Ran Hwang: Becoming Again
On ViewBaker Museum
November 2, 2022–January 8, 2023
Ran Hwang is a Seoul-based multidisciplinary artist whose practice embraces many ways of working. In doing so, she favors diverse materials, both virtual and tactile, that extend beyond the limits of such familiar media as oil painting or casting in resin. Instead of painting on canvas, for example, Hwang will adhere buttons, beads, crystals, pins, and threads to Plexiglas and wooden panels. This is made evident, for example, in a work titled Healing Forest (2021), in which the artist’s choice of materials ultimately determined the form in a manner that one might consider a highly personal kind of assemblage.
The subtle impact of these materials creates a transformative surface that alters the way viewers think of two-dimensional art. Often the density of these surfaces overrides the painting while at the same time giving it a definitive presence. For the most part, Hwang’s choice of multiple materials—beads, buttons, etc.—instills a kind of visual tactility that suggests a quirky sensorial emphasis. This allows her audience to become engaged in both viewing and exploring these assemblages at the same time. Much of this is due to Hwang’s process-oriented point of view, instilled in her work from the beginning and thereby creating an emotional and spiritual balance between how we think and how we learn to see.
I would not be surprised if Ran Hwang’s current exhibition is the largest solo museum exhibition now on view in Florida, given the scale of her major multimedia installation works, such as Garden of Water (2010) and Becoming Again (2017). The former installation is remarkable in scale alone, as it includes a waterfall approaching the height of the museum with a pool beneath. This rarified experience is further accentuated by a video projection of a large-scale chandelier shown through the water, revealing the source of the light that accompanies the descending water. Together, this imagery and the sound of sporadically falling water, descending intermittently from a considerable height, create a spectacle that is mind-boggling to behold.
A third series of installations are linked to traditional signs and symbols transformed by the artist but maintain a presence of their own. In works such as Rest II (2009) and Contemplation Time (2014), expressive life-size figures—cut from Plexiglas—are positioned similar to the way they would have appeared in their original physical form centuries earlier. Again, the artist has chosen to adhere various elements, continuing symbolically with buttons and beads, to the figures as if to decorate their androgynous silhouettes. Clearly evoking aspects of Buddhism, these works are suggestive of the subtle intrusion of erotic spirituality so common in Asian art, even if it is not stated explicitly throughout the show.
In this context, the experience of walking through Ran Hwang’s exhibition can offer a sensibility of erotic calm. As is noted in the press release for the show, in Hwang’s major work, Becoming Again (2017), “the overarching theme … is a meditation on time and the transient and cyclical nature of life.” This aspiration continues throughout the exhibition, not only in the virtual and tactile works, such as the magnetic stillness found in the architectonic lightbox titled The Beginning of the Bright (2015), but also in the exactingly staged spaces between them. Within the brilliant diversity of materials and forms that make up Ran Hwang’s exhibition, the pathway through which a visitor moves also carries an undeniable sensory quality that is difficult to avoid.
For Ran Hwang, traveling between continents entails a constant exposure to different cultures. From her perspective, the conversation between east and west is essential. But ultimately, she works in accordance with the fundamental basis whereupon art transforms into its own reality. Hwang’s identity cannot be constrained to only one place or time. Rather, it is the means of bringing together where she is, and who she is, at any given moment—in other words, she transposes the stasis of being into the rejuvenation of becoming again.