Godzilla / 1992
Ik-Joong Kang 3 x 3, Queens Museum, NY
Ik-Joong Kang's recent installation, "3 x 3" at the Queens Museum, takes its title from the preponderance of three's underlying its structure: three eight by-eight-foot cubes, each face covered by canvases measuring three inches square, arranged in orderly rows. These hang evenly spaced, twenty-four to a row, creating an overall grid. The grand total: 6,912 canvases, an average number for one of Kang's exhibitions.
It's not just the sheer volume of canvases that overwhelms the spectator, but the diversity of media and themes. Some of the canvases are merely supports for an actual object-a tiny model airplane, a dangling earring, Lilliputian doll shoes lined up on shelves. Other canvases are paintings of the abstract and representational variety. Still other canvases bear aphoristic sayings such as "Death. Tombs are opened. Amen," or personal revelations: "Uncle Died" inexplicably juxtaposed to a small, crudely outlined animal. Kang's opus celebrates the ordinary, the accumulated random incidents and objects of quotidian existence, with its sensory overload and apparent lack of an overriding significance. The work is diaristic, but inconsequential. The wide range of themes that preoccupy Kang-sex, death, the spiritual, bodily functions, the art world are obvious, and these in turn exemplify the cosmic questions of life that confront everyone. "3 x 3" also refers specifically to Kang's encounter with American culture as a recent Asian immigrant. This aspect of the work is heightened by an English language tape for Koreas that plays continually in the gallery through speakers in some of the canvases. The tape centers around food as a means of access to an alien culture, featuring such inane phrases as "what kind of salad dressing would you like? I'll take thousand island.," and points to the central role food plays in Korean culture.
The random arrangement of the individual canvasses means that the spectator assumes an active role in creating meaning; the "meaning" of each canvas depends on its context, where it falls in the larger "picture" so to speak. What is to either side of it, above and below. "3 x 3" suggests an approach to time that is diametrically opposed to that found in European history painting, (exemplified b Jacques Louis Davis) in which a single moment is depicted, the climax which both encapsulates the past and both encapsulates the past and points to the future. Kang's sense of time is one of a vast, undifferentiated field, where peaks and valleys are non-existent. Instead, the accumulated moments, both significant and meaningless, comfortably coexist, and the artist is free to constantly revise what was meaningful in the past depending on the present.
"3 x 3" subverts the structure of he grid, a formation and means of organization synonymous with modernism. Although the modernist grid made reference to the uniformity of mass-produced culture, it also spoke of the absolute autonomy of art, of its complete removal from life. Kang, on the other hand, employs the grid because it is such a perfect means by which to present his experience of the undifferentiated commonplace. The modernist grid thus acquires cultural significance.
While "3 x 3" addresses everyday existence in terms of popular culture, "Collection of Buddhas," at the Asian American Arts Center, shifts to the realm of the spirit, with references to folk art. Once again Kang employs cubes-four painted a brilliant red, on which are affixed three-by-three inch canvases, each bearing a brightly colored images of a seated Buddha. These canvases have deliberately been made to look ancient, with the surfaces scraped to obscure the image. Interspersed among these are others with the Buddha filled in with seeds, drawn in a diagrammatic style or overlaid with a cosmic spiral. Although the grid has been abandoned, the serial depictions of Buddha are echoed by the repetitious chanting of Buddhist monks on tape. In addition, the entire installation is multiplied by mirrored panels on the wall. If e sensed in "3 x 3" that Kang regarded the flotsam and jetsam of the commonplace almost reverentially, here he seems to be suggesting the illusory nature of that very reality.