A subtle mix of humor and horror

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A subtle mix of humor and horror

There come times, in writing about art, when you encounter something whose potency you can’t think of words to describe; you just connect to it.
It’s often just the opposite, unfortunately. There are plenty of works you can talk about for hours while maintaining a respectable distance from them.
It’s a contradiction, but so is life.
So in viewing “Forty-nine Rooms” ― a one-man exhibition at Rodin Gallery by Ahn Kyuchul, who belongs in that rare category of artists for me ― writing almost seems redundant.
Ahn’s works seem to be based, to a great deal, on the anxieties and uncertainties of life. They subtly mix humor and horror.
His “Hat,” a color sheet on a wall, is a poignant example of Ahn’s style. In five sequential panels, the artist presents a comic strip depicting two gentlemen, one in a gray suit and the other in black, reaching toward each other from afar to shake hands.
In the last two panels, the man in gray begins eating his friend alive, until nothing remains of him but one leg and a hat on the floor.
These images are dizzyingly repeated, and cover an entire gallery wall, along with a box containing what appears to be the hat from the story, allowing viewers to question truth and the relevance of “visual evidence.”
This work, which is set out in simple, almost naive narrative style, almost seems to stand for the artist’s identity, as it appears at the gallery entrance where artists’ names and exhibition titles are normally written.
The play of fiction and reality are evident in Ahn’s other works as well.
In “The Man who Disappeared into the Box” ― three tunnels leading up to white boxes with their lids open ― Ahn sets up a similar hypothesis, guaranteeing that participants who pass through the tunnel and arrive at the mysterious boxes will vanish from the world completely. In a list of detailed instructions, Ahn tells his viewers that the lids will close automatically as they reach the box and will absolutely not open again. Despite the scenario’s fictional nature, the way Ahn presents the whole situation is convincingly real; the fabric tunnels, which are spread around the gallery floor in a ghostly fashion, are alluring, if not tempting. The scene invites a strange psychological drifting.
In a sense, Ahn’s works deal with the play of perspective, ways we view an object in art and how the meanings can shift when they are incorporated with written texts and experience.
One of the most enchanting aspects of the show is how the artist uses instructions to trigger common belief.
In “Drawings Against the Artist’s Slump,” Ahn illustrates a list of things an artist could do when he is in a slump. In the work, the artists portray the fear of losing inspiration by continuing to produce things from materials that are utterly meaningless.
For example, Ahn suggests drawing a star shape with glue on a piece of cardboard, and leaving it on the floor until dust collects on it, making a form of its own. In another drawing, he teaches people to collect bread crumbs and sprinkle them on a piece of paper, also pasted with glue. Other cures he suggests for the loss of inspiration are blowing up a dollar bill to twice its original size, or reducing it. It’s intuitive, and spontaneous.

by Park Soo-mee

“Forty-nine Rooms” by Ahn Kyuchul runs through April 25. There will be an artist’s talk on Saturday, March 13. For more information call Rodin Gallery at (02) 2259-7781.
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