Exhibition visit: Hur Shan — new, playful, and portable revelations at Gazelli Art House

“You said my work wasn’t very portable,” smiled Hur Shan as we chatted at the opening evening of his two man show at Gazelli Art House. “Well, take a look!”

It was true. I had said precisely that in my notice of the current exhibition, The Tainted, at Gazelli Art House in Dover Street. In the past, Hur has focused on very site-specific work: installations which look as if an archaeologist has been at work, chipping away at the plaster in a wall to reveal a priceless artefact embedded beneath the surface. Sometimes the revealed treasure is a coin or two; or a blue and white Joseon dynasty vase, or a Silla dynasty gold crown. There was one of these installations at Gazelli, and this time the treasure in the plasterwork were some tea bowls by contemporary ceramist Jung Jeom-kyo (정점교). Hur had visited his studio and secured one or two of the rejects from the kiln, because one feature of a master potter’s work is that only a fraction of the output from the wheel and over make their way to the sale room: most of the work is destroyed as not approaching the required level of perfection.

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And although this particular work looks as if it might have to be destroyed at the end of the exhibition, it is in fact portable. The main part of the work – the gash in the wall which reveals the hidden treasure embedded in the plasterwork – is created offsite, fixed to the wall and plasterboard is placed around it. It will be taken away at the end of the show for re-installation elsewhere.

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But it’s still not what you or I would call portable. And so we come to Hur’s opening comment to me. Because his latest work is to recreate this archaeological-style work in bronze and stainless steel, and hang them on a wall. Yes, the resulting work is heavy and you wouldn’t want to move it once it’s hung, but it’s definitely something that looks as if you could pick it up and take it home.

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In fact, I initially thought that the silver and bronze coloured work that greets you as you come up the stairs to the upper floor was made out of clever paint effects. But it is a lot more substantial than that: a solid piece of stainless steel at least half a centimetre thick, which has been welded onto a gash in the wall which is in face a sculpture cast in bronze.

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And elsewhere was a similar work created entirely from bronze. Hur has been working in bronze for a while now, as a separate strand of work. In fact, the first time LKL came across Hur’s work in this medium was at Gazelli this time last year in his group show entitled Bodhi. In that exhibition he had made some highly portable work – little pieces that almost looked throwaway.

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For The Tainted, Hur has created a much more traditional free-standing bronze sculpture: Hur’s banana leaf piece stands tall against the Dover Street window on the upper floor of the exhibition. The banana leaf, sometimes used to wrap glutinous rice in Korean cuisine, was regarded as being particularly exotic in Joseon Korea, coming as it did from far-off places. And coincidentally, the shape of a banana leaf echoes the shape of the gash in the plaster in Hur’s archaeological installations.

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Downstairs, just inside the entrance, was a twist on one of Hur’s trademark works. At past shows he has presented what looks like a pillar that is an integral part of the structure of the room; the pillar is either fractured in some way, or has been chipped away at to reveal a hidden object. This time Hur made played a joke on his audience by tying a knot in the pillar. Structurally as useless as his broken pillars, but equally as playful.

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Hur’s work can be seen at Gazelli Art House, 29 Dover Street, until 5 June, along with some beautiful and fascinating wood sculptures by Italian artist Aron Demetz, who represented Italy at the Venice Biennale in 2009.

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