Chun Kwang-Young almost gave up his career as an artist. After spending ten years in the US without recognition he returned, frustrated, to Korea in the mid 70’s. It was at that point, as he was travelling through Korea with his wife, that he was shot with inspiration as he saw in his head the image of an old woman wrapping food in a fabric bundle. For Chun, “That was it. I knew then what I wanted to say in my work.”
Chun quit painting and began to make installations based on wrapping thousands of thick triangles of styrofoam with traditional Korean mulberry paper, and forming them into large ‘aggregations’ which looked like meteoric craters but were in fact two dimensional. The works were a turning point for Chun and today, he is probably Korea’s most well-known contemporary artist with a burgeoning international reputation.
STPI had been keen to work with Chun for some time, seeing tremendous opportunities to create exciting work. After an initial visit late in 2005, Chun arrived in July 2006 to spend three weeks at STPI on its Visiting Artist Programme (VAP). This exhibition presents a selection of the works he created during the residency plus five new mixed media signature pieces, created specially for this show. It is the first time Chun’s work will have been seen in Singapore and it is the first time Chun has created prints and paper cast pieces. Both the prints – 40 monoprint etchings – and the paper cast pieces – 8 in total – are on a scale not attempted at STPI before.
Although Korean in concept and use of materials, Chun’s work echoes a more Western form of artistic expression, blurring the vocabulary of painting and sculpture. “His flatter works look like trompe l’oeil as they create the illusion of depth” says STPI’s Director Irene Lee. “It’s a little like bas-relief in the contemporary manner, and this is what makes his work so very different.” Several thousand tiny mulberry paper wrapped units may be used to create a pictorial plane or sculpture, in varying monochromatic shades. To wrap and pack objects in paper for transport or storage is an integral part of Korean culture and this tradition informs Chun’s work, alongside the subtle reference to the meditative nature of Asian craftwork. At his show ‘Unlimited’ in Basel in 2003, he presented a giant ball made from 7,000 pieces and some works can take 7-8 months to complete. Chun’s work at STPI has proved a new and invigorating experience for him.