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Artisan creates grand orchestra of lights: Ahn Jong-yuen makes colorful glass balls that offer comfort and joy in darkness

Oct 19,2016
Ahn Jong-yuen, also known as the “artist of lights,” explains her artwork in front of the glass balls she created. The LED lights inside the balls emit subtle shades of various hues. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Warm sunlight passes through the window and gently rests on a silent workroom in Yangpyeong County, Gyeonggi. Facing a scenic peaceful village, the gallery boasts numerous artworks emitting a spectrum of lights. In this room, Ahn Jong-yuen, a 64-year-old artisan also known as the “artist of lights,” creates her extraordinary art pieces.

One’s first step into the room guides them to a big round table with more than 100 glass balls resting under it. As the balls smoothly change their hues, the mellow colored lights almost make one feel as though they’re standing by the waters for a calm evening of meditation.

Ahn makes all of the glass balls for herself and places LED lights inside them, having each piece exude subtle shades of various hues. As she places the balls together, Ahn creates a grand orchestra of lights and plays among the shining stars that emit from them. What’s special is that the balls simply glimmer as if the light has been resting inside them for a long time. Creating this atmosphere through light is what Ahn is most known for.

Maybe the placid mood of Ahn’s works stems from her childhood memories. A few years after Ahn was born in Miryang, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, having to fight through physical pain and loneliness. Her sickness kept her from moving along with the rest of her family to Busan, and drawing and doodling soon became her sole joy. Pieces of paper and crayons would keep her company during the day, but at night, with not enough light to draw, Ahn endured hours of solitude.

Kaleidoscopes give off a joyful atmosphere through their repetitive yet splendid patterns. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Things started to brighten up when Ahn entered middle school and met her art teacher Jeong Jeong-sook. Jeong, who always encouraged Ahn to keep up with her good work, would from time to time remind her that she is indeed an artist. The teacher sent her to various art competitions, putting in effort to keep her artistic spirits alive. Ahn thanks her to this day for being the biggest impetus in letting her become who she is now.

After a slight break in her artistic career following her new job and marriage, Ahn headed to New York to continue with her studies in the arts, where she said that she learned most of her skills and knowledge. Committing herself into the study of public art, Ahn completed a master’s degree in Fine Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York at the age of 39.

New York is also where Ahn met with the world-renowned video artist Nam June Paik. Living in SoHo, Ahn got many chances to exchange thoughts with him. Paik once told her, “Making the audience stand in front of my piece for more than three minutes is almost impossible.” He advised Ahn to create works that would attract visitors to stare at for longer than three minutes. This became the basis to Ahn’s creations, spurring her to create pieces that people want to look at.

This soon led her to design artwork that would easily absorb into our daily lives. She came up with pieces that touched the audience’s hearts by making them want to stand by them, not ones that intimidated them. Ahn’s aim was to let the public simply enjoy her works, having them gain peace and comfort through the art. For Ahn, art is created by artists, but completed by spectators.

Among the various materials she uses for her works are glass, stainless steels, rocks and epoxy, adding lights to these materials to create her art. Her techniques include drawing scenes or portraits by pecking dots on a stainless steel mirror plate, or depicting various patterns through a kaleidoscope.

Like the “one source multi-use” concept, Ahn utilizes her light-techniques in many different ways. For instance, through its own color and pattern, glass controls lights, working as a mediator. The refracted light then creates a world of fantasy, projecting different hues. Taking a photo or video of this opens up an even wider possibility of creating different works from the source. When the outcome is enjoyed, the art is at last realized.

If there’s one thing that Ahn wishes to do before she dies, she hopes to create a 160-meter (524-foot) tall triangular glass tower. For her, natural sunlight is the most graceful among all lights. Hence it is her dream to let people savor its beauty through the glass tower.

As Ahn put in her words, the best art piece is created when art, science, and philosophy form a harmony, and we await the day when the artist of light’s lifelong dream would come true.

Left: Ahn Jong-yuen used the lenticular technique to realize “Sea of Hwaeom,” created in 2016. Right: Ahn goes through a special process to change the color of mirror, the outcome of which she calls “stainless super mirrors.” She then shapes the mirrors by cutting and hammering them. [PARK SANG-MOON]
BY PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]










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