A clear Plexiglas house greets visitors at the entrance to InKyoung Chun’s exhibition “You Are Here” at Poem 88. Titled We Are Here, the sculpture is perched atop delicate steel legs, providing an apt introduction to the entire body of work on display. Inside the transparent house, a Plexiglas Mickey Mouse clock seems to float in midair, sharing its enclosure with translucent yellow and pink discs balancing on a table.
Chun’s work is rooted in cultural dichotomy. Born in Seoul, South Korea, and living in Atlanta, where she received her MFA at Georgia State University in 2012, Chun balances her identity by combining her familiarity with domestic space and the representation of the flow of ki energy, the “life force” key to many Asian cultures and Eastern medicine. She depicts these elements by combining recognizable images of “home” with fantastical bubble shapes representing the ever-present ki. In Dollhouse Doubled, for example, two gray-blue watercolor images of seemingly identical houses overlap with the artist’s signature ki bubbles flowing out of the windows like children’s balloons in a bright array of welcoming colors. This depiction of two distinct yet layered homes alludes to the artist’s divided cultural experience, which is resolved by the overflowing current of positive ki rushing out of both homes.
While Chun relies on vivid concrete imagery in her paintings, the invisibile world is also a prominent theme in her paintings and sculptures. In several of her watercolors, including Snack Bar, ki bubbles are not painted, but rather manifest in the negative spaces on the paper. This large piece presents an active scene of a Korean snack bar teeming with colorful containers and a jumble of other vibrant objects made intriguingly indiscernible through Chun’s stylized renderings. Amid the busy and colorful background, circular gaps of exposed paper offer brief moments of silent calm, instilling a notion of the invisible energy’s lingering presence.
In a numbered series, Buy One Get One Free (Red Dot Series), Chun departs from the ethereal concept of ki and domesticity to insert a joke about the art market by offering a “sale” on her paintings. In this series, she recreates existing paintings as pairs of small square watercolor versions on the same sheet of paper. One image has a small red dot painted next to it, indicating that the piece has been sold, and therefore, as the title implies, the image next to it is free. The clever series can be slightly jarring in context as it jerks us out of daydreams of magical airy bubbles to remind us that we are, in fact, standing in an art gallery. In a few instances, both the original and the recreation are present. In #5, for example, recreations of oil paintings Hometown Blue and Leaving Behind are presented as a sale pair, while the full size oil versions hang in close proximity. The coexistence of both versions serves to solidify the punch line in this series.
Exiting the exhibition, the Plexi house near the door beckons once more, but this time the gallery’s surrounds are visible trough its translucent walls and the gallery windows. The piece now serves as a point of entry into the world, as memories of drifting bubbles of grounding energy reassures that we are here.
“You Are Here” is on view through July 3 at Poem 88.
Meta Gary is an Atlanta-based artist and designer. She recently completed an MA in art history at Georgia State University and participated in BURNAWAY’s Emerging Art Writers Mentorship Program.