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 An installation view of Suki Seokyeong Kang’s “Grandmother Tower” at Giardini

By Shim Woo-hyun

Suki Seokyung Kan’s multipart installations are neatly organized so as not to interfere with one another. The space invites people to walk, sit and stand among minimalist installations in soft colors. 

The Korean contemporary artist is introducing two works at the 58th Venice Biennale’s main exhibition “May You Live in Interesting Times,” curated by Ralph Rugoff. 

“Land Sand Strand” and “Grandmother Tower,” are separately installed at the Arsenale and Giardini venues, respectively. Both are new editions of her previous series of the same titles. 

Kang has filled the two locations with different types of artworks, sculptures, video installations, textiles and paintings. 

The pavilions do not seem packed at first glance -- perhaps because her sculptures mainly consist of thin empty frames and pieces of textiles. But the overall composition of the space creates a certain landscape that changes according to the viewer’s perspective. 

Building a 3D structured landscape has been a major goal of the artist, who considers a painting a space rather than a flat canvas hanging on the wall.

“(A) painting is a space where a person can stand at the moment and the person’s perspective that looks at it,” Kang said during a tour of her studio in Seoul before she left for Venice for the biennale.

Kang’s existentialist take on the notion of painting developed from her training in Korean traditional landscape painting and its philosophy, she added.

Kang still paints on a daily basis. But she seldom presents a painting as an individual work. Instead, she uses her paintings in an embedded way when making artworks for exhibition. 

Kang has a painting series titled “Mora” -- a term in phonology that refers to a unit that determines syllable weight. For instance, she often uses the colors and patterns of paintings to coat her installations. 

For Kang, space is where the past and present coexist. She thinks artistic and philosophical traditions from the past have greatly influenced her artistic oeuvre and who she has become.

Kang extensively uses traditions and makes references to the past to recreate a space she is given in the present. 

In “Land Sand Strand,” Kang has taken the image of Jeongganbo, Korean traditional music notation, for her rectangular sculptures. Dancers perform on hwamunseok, a traditional Korean woven mat. The choreography was inspired by the Dance of the Spring Oriole or Chunaengmu.

For her exhibition in Venice, students from Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia have joined in to perform the movements created in collaboration with Korean choreographer Cho Heyong-jun.

The movements are shared with visitors. The choreography has been kept simple intentionally so viewers can easily follow them.

“I am not the type of artist who suggests grand visions for the future, but more of an artist who tries to talk about things that happen in close proximity in the present. I create a space where people can share them,” Kang said. 

Kang’s “Grandmother Tower” series is the other assemblage of sculptures, and it also has less to do with aesthetic ambition. 

In the exhibition at Giardini, Kang presents life-sized sculptures mainly made up of metal structures wrapped with colorful threads. The series first started in 2011 as a eulogy to her grandmother, whom the artist greatly adored.

The Venice Biennale’s main exhibition “May You Live in Interesting Times” runs through Nov. 24.

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