Korean heritage inspires abstract artwork

Exhibit open until March 5

Monday, January 28, 2008

The works of artists Imi Hwangbo and Jae Ko are currently on display at the David Winton Bell Gallery in the show “Cut, Folded, Dyed & Glued,” which opened Friday. The two artists layer simple two-dimensional materials to create abstract three-dimensional sculptures that ignite the viewer’s curiosity.

Both artists draw upon their Korean heritage in their works. Hwangbo looks to the decorative arts of Korea, making reference to designs of “pojagi” – the cloths used for wrapping, covering, carrying and storing sacred and secular objects – and the vivid colors of “hanbok” – traditional Korean clothing.

Pojagi were the sole creative outlet of Korean women during the rigidly Confucian era of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910). These small rectangular textiles are decorated with patchwork of geometric shapes or embroidered with bird and flower motifs, which carried symbolic meanings such as wealth, prosperity and abundance of material objects and male offspring.

Hwangbo’s adaptation of pojagi honors the skill and craft of her female ancestors while also drawing attention to their traditionally subordinate role in Korean society.

Hwangbo creates decorative motifs such as petaled flowers, simple and complex diamond patterns and elaborate filigree designs. These patterns are repeated, often over an entire surface, which ranges from six by eight inches to 11 feet long. Her entire design process involves several forms of media, combining drawing, printmaking and sculpture to create objects that appear as three-dimensional drawings.

The artist begins with a drawing she does by hand that is later translated into a computer drawing and printed in archival ink on sheets of translucent Mylar. During the installation process, the pieces, which are composed of up to 30 layers, are aligned to create form, shape and depth. She hand cuts the individual layers, removing rather than adding material to create her elaborate patterns. “The process of constructing volume through multiple layering creates a dialogue between positive and negative, interior and exterior, and visible and invisible form,” she said in her artist’s statement.

Jae Ko also draws upon traditional Korean practices of papermaking and paper crafts in her work but focuses on their functional rather than decorative uses. In Korea, paper was not used simply for writing and drawing, but also for constructing material for objects such as chests, wardrobes and bowls. In her work at the Bell Gallery, Ko explores the versatility of paper, presenting two very different kinds of work.

Her earlier pieces, created between 1996 and 2005, are large, puffy wall reliefs made entirely of layers of paper. After shaping the layers into undulating forms, Ko soaked them in black sumi ink and water, causing the paper to swell and give the appearance of soft velvet shapes.

In contrast, Ko’s recent work manipulates paper to appear like hard plastic or fiberglass. She uses stacks of adding machine paper and twists them into curled ribbon-like shapes. The harshly coiled figures are held together with shiny glue, giving them a mechanical quality. But because Ko has dyed the stacks of paper with blood-red calligraphic ink, they also seem to refer to something bodily or organic. The artist left the work untitled, allowing the viewer’s curiosities and interpretations to roam.

The artists use simple materials to produce impressive creations of exquisite intricacy that will seduce and awe anyone in their presence. The show will be on display until March 5.