The Clarity of Contradiction: Tae-Hoon Choi’s “Galaxy”

 

Krystn Lee / Novelist

 

At the new Kim Jong Young Museum, you descend downstairs and pass a dark curtain that divides the first and second floor. It could be Hades you step into, it could be Alice’s rabbit-hole, but where you arrive is the “Galaxy.” Tae-Hoon Choi’s elliptical, spiral, and irregular iron sculptures literally float at discreet distances from one another in the vast open room that becomes the galaxy itself. This interaction between space and sculpture expands the galaxy beyond the actual artwork to the larger galaxy of the four walls. In this way, the sculptures encounter their physical environment much the way that galaxies in space encounter and collide with one another.

 

From a distance, the sculptures look almost like enormous paper mache globes. They remind you of Japanese paper lanterns in their elegance and weightless quality. From inside the hanging iron structures, artificial light scatters much like star clusters, and, like a galaxy, regenerates by casting light, and thus, creating other sculptures of light and shadow against the gallery’s walls and floors. But this first impression of lightness and an ethereal, other-world quality quickly corrects itself, for the sculptures—or really, installations—also have an overwhelming sense of velocity. Motion, speed, and buoyancy, though rarely what one associates with iron, pervade the series. The sculptures are large in scale, delicate in handling, and vast in the eternal questions that they ask through the physical. The work is sensuous, tactile, difficult, yet never didactic. Like Rodin’s sculptures, muscularity and polish exist in the physically rough, unfinished textures of the sculptures.

 

Remember that throughout this experience (because “Galaxy” is more an experience than a mere viewing), outdoor light is blocked, which destabilizes our sense of interior and exterior. The contradictions don’t stop here. The sculptures echo the prehistoric; they marry beauty and industrial “ugliness”; they weld the eternal and temporal, lightness and heaviness, and the sensual with the heavenly. The sculptures are made of iron, the heaviest element produced through fusion, but the lightest element through fission. The sculptures look to God and to man.

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But what I love most about Tae-Hoon Choi’s new sculpture series is that the contradictions don’t obfuscate, but clarify even as they resist simplification, classification, definition. Though the picture of the galaxy they present is ostensibly a peaceful one, the sculptures also disturb. They disturb our vision of the world by embarking on a journey both spiritual and mortal, which ultimately leaves us contemplating not only Choi’s “Galaxy,” but the galaxy of man’s own mind. Choi’s sculptures reveal a mind at work, a body at work, and a dynamic world that is always moving. It is a mind that, like galaxies, does not resist, but seems to embrace the ethos of eternal change and challenge in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “The Archaic Torso of Apollo.” Like then, like now, “You must change your life.”