Sculptors Imi Hwangbo and Jae Ko both share a Korean heritage, and a love for process-intensive, sculptural works in paper. While their ancestry and materials may follow a similar path, viewed concurrently, their work offers surprising contrasts in the show Cut, Folded, Dyed & Glued, now on view at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery.
I attended the opening reception on January 25th, not knowing quite what to expect, but as a mixed-media artist and paper fanatic in my own right, was predisposed by the press release to favor the precise, geometric flawlessness of Athens, GA based Imi Hwangbo.
Hwangbo, a Professor of Sculpture at the University of Georgia, Athens, creates breathtakingly complex geometric work on translucent Mylar, using a hybrid process that engages the didactic powers of computer technology and the human hand.
With a nod to traditional Korean decorative arts, often the realm of Korean women and therefore viewed as subordinate, Hwangbo holds the power to borrow freely from their various forms without adhering strictly to tradition. In this way she elevates to a sublime position designs and colors adapted from traditional hanbok (clothing) and pojagi (cloths used for wrapping, covering, and carrying objects).
Viewed in person, I was surprised and underwhelmed by the relatively small scale of the work in relation to the space. While at first glance the delicate, yet intricate layered Mylar pieces shrunk against the wall in the dimly lit gallery, I eventually found enlightenment in the most miniscule representatives of the group, Sylph (2007) and Peri (2007).
Like the rest of the Hwangbo’s work, these modestly sized wall-relief sculptures are constructed from many layers of hand-cut Mylar, first patterned with geometric shapes digitally rendered in archival ink, then painstakingly hand-cut to achieve symmetrical depth. What set these two pieces apart from the others in the series was artist’s success at creating wall-relief sculpture un-encumbered by the visual limits of the supporting structure. In Sylph and Peri, this is due to the fact that the limits are left with an asymmetrical edge, whereas many of the other works in the show appear simply as rectangular hanging pieces with designs existing within their borders. By leaving the 5-pointed, floral design to toe the line between growth and decay, the backing support of these pieces fades to invisibility and draws the eye into dazzling depths of complex, precise, yet organic layering.
I was enchanted by Jae Ko’s installation of larger, monochromatic pieces molded from layer upon layer of adding machine paper. Stemming from two distinct bodies of work in the artist’s career, the high relief wall friezes and modular floor sculptures were created by layering, twisting and soaking the ribbons of paper in ink. The results are otherworldly, as the simple stripe of adding machine paper is transformed into solid whorls and powdery whispers.
Untitled (JK328) (2005), a formidable black wall frieze, achieves its charred color via a thorough soaking in black sumi ink. Nine, rounded rectangular shapes are packed tightly together, the sharp edges of the paper facing out towards the viewer. Looking closely, one can see a hint of a white interior, similar in quality to a book that has been burnt in a fire. Stepping back from the wall, the shapes take on an evocative, font-like quality, like a shadow of a highly stylized graffiti tag.
A companion piece, also Untitled (JK327) (2005), mirrors its partner across the gallery. Slightly more symmetrical, with an even eight sub-shapes, this piece has a strange, pin-tucked upholstery aspect that seems under-realized compared to the former.
On the floor space spanning the two, lay an array of joyful whorls and wheels. Like cochlea, or the workings of an imaginary phonograph, these modular pieces were also created from endlessly wrapped rolls of adding tape. Unlike the wall friezes, these pieces were sealed from toe to tip with calligraphy ink, resulting in a shiny, almost plastic surface in alluring lipstick red. They invite circumambulation and handling, and I love the way the bright color pops against the polished black floors of the gallery. Although I wouldn’t dare, I imagine inventing a game where these twisted spools could be rolled across the floor.
The evocative sculptural works of these meticulous visionaries share the stark, hushed space of the David Winton Bell Gallery until March 5th. You can find the gallery at: Brown University, List Art Center, 64 College Street, Providence, RI 02912
Recommended local dining: Kabob & Curry, Andreas