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The Princeton Packet, December 12, 2003 - Ik-Joong Kang

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The Princeton Packet, December 12, 2003

Library Mural to Tell Princeton's Story

By Jennifer Potash




A tiger's tale from a costume, a picture of the fallen Mercer oak, a brick from the old Princeton Public Library -these are all items that may comprise a major work of art at the new downtown library.

IK-Joong Kang, one of the artists selected to beautify the new Princeton Public Library, discussed his work-in-progress Tuesday at the library construction site during a tour of the building with members of the library's art committee. Mr. Kang will create a 60-foot-long wall of approximately 6,000, 3-inch- square paintings based on images and objects relating to Princeton history and culture. The mural will be displayed along the community room's somewhat curved exterior wall that runs between the front lobby and rear entrance from the parking garage.

Mr. Kang said he hopes library visitors will discover a new image each time they walk by. "It will generate its own ideas and energy," said Mr. Knag, 43.

In early January, members of the community will be invited to submit small items or images for possible inclusion in the mural. While somewhat shy about discussing his past accomplishments such as "amazed World," a 2001 piece considering of 34,000 children's drawings from 135 countries displayed at the United Nations- Mr. Kang is more enthusiastic about the upcoming Princeton work.

"I think I will stack them one by one like books on shelves. He said his mural's multiple paintings. He will have an unusually compressed time schedule the installation is due for completion in March in advance of the library's expected April 1 opening.

"It will be very hard but I like working under pressure," he said.

Mr. Kang is somewhat familiar with the Princeton area. He used to watch his nephew play tennis for Princeton University.

The opportunity to display art in a town with an Ivy League university carried a certain amount of prestige, he said.

"For new immigrants, sending their children to an Ivy League school is almost a religion," he said.

He said he looks forward to showing the work to his 5-year-old son, who he hopes may one day attend Princeton.

Born in Cheong Ju, South Korea, Mr. Kang moved to New York City at age 24.

He earned a master's degree in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.

During his daily travels on the bus or subway to work at a Korean grocery store, Mr. Kang said he started to work on small canvases.

He exhibited "8,490 days of Memory" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The artwork represents his life in Korea, he said.

Mr. Kang's awards include a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Prize of special Merit in the 1997 Venice Biennale.

The other artists creating works for the library are Faith Ringgols, Tom Nussbaum, Maggi Johnson, Armando Soso, Katherine Hackl and Buzz Speator.




Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News, November 27, 2003

'Buddha' Artist Explains His 'Diaries' and 'Notes'

By Abby Ranger




Korean- born artist Ik-Joong Kang, Whose installation "Buddha Learning English" is now on view at the Rotunda Gallery on Clinton Street, says he sees the role of the artist as a fisherman casting for new ideas, or as a bridge between countries and minds.

He also says he makes art for himself, and that he turns down most galleries that approach him wanting to show his work. Kang's work does have the quality of personal document; he calls the three-inch by three-inch paintings he accumulates in the thousands "diaries." When he installs them in tight rows, they line walls like mosaic tiles. The Buddha statues that foreground some of three installations, or sit depicted in the tiny paintings, kang says, are-among other things- metaphors for himself. The habit of working in so small a format started when kang was a graduate student at Pratt institute in the mid 80's. He worked 12-hour night shifts at a Korean grocery store in Manhattan, went to classes all day, and carried his paintings with him in his pockets, working constantly on subways and buses. Scanning a wall of his tiny paintings, your eyes might skip over outlines of a spinal cord or a coffee cup, the words "baby wipe" in block capitals, a tank, what might be a bird, or a phrase like "I saw Spike Lee," or "Art is good for wasting time."

When Kang's father, also a painter, went blind, kang started caving some of the tiny images into blocks of wood, so that they can be felt instead of seen.

"Buddha Learning English" at the Rotunda takes a slightly different from Kang's earlier, tile-like installations. Here, three-inch by three-inch paintings of seated Buddhas are centered on sheets of letter-sized paper and backed by wooden panels that create 14 foot-tall, curving wall.

Each panel also supports an actual toy or tool of some kind- egg slicers dangle among plastic dolls, funnels and strainers and Chinese fans. The pages of paper are hand-written word lists, studies of English vocabulary often reading like noun-heavy poems. One line goes in part, "heroic individuals, national purification, mythic community," and another, "parakeet auklet, band tailed pigeon, mourning dove."

"They're just notes," Kang said about the word lists. "Just notes to myself."

For an artist so inward-turned that he claims to have never really gone to Chelsea galleries, Kang, 43, has built a career that hundreds of other New York artists might envy. His installation at the Venice biennale in1997 won a special Merit award; he has pieces in the permanent collections of museums in Germany and Spain, in New York's Whitney museum of American Art and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Kang has also done projects that interest UNICEF more than the art world. In 1999, he collected three-inch by three-inch drawings from 50,000 children in South Korea, and then installed the children's work in a kilometer- long, internally lit vinyl tunnel in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. The intention was to complement the drawings with another 50,000 from North Korean children, but ultimately, when his many letters weren't replied, Kang left half the tunnel blank.

He followed that project with a similar installation, two years later in the lobby of New York's United Nations building, of three-inch by three-inch drawings by children from 139 countries.

Stacks of those children's drawings, each sealed to the front of a wooden block, are still heaped in Kang's 4,000 square foot studio on DUMBO. He has worked in that eleventh floor space for three years now, sometimes with a crew of up to 25 volunteers.

Every morning, kang walks south along the East River from his Stuyvesant Town apartment over the Manhattan Bridge to his Jay Street studio. Almost everyday, he and his assistants take a lunch break bike ride along the Brooklyn side of the river, down to Red hook.

Looking out at the river and the bridge from his studio's roof one chilly afternoon this week, Kang talked about notions of translation and communication that he was mulling over when he created the current version of "Buddha Learning English," a project has revisited several times.

"For me, art is not about telling people what I see," he explained. "It's about telling myself."



Exhibition Catalogue, 2003

Ik-Joong Kang at Sabina Lee Gallery, LA, CA

By James Glass




Upon his arrival in New York, Ik-Joong Kang enrolled at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. There, he developed the 3x3-inch format during his days as a student. The format was made primarily outside of the classroom in response to his practical necessity at the time. That is, as an impoverished student, he worked twelve-hours a day at a Korean grocery store in Manhattan and also as a watchman at a flea market in Far Rockaway, Queens. Looking for ways to effectively utilize time spent on the long subway rides, he fit 3-inch-square canvases easily into his pocket and into the palm of his hand. His lengthy commute was transformed into work time in a mobile studio.

These miniature canvases functioned like pages in a diary upon which he recorded his immediate responses to life in a foreign city.  By showing thousands of these memories as a single installation, he intends the viewers to see the installation as a whole and then invite them to come closer to see the individual "3x3" of moments of his life.  

It is by these miniatures that the artist frees himself from the traditional confrontation and struggle of full-size canvases. He feels liberation by the small scale and an openness to express the tiniest of ideas.

The overall mood of Kang's installations is meditative. Their intent is personal and directed toward self-reflection, rather than social commentary. Kang's ideas are intuitively expressed and suggest a "process of adopting, rejecting, and merging cultural heritage with cultural environment."1)

Kang wants viewers to embrace different cultures. He says, 'Learning is a two-way street and in the twenty-first century, we need to give and receive'.  Awarded a citation for special merit at the 1997 Venice Biennale, Kang's  In 'I Have to Learn Chinese', 1997, the title's imperative tone urges the viewer to join the artist in memorizing its cloisonne-like strips of Chinese characters. Comprised of ninety poplar panels, the elongated rectangular forms epitomise Kang's desire to 'grow into a big tree that does not fall'.  The panels join together to form a trunk with roots deeply embedded in the past, a past that: 'both the individual and the nation should know about. People talk about globalization, but in order to accomplish that, we have to really plunge ourselves into the past. It's sort of like trying to jump when you're in a swimming pool - you can't really jump unless you push yourself from the pool bottom.' Throughout the 'Learning' series, Kang notes that 'people are uncertain about the future and restless when it comes to the past'. The purpose of his work, then, is 'to eliminate both that uncertainty and restlessness'.2)

Though many of his earlier works were produced from the perspective of the newly arrived immigrant, it is evident in his later work that Kang is a first-generation Korean-American and a voracious consumer of all cultures, but it should be noted that he is especially concerned with the children's voice from around the world.

In December 1999, Kang worked with children from South Korea to create the "100,000" Dreams." Thousands of children's miniature drawings styled in his signature 3 inch x 3-inch canvases were displayed inside a one-kilometer vinyl tube in the wasteland near the South Korean demilitarized zone. At night, the gigantic tube lit up like a fat glowworm, hoping to attract North Korean children on the other side to come out and play. And more recently, in the visitors' lobby of the United Nations in New York, nearly 34,000 children's drawings from over 136 countries are incorporated into Kang's installation.

Kang often compares his own work to the Korean dish of 'bibimbap', a hodgepodge of vegetables and meats mixed with rice that is an everyday meal found on any street corner in Korea. He believes that like bibibap his art improves with each new element. As if to prove it, he has created over 100,000 works-three-by-three-inch drawings, paintings, woodcuts, and ceramic tiles-since 1984. "My motto," says the 43-year-old artist, "is to throw everything together and add." 3)



1) Louis Grachos, 'Ik-Joong Kang, exhibition catalogue, Queens Museum, 1992.

2) joan Kee, 'Living on the edge', Art Art Pacific, November 19, 1998

3) Carol Lutfy, ART NEWS, March 1997




Sculpture Magazine, Sep. 2002

ik-joong kang in the United Nations

By Jonathan Peyser




In his deeply affecting installation Amazed World, which was due to open on September 11 in conjunction with the United Nations' Special Session on Children, the Korean-born artist Ik-Joong Kang made richly vivid the ever-important connection between art and the world. In the Visitor's Center, Kang presented 34,000 children's drawings from 130 countries. The installation abounded with an artistic vision of peace based on the request for children to draw their hopes and dreams for the future.

The UN exhibition was preceded by Kang's 1999 installation 100,000 Dreams, situated in the South Korean demilitarized zone. There, the artist created a kilometer-long, serpentine vinyl tube filled with three-by-three-inch canvases from South Korean children. The walk-in sculpture was illuminated at night in order to cast a glow that would encourage North Korean children to take notice and participate.

In New York, Kang once again created a global house through which one could literally and imaginatively pass. Amazed World consisted of two corridors, one 10 feet tall, the other 16 feet tall, both made from children's drawings, mounted to wood blocks (or bricks) and placed against larger, colored background squares representing the colors of the world's flags.

The walls were supported by five traditional beams to signify the five conceptual directions or "activities" of harmony and universe as suggested by the Korean philosophy of Danchung. Each beam was also silk-screened with the five sacred colors of the rainbow, as in Korean temples.

In two of the walls, viewers could gravitate to a cut-out window or hollow, which permitted a view of drawings in the other corridor or of a person passing through, momentarily framed. The cutouts effectively served as "picture" windows. On top of one of the walls were what appeared to be sculpted birds of peace. The entire installation was situated between two sculptures in the UN collection: a floating stainless steel rendition of the Sputnik satellite and a bronze Poseidon. The siting fused myths and dreams from ancient through modern times into the future.

In Amazed World, dreams for the future came from children of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, East and West. Many live in areas of profound conflict. One drawing by seven-year-old Ognami, from Togo, is a simple pencil drawing of a house, a square base with a triangle-shaped roof with no color. Karabo, a seven-year-old from Botswana, depicts a girl painting in a lush green field. Nammour, an eight-year-old from Palestine, draws a floating blue Star of David that commingles tank, helicopter, and machine gun. Underneath he writes, "Why did the Iraeleans soldiers kill thes baby?"

Kaikio, nine years old, from Japan, draws a child playing piano. Ansah, a seven-year-old from Ghana, draws a pale-yellow fish. Souliman, a 10-year-old from Syria, draws an oversized red apple or tomato set against a saffron-yellow background, with the words "S.O.S. Syria" written below.

Undarmaa, 14 years old, from Mongolia, depicts Garbage-strew mountains with the command "Keep off the nature." A child who does not sign his work, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, draws three figures, the first with ears covered, the second with eyes covered, and the third with mouth covered. Above, the child writes "Les tois sages d'Afrique - Sourd, Avengle, Muet." Adanou, an eight-year-old from Togo, draws the simple unadorned outline of a car. It looks like an upside-down frying pan with wheels.

The earnest and varied technical innocence of these drawings make a walk through Kang's Amazed World captivating and startling. Many of the dreams have, of course, been punctuated by nightmares of pervasive war, famine, disease, and destitution. The drawings are unexpurgated. There is a palpable sense that dreams consist of universals: food and music, animal life and plants, love and friendship, a home with a roof, a car, honesty, freedom, and peace, a drawing, a cerulean blue sky.

Seeing them through reflected in variously placed mirrors, viewers were ineluctably poised to embrace the psyche of their youth and the hopes that might have come with it. In the spirit of a global summit of children's drawings, Kang is currently working on a project at the site of the former Berlin wall. This new project could teem with the same kind of engaged audiences as those attending this exhibition at the United Nations.




Exhibition Catalog, 2002

Ik-Joong Kang : Cologne Pagoda & other works

Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

by Jaana Pruess




After showing works of Nam June Paiks (born in 1932), for the second time the Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst is showing a contemporary Coreanian artist; the installations of Ik-Joong Kang. The artist, born 1960 in Cheong Ju, Korea and since 1984 living in New York, is referring to many exhibitions in museums and galleries in Seoul, Tolio and San Fransisco etc. He has been awarded many scholarships and prices; among others a special honorable mention at the Venice Biennale. In 1998, with the exhibition ?Im Jahr des Tigers: Korea¡° (Engl. In the year of the tiger: Korea), the artist was introduced in Germany in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt by, among others, Ludwig Forum fur internationale Kunst Aachen and Museum Ludwig Koln (KunstWelten im Dialog; 1999/2000).

His special sign is small paintings and material images in the size of 3x3 inches (ca. 7.5x7.5 cm), which he composes to sequences and installations. This size has its origin in pragmatically reasons from the time of his studies; the size fits equally in hand and pocket and can be worked on everywhere. The paintings became modules, who can be transformed into new compositions and thereby offer a new meaning. Similar to notes out of a diary, the works show thoughts and fantasies, every day experiences and observations, or reflect philosophical and profane considerations. A central work in the exhibition is the ?Cologne Pagoda¡°, which took its rise from a reaction of the attack of the World Trade Center. The composition of 1500 plastic cubes, all embracing remembrances and memory objects from Korea and captioned with an American interpretation of the conflict between North- and South Korea, is reminding of the unfinished pagoda of the existing conflict in the area.

Crossing boundaries between cultures, Ik-Joong Kang paints his sculptural self-portrait, integrated in the work, in a way that associates as well with American pop art as with Coreanian traditions. Next to the figure lies a sculpture of a suitcase, which he carried during the evacuation of the UNO buildings in New York on the 11th of September. He wasn't visiting the UN-building by a coincidence; it was the day when his installation ?Amazed World¡° was to be opened in the lobby of the building in the presence of the secretary-general of the UN Kofi Annan. The opening of his work was supposed to be a preparation for the World Child Conference. With support from UNESCO and innumerable international organizations, the artist had collected 45000 drawings in his size of 3x3 inches from children of 125 countries for the work 'Amazed World'.

Ik-Joong Kang is taking the exhibition in the Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst as an occasion to invite children from Berlin to contribute with drawings to the project ?Amazed World¡°. The pictures collected in the museum are to be installed together with drawings from the work in New York in Berlin in 2002.

The exhibition is organized in co-operation with the Pruss & Ochs Gallery (former Asian Fine Arts), Berlin.



Exhibition catalog, 2002

Cologne Pagoda and Other Works at National Museum of Asian Art in Berlin

By Uta Rahman-Steinert





From a distance one has a better view/ one can see things more clearly.

Allusions to the Korean tradition in the work of Ik-Joong Kang

"From a distance one has a better view," replies Ik-Joong Kang to the question, why he always referenced a full range of diverse aspects of traditional Korean art in his work. The artist, living in New York since 1984 and surrounded by the achievements of the West, does not want to delete the images of the culture of his origin. He manifests in his person as well as in his work, the process of globalization as a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. Origin and whereabouts hold less significance in the work of the artist; the more significant aspects are socialization, spiritual and emotional disposition. A rich quality of Ik-Joong Kang's work is his passionate inclination to engage with the local particulaties of his environment; improvisation seems to stimulate and challenge his creativity. Is this a distinctive feature of Korean culture?

Regardless, the installation shown in San Francisco 1994 was titled "Throw everything together and add." This work refers to the popular Korean dish bibimbap, which is prepared by mixing rice with any ingredients at hand.

A similar pragmatism is revealed in the frequent/persistent use of a 3x3 inch format. Born during the days in art-college, the idea for this format allowed Ik-Joong Kang to do his art-work wherever he was. By far more significant than the efficiency of this format is the modular structure of all his works. Ik-Joong Kang arranges the squares in a variety of his works that are greatly differing in form and content. Modular structures are a common phenomenon in the eastern Asian culture. The Chinese written language for example consists of only eight basic lines, functioning as components for more than 50,000 signs, which has also been used in Korea until the Han'gul-Alphabet was introduced in 1443. Some elements of these signs can still be found in modern texts. The complex structures of the traditional stud construction method are built out of prefabricated, standardized modules: a variety of interlocking wooden pillars and studs constitute the complex construction of the consolesystems in roofs. An extraordinary achievement in compiling single parts to form a meaningful whole was realized by Korean monks in the 13th century. Within 15 years they carved 81,258 wooden printingsticks, each encompassing one book-page. The largest and oldest collection of existing Buddhist texts, the Korean Tripitaka, was printed with these sticks.

Ik-Joong Kang composes his works out of modules in the form of small squares.

This format, however varying in size, can be found in the decoration of Korean architecture or works of craft. Elaborately embellished ... in palasts are pieced together out of squares, wooden grids divide walls and windows in quadrants, doors and windows are covered with papersquares. Often, the multifacetted chests of drawers and cases are decorated with square elements. Similar structures appear in crafted objects out of textiles and paper. Also evident is the likeness to the wondeful fabrics for wrapping gifts (pojagi). Having an overall square shape, they are mostly stiched together out of various colorful small squares of fabric, sometimes printed or painted with a grid. They are common objects with the aesthetics of abstract works of art. "The dissection/fragmentation of larger entities into small parts with geomatirical shape, comparable to a graphic design that repetitively uses related/similar elements" is a (prominent) trait of Korean art. Also, the chinese characters/signs are fitted into imaginary squares.

In addition to their common formal features, all four artworks in the exhibition are related to one another by their reference to Buddhism, the most important of all relevant religions in Korea. The basic/ constituent element of the "Cologne Pagoda" and of "English Garden" is the pagoda. This repository of relics, initially developing out of a grave-mound, is the utmost sacred symbol of Buddhism and often the central building in temple structures. During rituals the monks walk clockwise around the pagoda. Most of the still-existing pagodas in Korean are made of stone, preferably out of granite. Its style, however, is similar to the Chinese wooden pagoda. The pagoda is constructed with an even number of sides and an uneven number of levels, because the even numbers in eastern Asia are associated with the principle of the yin (the earth, the depth, the darkness etc.) and the uneven numbers symbolize the yang (the rising, the heaven, the height, the light). Most of the Korean pagodas have three or five levels above the base. Ik-Joong Kang's "Cologne Pagoda" is inspired by the three-leveled pair of padodas in the temple Pulguksa in Kyongju, that was built around 751 A.D. In one of the two pagodas, the oldest printed text was found. The "Cologne Pagoda," with its two levels, appears to be in an unfinished state. Was it destroyed? Fortunately, all the numerous relics are enclosed in plastics, covering the entire structure/pagoda. Usually, the third level of most Korean pagodas has a small space for keeping the relics.




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