Exhibition Catalog / 1996
8490 Days Of Memory
Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris
But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
-Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.
Ik-Joong Kangí»s 8490 Days of Memory is an installation composed of 8490 squares of polished clear plastic cubes amassed on the floor below. Each 3-inch square bears an insignia from the IS Army cast in relief; each 3-inch cube contains a memento from the artistí»s childhood. Stacked cubes form a pedestal which supports a 9-foot-ftatue of Korean war hero General Douglas MacArthur entirely coated in chocolate. For Kang, the sweet scent and taste of creamy chocolate play the role of the tea-soaked madeleine in Proustí»s novel Remembrance of /thing Past, bearing in their essence í░the vast structure of recollection.í▒ In 8490 Days of Memory, the combination of materials and imagery coalesces into an elegiac evocation of Kangí»s twenty-four years in Korea-exactly 8490 days-prior to immigration to the US in 1984. This evocation of Kangí»s past includes the complex interplay between Korea and American cultures, which continues into the present.
Born in 1960, Kang grew up in Seoul and attended grammar school near a US army base in the Ití»ae Won district of the city. He and fellow students would line up at the gate of the army base and shout í░give me chocolateí▒ at the GIs, who would respond by throwing candy bars as they drove past in jeeps. Given the postwar poverty of the time, chocolate was an extraordinary treat. When he was successful in retrieving a candy bar, Kang would slowly remove the foil wrapper before inhaling the scent of chocolate-í░smelling Americaí▒-to prolong the moment. This sweet and potent fragrance prompted him to fantasize about America. After this ritual, he slowly consumed the precious substance, letting each bite dissolve in his mouth.
Such was Kangí»s introduction to American culture and the genesis of his perception of chocolate and GIs as icons of America, icons that became deeply imbedded in his memory. The themes of remembrance and the past are underscored by the 8490 clear plastic cubes, each containing a small object from the artistí»s childhood-marbles, miniature masks and animals, windup toys, dice, shells-frozen, preserved, stopped in time. Unlike recollections released by smell and taste, there objects provide concrete evidence of Kangí»s youth in Korea during the sixties and seventies.
Whereas the chocolate squares and the objects encased in plastic allude to Kangí»s personal life, the figure of General Douglas MacArthur, with its chocolate patina, suggests a collective memory and global dimension to 8490 Days of Memory. MacArthur, who commanded UN military forces during the Korean War, was responsible for driving North Korean forces back over the 38th parallel. Although eventually dismissed by President Truman, in the eyes of South Koreans he was a hero, representing freedom, bravery, and the American dream.