There was a distinctly Silla dynasty feeling to two of the stalls at the London Art Fair in January. Hur Shan’s trademark installations play with the concept of buildings in mid-construction or mid-demolition. Structural pillars are broken in two, revealing their reinforcing steel rods, and we wonder how the building remains standing. Rubble is piled up on the floor resulting from a hole in the plasterwork of the wall above. And in the hole is found a priceless object.
In the past, Hur has embedded some ancient porcelain, or coinage, in the concrete. For the first time for the installation in the London Art Fair he embedded the ornate antlers from a gold Silla dynasty crown.
What has brought about Hur’s fascination with precious objects revealed in rubble?
“I was born in Gyeongju, the Silla dynasty capital” explained Hur. “There’s a ruined castle there, and I used to play there as a child. Wherever you dug, you could find bits of pottery.” “How about Silla dynasty royal crowns?” I asked. “No, just pottery,” he replied sadly.
Hur Shan graduated with an MFA from the Slade in 2010. His work has been seen in London at the Crossfields and Present from the Past exhibitions at the KCC and last year’s 4482 group show at the Bargehouse.
Down the corridor at the Hanmi Gallery stall was a very modern take on another aspect of Silla dynasty art. Some of Korea’s finest national treasures are items of Buddhist art, including the famous pensive bodhisattva which made its way to Brussels two years ago. Wang Ji-won (also known as Wang Ziwon) has pared the sculptures down to their bare essentials – to the extent that they look almost like crash test dummies. He has provided some rudimentary robotics to make the statues move: an interesting but slightly sinister contemporary take on the Silla classic scupltures. The works are motion-sensitive and so spring to life when you approach them, which slightly adds to the sinister atmosphere that they generate.
This was the first showing of Wang’s work in London – the nearest he has got hitherto has been Amsterdam. His work is in the collection of Seoul City Museum of Art and Incheon City’s Department of Finance.
Else where at the fair, there was a more modern feel: the blank, emotionless cartoon-like self-portraits of Lee So-yeun (Purdy Hicks gallery) and the blurred newspaper pages painstakingly created out of tiny steel balls or pearl beads by Koh Sang-keum (Hanmi Gallery).