Monday, 7 April 2014

Burning Beauty

“Painting is so poetic, while sculpture is more logical and scientific and makes you worry about gravity”, stated Damien Hirst, controversial and famous British artist considered as one of the most prominent contemporary talents. And gravity, indeed, seems to be something Seon Ghi Bahk defies and overcomes in his deeply intriguing and fascinating sculptures.

Born in Seonsan, South Korea, in an area set amidst the scenery of imposing mountains and deep forests, Seon Ghi Bahk has revolutionised the field of sculpture by introducing charcoal as the main medium for his art works. This material, which is a by-product of wood in its essence, makes sense to him since it connects him to his origins, while also evoking the cycle of Nature, from generation to extinction.

Presently working in Milan, Italy, Bahk does justice to the modernity of this town with his innovative and stunning sculptures, which challenge viewers’ imagination and seem to play with their emotions. In fact, Bahk can be said to provoke viewers and to summon them to become part of his creations, for they are invited to wander around them in search of different viewpoints from which they can get extremely beautiful optical illusions of these eerie compositions of a disturbing lightness.

Imagine yourself getting into a fantasy palace out of a fairy-tale, decorated in the most extraordinary way with strangely beautiful pieces of charcoal hanging loosely and suspended, as if by magic, to form the most whimsical colonnade. Or a stairway to heaven floating in the air, held by invisible hands. Or a luxurious arrangement of hovering drapery dramatically setting the scenery for some unexpected spectacle which is about to unfold before your very eyes. Or an imposing hanging arcade giving access to some magical great hall.

In fact, all those installations have been made of pieces of black charcoal hanging from transparent nylon threads, two almost contradictory materials, therefore achieving Bahk’s objective of endowing a specific meaning to the space they occupy and activating it. Moreover, he is particularly interested in hanging charcoal rather than laying it down, since this technique gives him greater freedom than attaching his medium to the floor. His works, therefore, quest and test limits and go beyond the boundaries between past and present, transience and permanence, reality and illusion, existence and absence, East and West.

Transparency and opacity combine in their intrinsic antagonism to the wonder of viewers’ eyes, who may ask if the pieces of charcoal are somehow fixed in a firm construction or rather floating in the air. Bahk’s intention has been achieved: magic is at work through the ambiguity introduced by the contrast between solidity and fragility, thus stressing that transience and permanence are inseparable.

In a way, Seon Ghi Bahk’s amazing installations remind us of Cornelia Konrads’s gravity-defying sculptures made of wood featured in one of our previous texts. However, while the former works with “dead” wood – charcoal – in urban settings, thereby somehow connecting them with culture, the latter has chosen freshly cut wood compositions set amidst Nature. Yet, they both endow their art works with that fading, dissolving aspect which disturbs viewers and questions some of their most deeply rooted certainties.

Bahk’s awesome creations explore the interplay of nature with culture, creating a thrilling tension which compels viewers to see sculpture from an entirely new perspective, to ponder about these disintegrating installations and to “worry about gravity”.

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