publication of the International Sculpture Center
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the Surface: Imi Hwangbo
Archival ink on hand-cut Mylar
132 x 108 x 5 in.
A finely drawn line separates Imi Hwangbos sensual sculptures of the
1990s from the discretely dimensional objects that she makes today. The
swollen forms of The Waiting Chamber series have given way to
exquisite introspection. Before, she carved and modeled organic shapes in
plaster, then cast them into red rubber vessels. Now she turns her drawings
into vellum maquettes and achieves sculptural geometric designs from multiple
layers of digitally printed, hand-cut Mylar.
Hwangbo has exhibited
her work at the International Print Center, the Alternative Museum, the
Asian American Arts Centre in New York, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center,
the Schmidt/Dean Gallery in Philadelphia, the Korean Cultural Center in
Los Angeles, and the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina,
among other venues. Solo exhibitions of her newest works are scheduled
for 2004-2005 at Hiestand Gallery, Miami University of Ohio in Oxford,
Ohio, and Kiang Gallery in Atlanta.
2003. Archival ink on hand-cut Mylar 64 x 25 x 3 in.
fusion of drawing, printmaking, and sculpture translates the pojagi, an
everyday object from her native Korea, into a surprisingly elegant visual
language. Traditionally, women patch pojagi together from scraps of cloth
in repetitive patterns and motifs that evoke flowers, animals, and elements
of the natural landscape. Patterning plays a totemic role, offering protection
and the promise of wealth, harmony, longevity, and fertility. A culturally
specific kind of luggage, the ubiquitous pojagi adapts to what is in and
what is not inside its folds. Hwangbo is much more interested in what
is not: her wall-mounted and floor-based installations study the beauty
of negative space. I delve under the surface to create an image,
In Seer (2003), blooms are carefully extracted from a column of layered
red Mylar. The solid color lends the form a visual density; from a distance,
it appears to be die-cut latex, while up close, the exacting flower designs
reveal multiple thin layers. Echoing inward, the red and white diamond
grid column titled Without Being (2003) presents an intricate visual conflation
of weightlessness and mass. Each layer in the five-foot wall installation
loses a degree of density until the final outer layer is mere fretwork.
Hwangbo draws select elements from the pojagis inherent geometry
to develop her own curved and linear designs, multiplying them in repeating
patterns to create complex planar sculptures. Combining hand drawing and
digital technology, she prints her designs in archival ink and cuts them
out by hand. Each piece is constructed of translucent Mylar, a substance
with the allure of silk. Her layering process produces elaborate patterns
by removing material rather than by adding it. In this way,
explains Hwangbo, I transform the iconography of the pojagi into
a more ambiguous statement.
The work is emblematic
of an individual experience that represents an entire cultural system.
Each precisely hand-cut form evokes a pure femininity while remembering
Korean womens traditional concern with ornamentation. Blessé
(2004), for example, alludes to delicate filigree, flowered vines, or
lace in a pair of 11-foot cascading forms. The artist believes that the
pojagi series functions as a feminist critique by inverting traditional
icons of desire for fertility
these icons are elaborated and expanded,
but not embodied, she states. Through this visual metaphor for fecundity,
she illustrates how an artists inventive mind might take the place
of the womb, giving birth to a unique body of work.
(for Frida Kahlo), 2003.
Archival ink on hand-cut Mylar, 55 x 55 x 1 in.
This philosophy is
reflected in Mitosis (for Frida Kahlo) (2003), a sculpture that ripples
out on the floor like a perfect white flower, with layers of petals radiating
from the scalloped central opening, each streaked with a thin red line.
Spire (2004), a new companion piece in red, is shallow at the center,
with layers accumulating outward to a two-foot thickness.
add other layers of thought. Without Being alludes to the way that creating
negative space became the substance of the work. Blessé,
meaning wounded in French, might refer to the fragile or bruised
ego that lies behind the lacy beauty. The white bloom of Mitosis (for
Frida Kahlo) recalls the lingering feminist influence of the late Mexican
painter whose art became her progeny.
has remained open to diverse critical interpretations. Barry Walker, curator
of prints and drawings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, included
Without Being in a recent print show, writing how the artist works
in a scale that is distinctly sculptural, but subverts the format with
the illusionism of Op Art. When Glenn Harper wrote about The
Waiting Chamber for Sculpture magazine in 1998, he remarked on the
new wit and a contemporary reference to pop culture in Hwangbos
work. He noted that her art created enough distance from its source
to become fresh and multivalent.
Being, 2003. Archival ink on hand-cut Mylar, 64 x 25 x 3 in.
Six years ago, my
personal response was to the psycho-sexual physicality of The Waiting
Chamber. Evoking a swollen tongue, a chambered heart, and intimate
body cavities, those sensual red bulbous shapes and their valve openings
echoed the feminist sculpting of Eva Hesse and Louise Bougeois. I was
struck by how Hwangbo unsettles our view of vulnerability and pleasure,
awaking in us a desire to express the same naked volupté.
Her latest, and equally
potent, series elicits an entirely different reaction. These days, she
makes viewers think about female beauty without reference to the physical
body. Her sculptures have become more deeply metaphoric and contemplative.
Hwangbo believes that her artmaking evokes a Buddhist concept of
emptiness as a state to be achieved rather than avoided. From this viewpoint,
the experience of emptiness is a starting point for self-exploration.
Indeed, as the eye and mind seek to comprehend the detail and perfection
of these quiet forms, we become participants in the inward spiral of Hwangbos
and curator Cathy Byrd directs the gallery and teaches at the Georgia
State University Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design.
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