brilliant 30: Sukho Kang
A Creative Proposal for an Organic Trans-Society
Sukho Kang, Dreaming of a True Social Utopia
Sukho Kang takes an interest in even the most miniscule of creatures as subject matter for his work. The artist asserts that we are surrounded by living creatures. However, rather than embracing them with empathy, human arrogance has destroyed our environment and thrown the order of nature into confusion.
Sukho Kang is well known for his Trans-Society Project series, in which he employs books of all sizes. This project entails an encounter between human society and a termite colony - both of equal sophistication. The Trans-Society Project transplants the biological society of termites into a book. As the project progresses and the termites build their society, the symbol of human culture and civilization - a book - is eroded away. The termites also adapt a new biological rhythm and feeding habits from this artificial nutrition - the pages from genealogy books. At a glance, these two disparate societies seem to be at odds. However, Kang’s work explores the constructive influences the two societies have on one another in order to achieve a harmonious coexistence. We often make the common mistake of trying to understand the world based on a human social system. But beneath the surface, what we know as the massive civilization of humankind is actually built on the ecological units of our natural environment.
At the same time, Kang’s work offers evidence that the relocated termite society grows dependent on mankind and develops a new set of rules in order to adjust to the artificial environment it has been given. Traces of the termite society eventually become entangled with human civilization, ultimately exhibiting a counterintuitive phenomenon. Kang’s project examines the past and present conditions of our society, and invites viewers to contemplate the implications for our future.
Generally, the artist is in absolute control of his work- manipulating and observing it in progress. As the principles on which our social system was founded grow dim in the present day, the artist proposes a new close-knit relationship in the hope of achieving an organic trans-society.
Judgments of the aesthetic beauty of a given masterpiece have evolved over the course of art history, and there has been a re-emergence of decorative or applied arts in contemporary art. Kang’s art is a reminder of the visual aesthetics we may be passing by, and a creative proposal for a whole new perspective on the world.
Q. Could you briefly describe the Trans-Society Project?
A. The Trans-Society Project is created based on a different logic and structure from the fabrication method of my past body of work. I use books as my main subject matter because I consider them a symbol of human civilization and an important tool to convey information. I attempted to encompass the empathy towards social entities which speaks for human affairs at large. I started the project by offering a habitat within a book for a colony of termites. As the termite society takes over this environment, the pages of the book are gradually wiped out. My work investigates the influences the two societies have on one another in order to achieve a harmonious coexistence.
I made an effort to eliminate contrived and artificial elements by involving a natural social system in my body of work. My main role as an artist for Trans-Society Project is to create an optimal environment for the termites, and to record my observations. -Sukho Kang-
Q. Could you explain your working process?
A. The complex system of verbal language is what distinguishes humans from animals. Hence, the subject matter for my initial projects was selected from volumes of encyclopedias, religious books like the Quran, Buddhist scripture, the Bible and illustrated books introducing cultural relics. After I have selected a book, I set up the environment to meet the survival requirements of the termite colony and document the process on film. This project takes a total time from 10 months to up to 3 years. When I feel that the colony of termites has thoroughly taken over the book, I relocate them to another environment. The last step is to select the pages which have the most visual impact and place these traces of the termites in an acrylic frame.
Q. In your artist's note, you describe your role as closer to the artist as an observer than to the artist as a creator. Could you elaborate on this a little bit?
A. Initially, I too used to intervene in the creation of my work from start to finish. But there came a point where I felt that the whole process was forced and unnatural. What’s more, I felt the limit of an artist’s singular effort to encompass the principles of social value. Hence, I made an effort to eliminate contrived and artificial elements by involving a natural social system in my body of work. My main role as an artist for Trans-Society Project is to create an optimal environment for the termites, and to record my observations. I find meaning in the paradoxical phenomena of the development and obliteration of two disparate societies. I also assume the role of an explorer. I select the most impressive pages left behind by the termite colonies, and use these to convey my message to my viewers.
Q. What is the seed of your imagination?
A. I am inspired by experiences gained in everyday life. The accumulation of seemingly unrelated experiences may find an association that generates clues for my next work. Also, I look for things around me that I may have overlooked which may be a critical source of inspiration for my work.
Q. What do you have planned for your next project?
A. I am planning to conclude theTrans-Society Project in the next two years. The project is now on its 100th page of termite colonization. Towards the end of this project, I hope to publish it in a book. Aside from the Trans-Society Project, my other works entails collecting dust from national libraries as my main subject matter. I’m aiming to announce the details of this project following my termite project.
Trans-Society #9. 2013. Book, wood, glass, acrylic plastic. 33 x 14.5 x 42 cm
Trans-Society #1. 2013. Book, acrylic plastic. 18 x 18 x 21 cm
Trans-Society #13. 2014. Book, steel, acrylic plastic. 15.5 x 15.7 x 20.8 cm
Trans-Society #7-2. 2012. Pigment print on cotton rag paper. 45.5 x 37.1 cm
Trans-Society #15-2. 2013. Pigment print on cotton rag paper. 65.1 x 51.1 cm
Sukho Kang gained his BFA and MFA in painting from Chung-Ang University. Selected solo exhibits include <Trans-Society Project> (Gallery Zein Xeno, Seoul, Korea, 2012), <Hubris Disembodied>(Gallery Bora, Seoul, Korea, 2011), <Sukho Kang Solo Exhibition>(Gallery Jung, Seoul, Korea, 2009). Selected group exhibitions include the art fair <START>(Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2014), <Korea Tomorrow 2014>(Dongdaemun Design Plaza-Design Museum, Seoul, Korea, 2014), <Pre-Drawing Biennale Competition Exhibition>(Lee & Park Gallery, Paju, Korea, 2013), <Art Show Busan 2012-Asia Artist Award Group Show>(Bexco, Busan, Korea, 2012) to name a few.