that frequently become components in other sculptures. The grass-green head of the anthropomorphic, tree-trunk-and-leather Narrow Meadow #2005 (2020),  for instance, references the series, hinting not only at a degree of permeability between the works on display, but even between artwork and viewer.

An anthropomorphic freestanding sculpture: a green hat, a body that looks like a two-tiered cake, on straight legs and wheels
Suki Seokyeong Kang, Narrow Meadow #20–05, 2020, painted steel, thread, tree trunk, leather scraps, nail, wooden wheels, 159 × 50 × 50 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Sangtae Kim 

The title of Kang’s 2018 show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, ‘Black Mat Oriole’, drew on the traditional solo court dances of the Joseon dynasty, performed on a hwamunseok, a woven mat. Likewise, the title of this exhibition, ‘Willow Drum Oriole’, is borrowed from gagok – a genre of Korean song whose lyrics describe the movement and sound of oriole birds flying through willow trees, as if weaving a thread into the fabric of the landscape. A new video of the same name, screened on a wall in the lobby, activates the other works on display: images of enlarged, reduced or cropped sculptures float and slide along the horizon. At one point, two figures, whose feet alone are visible, carry a flat canvas behind them. The audio – which encompasses a range of sounds from clanging metal to wind and raindrops – fully envelops viewers.

Installation shot: various colors, materials, and shapes of rounded sculptures installed in an almost all-black space
Suki Seokyeong Kang, ‘Willow Drum Oriole’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul; photograph: Cheolki Hong

Meticulously constructed, occasionally divergent routes through the show suggest myriad ways in which to experience Kang’s art. This unconventional method of installation succeeds to varying degrees. In the busy museum lobby, for example, it is difficult to contemplate the artist’s sculptural series ‘Hours – Two’ (2020–23) among the crowds of visitors. On the gallery’s lower floor, however, the architectural installation Mat #2201 (2021–22) and works from the spacious, stool-like ‘Day’ series (2021–23) provide the simple pleasure of sitting, looking and reflecting. On the upper floor, works from ‘Mountain – Hours’ (2020–21) – a series of graceful, softly lit, aluminium sculptures suspended from the ceiling – form a constellation with Floor #2301 (2020–23), a column-like sculpture which stretches up from the ground. Wandering between these works, we are enfolded, as in one of Kang’s woven sculptures, into the fabric of her heterogeneous landscape.

Suki Seokyeong Kang, ‘Willow Drum Oriole’, is on view at Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul, until 31 December

Main image: Suki Seokyeong Kang, ‘Willow Drum Oriole’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul; photograph: Cheolki Hong

Hayoung Chung is a writer and curator based in Seoul, South Korea.