Book Reading As an Exercise In Self-Identity

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Book Reading As an Exercise In Self-Identity

Kang Ai-ran, a multi-media artist, contends that books articulate the reader's intellectual identity. Books can influence one's perception of the world, including the negative influences people are exposed to through some texts' insidious suggestions. Books reflect the cultural environment in which the reader finds herself and chooses to place herself.

But do people always read books for emotional or intellectual nourishment? And what are the social implications of reading certain kinds of books? In the installation opening Friday at the Keumsan Gallery, Ms. Kang raises questions regarding social attitudes toward books in contemporary Korea and the political truth behind the icoverl of books. She juxtaposes an inkjet print of her bookshelf with a series of photographs taken from prestigious libraries and noted bookstores around the world. In this way, she probes the book culture in which people relate to each other through the kinds of books they read. The exhibition is significant inasmuch as the artist plays with the idea of texts as visual (or intellectual) signs of prestige, if not pure ornamenta- tion.

Ms. Kang quotes Akira Tatehata, a Japanese poet who referred to the role of a book as a "fetish," or an object supposed to teach the magic of wisdom. As in Tatehata's writing, the book in Ms. Kang's works exist purely as signifiers. The video projection of shoppers in Kyobo Book Store in downtown Seoul and a Barnes and Noble in New York adds another dimension to this conjecture. The stylish display of books in the retailers' philosophy sections give viewers the illusion of looking at a nice piece of furniture.

Here the books are portrayed not as conceptual media but as visual objects that rule an unique architectural order. The artist is ambitious and has a lot to say. In the show, she installs a cast of molded books, which has an electronic light-box carefully inserted into its mass. Ms. Kang places them next to the real books and questions the emergence of the digital medium that has come to challenge the exist- ing media. In an upcoming exhibition at the Artsonje Center, she extends this idea further by installing her book-cast on the shelf in the museum's art shop. By doing so, Ms. Kang suggests the transcendence of time and space by literature.

The exhibition ixDigital Book Project; Cyber Book City,lt runs through April 3 at Keumsan Gallery, and at Artsonje Center from March. 30 to April 20. For more information, call 02-735-6317. English service is available.

by Park Soo-mee

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