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The Owner of Paddle Chair

Amy Gahyun Lee

Jul 08, 2017

Nine Goldfish, 2015, Dimensions variable. Installation view of Invisible Land of Love, MMCA, Seoul. Image courtesy of the artist



After all, is it all about ‘love’? Kyuchul Ahn’s Hyundai Motors Exhibition Series Project, Invisible Land of Love, at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Korea from September 2015 to May 2016, focused on this simple but powerful word ‘love.’ His focus on ‘love’ presupposes two things: First, this exhibition is ultimately talking about ‘love,’ and secondly, it considers love to be in absence in our lives. Ahn sheds light on loves founding values that society tends to neglect. These values have become lost amongst the mundane and trivial aspects of life and in turn, people have inadvertently lost the true meaning of love. However, by bringing attention to these values, Ahn encourages the viewer to confront them forcing us to reflect on the negative consequences of our behaviors. Invisible Land of Love makes the viewer reconsider its treatment of the founding pillars of love altering the way we think about life.




Invisible Land of Love focuses on the loss of love through failed communication between visual arts and text. Additionally, a solo exhibition called Words Just for You, held at Kukje Gallery in Seoul in February 2017, focuses on values we have neglected in contemporary society, confronting the loss of honest communication.

- from the artist note.



Words Just for You is a vanishing point where all the words in the world disappear. It is also a black hole that absorbs our secrets, and a bridge, which brings us to infinite silence beyond what, is truth and what is false. It is also a space not for all, but only for your single word.”

– from the artist note.




Paddle Chair, 2017, wood, 45 x 44.5 x 200 cm; Words Just for You, 2017, Wooden structure, felt, 120 x 160 x 50 cm. Image provided by Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Photy by Keith Park



The sculpture titled Words Just for You is a wall installation made of black felt fabric. In the exhibition, he placed other sculptures that are a chair that became a group of paddles, a bicycle without handle and saddle that cannot go anywhere, and a sheep, wearing a skin of leopard. These sculptures suggest viewers to pay attention to a group of beings that are deviated from the social attention.


Ahn inattentively installed a felt fabric-based sculpture in black color that he gave the same name as the title of the exhibition, Words Just for You. In the exhibition, he placed a chair that became a group of paddles, a bicycle without handle and saddle so that it cannot go anywhere, and a sheep, wearing a skin of leopard, in order to suggest viewers to pay attention to beings of which their norms are deviated from the general social agreement.


Through playful transformations of everyday objects, the artist imposes new and values to socially understood objects. Based on his artistic obsession with deformity, which has continuously been part of his sculptural works, Ahn disrupts unilateral social standards. In doing so, he calls into question what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ He does this through detaching the conventional function of objects and re-assigning them a new function within a new context, which transcends societal bias.


In early 1980s, the artist felt skeptical of the unprecedented production of monumental-sized sculptures in the name of public arts in the fast-growing economy. This artistic trend had persisted without any criticism or discussion within the society, and this social problem has motivated Ahn to start creating ‘sculptures with stories’ that describe ordinary objects, disappearing from imprudent economic and social development. According to him, “it is necessary for arts to equip with its own role to criticize the society.” Hence, instead of directly exposing his criticism through his artworks, he chose to minimize both size and form of them to maximize both value and attitudes of the artworks to incite injustice in society through metaphoric and poetic prose.




“The biggest frustration of the artist is not from a financial constraint, but from a sense of shame for not being able to reflect any social value in the artworks.”




In August 2014, Ahn held a solo exhibition titled Everything and Nothing, which focused on the value of labor over socially imposed value. He presented the relationship between artist and society, exploring the artist’s social role.


By rejecting the mainstream art scene of 1980’s where the majority of artists focused solely on studying abstract paintings, Ahn participated as a member (‘Dongin’) in Reality and Utterance, a progressive artist group aiming to deliver the democratic spirit through their art. He also led Minjung Misul, the revolutionary and resistant Korean art to the dictatorship during 1970-80s. From 1980 to 1987, before he went to Germany for studying art, he had worked as a journalist for an art magazine, which exposed the artist’s condition at the center of social controversy.


Last year, the discussion on Minjung Misul has returned to the Korean contemporary art scene considering corruption present in government leadership. While Minjung Misul was receiving tremendous attention in the Korean art community again to resist against the corrupted government, Ahn criticized the regime, using the controversial painting, titled Dirty Sleep, by the artist Guyoung Lee, that “even if the idea that the artist conveys through the artwork is good, it doesn’t always prove its form is good as well.” Judging from his previous artistic and philosophical view on social role of art, it is not a surprise that he mentioned some forms of Minjung Misul in that manner. With keen insight, he has always established the most contemporary art form through performing various examinations rather than being stuck within certain mediums.



Installation view of Words Just for You, Image provided by Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Photy by Keith Park



Ahn himself mentioned that he received deep inspiration from Joseph Beuys and his narratives reflect that generally starting from his societal insights and moving onto the examining stories of suffering in the contemporary human condition. Both Ahn and Beuys use a sense of isolation to recover the values that we have lost. Ahn suggests that ‘him’ who sits at the end of long and narrow room and copies the book, also ‘him’ who takes a journey to the great truth as the owner of paddle chair, also ‘him’ who stands in front of Words Just for You to meditate and introspect inside through the momentary isolation. In an era of excessive communication dominated by Social Networking Services (SNS), Ahn suggests a balance between isolation and anachronism in order to perceive the zeitgeist. I do believe that this is the most logical way to understand our time and our society.




“The real world often disappoints our hopes. The promises for establishing a peaceful life and a world without suppression and exploitation do not work for some practical reasons. It is the world, consisted of cause and effect, and is the world that dominates our mind and behaviors that make us resign and abandon. Therefore, my cartoon-like imagination is seditious and anarchical, and becomes the way to move away from this gloomy world."

– From All and but Nothing, Workroom press, 2014