October Gallery has represented Korean artist Jukhee Kwon for almost ten years now, and it was natural that when planning an exhibition in memory of their trustee Pamela Kember they should include work by the Korean artist as she exhibited in Asia House when Kember was director of Arts and Learning there.
Somehow, during the pandemic, I’ve kind of assumed that everything has come to a standstill. And so when I visited Expanding Horizons I was half expecting to see work that has already shown in previous exhibitions. But there were in fact two brand new works, from 2021 and 2022, including one that indicates a possible new direction in the artist’s practice.
First, though, on show in the cafe area, was Dipping into Darkness, a work from 2013, in which the intricately-cut pages of a book cascade from its cover suspended close to the ceiling of the room, forming an extended vertical pillar of paper that looks like a calligrapher’s brush. To emphasise the point, the bottom half metre or so is darkened, dipped in the traditional black ink of the scholar-artist.
From 2021 came a new work which must have been an absolute nightmare to pack and ship from the artist’s studio in Italy and then install in the London gallery. Resembling one of those fragile Christmas decorations made out of finely-cut tissue paper that fan out concertina-style, Circle Book created a delicate circular tracery, at least two rows of Latin text visible on each strip of paper.
Finally, from 2022 came Endless, a title that maybe hints at the boundless patience required to complete it. Perhaps the artist attained a meditative state when creating it, much as Seon monks are reputed to do when copying out ancient sutras. From a distance the work looks like a coarsely-woven tapestry stitched in homage to the dansaekhwa school of artists. Up close, though, you realise the incredible effort expended in its creation: countless tiny origami paper boats, each carrying a cargo of what looks like a single fennel seed. Certainly easier to install in a gallery than some of her other works, but requiring just as much self-absorbtion and digital dexterity from the artist. I’m wondering whether the mental control required to create these works is different to that which enables the artist to be an expert taekwondo practitioner, or whether the disciplines are two sides of the same coin. If I get the chance I’ll ask her that very question.
Expanding Horizons was at October Gallery 3 February – 12 March 2022.