A whole world / 2008

Nwiyeon Kim



Kang Ikjoong lives in a world that's more extensive than any other. Three inch square canvas, the size of my palm, in the midst of infinite proliferation as we speak, is its proof.


It's been nine months since Gwanghwamoon has been enclosed by the formation of what resembles a large water pot made with moon. 'Moon over Gwanghwamoon'. which is what Kang Ikjoong calls his artistic installation piece that covers the reconstruction site of Gwanghwamoon, essentially symbolizes where he stands in Korea artistic scene. Kang Ikjoong is not considered to be one of those artists who stand at the forefront of the Modern Art genre working away with his acute feelers in full fear. However, with a bit of exaggeration, Kang Ikjoong is widely recognized and an artist who is widely embraced is by no means common.

Born in Chungjoo, North Choong-chung province in 1960, Kang Ikjoong spent 24 years in Korea and is going on his 24th year in New York. He prefers to work on very small canvas. 3 inches(7.62cm) in both width and length, this square canvas withstood extensive proliferation in the last 24 years. Upon his arrival to the U.S. in 1984, he had to work about 12 hours a day doing this and that to make his living. This limited him to carry canvas on his palm. What once filled the walls if San Francisco Airport, UN Headquarters, and library at Princeton University, now cover the walls at Kyungi-do Museum. They are namely 'Window of the 50 thousand, Wall of the Future', which portrays the hopes and dreams of 50 thousand children, and 'Amazed World(www.amazedworld.com)' which is a giant mural piece that covers the passage way connecting the first and second floor of the museum. Last summer, upon meeting Kang Ikjoong at his inborn passion that seems inextinguishable makes him a boy with eternal purity. I corresponded with answers that were almost poetic. They were long-forgotten rhythm and melody.


Come to think of it, the year 2008 marks the cardinal point in which the artist Kang Ikjoong spent 24 years in Korea and 24 years in New York.

It feels as if I'd left home for a quick visit somewhere but 24 years have passed. They say the weight of the years has the same impact on an eighty year old and seven year old alike. Most likely because the number of images to be saved in the memory file is predetermined. It may be true for everyone, but I have a lot more slides in memory that hold images of my childhood. The street alleys of Itaewon where I played during my elementary school years are still very vivid in my mind.

Now, I'm staying over at a friend, New York's place. I draw pictures here and got married and got married and had a baby here as well.


If my memory dosen't fail me, you enjoy 'number computations'.

I'm good at counting and memorizing useless numbers. It's one of those habits I really need to get rid of. I heard that it's a common practice among prudent people. I actually find satisfaction in figuring out the number of stories as I pass by a building. How many trees there are from my home to office... how many lights there are in the Lincoln Tunnel which I drive through about twice a week... Once I'm out of that tunnel, I feel nauseous from all that counting, nevertheless it's something that I just do.

But numbers are very helpful in understanding a certain situation or relationship. Like the way numbers can explain the altitudes of sound, I believe that there is a definite correlation between the distance of two objects. In this sense, the correlation between my home to my office can be explained by the number of steps. 3,628 steps, only achievable if you avoid the tourists stopping you to ask directions. Drawing a picture is like swimming across a river. When you make the initial dive into the river, all you're faced with is the water and the sky above. You lift your head to listen to guidance of your teacher so as to not get lost in direction. The distance of the river is understood as the number of pieces I've done. This is what I identify as 'How to draw (How to swim)'.

"Draw with eyes half-closed / If possible, use your left hand / Draw even if you're bad at it / Draw even when you're sleepy / Draw what you know / Draw something easy / Draw what's next to you / Draw as you listen, see, and learn / Draw lying down / Draw standing up / Draw running / Draw with eyes half-open / Grin~ / Draw yourself laughing."

I'm curious about the recent 'Code'. The one following 'Happiness Appreciation' and 'Honest Heart Numerous Efforts'...

Code is "As is." I just made up its pen name. As is Kang Ikjoong.

I heard that you donated the mural piece, '50 Thousand windows, Wall of the Future', that was shown at Kyungi-do Gallery for the first time in September.

This project started in An-san, Kyungi-do. As you know, there's quite a large population of foreign workers there. We call their children 'Kosian' or 'Multi_cultural Children'. But the most accurate name would be just 'Our Children'. I went as far south as Mara-do and as far up north as Deasung-dong Elementary School as I traveled cross-country. All pictures collected during the trip individually glued onto 3 inch wooden pieces and for preservation purposes they're coated with liquid plastic. This complicated process was assisted by kids in Teenage Custodial House, college students, first-line troops, elders, and local volunteering housewives of An-san.

When you involve yourself in a piece that portrays children's dreams, there is this special encounter you always experience,

It's an encounter with 'myself in the past and the future', the person you had long forgotten.


Is there a decisive catalyst that drove you to regard 'Children' and 'Future' in the same light?

Long time ago, on a trip to Senegal in Africa, I was waiting at the Embassy to receive a visa to visit its neighboring country of Gambia. Prior to being separated by France and England as the colonies, Senegal and Gambia used to make-up the Kingdom of Senegal, using the same language known as Walupra. It's been ages since those days, and now they're not only oblivious to the meaning of unification but they don't care. If you think about it, we live on oblivious to the fact that our own country had been divided by the will of superpower nations, too. There is really no difference between the two situations.

I started with the hope of visiting where we want to go, as if in a time machine, vicariously through dreams of children. My heartfelt wish is to be about to create a floating gallery, 'Dream Bridge' across Imjin River, to exhibit children's art before reunification of Koreas is realized. It is because the mother of a father, and the father of that mother, and the daughter of a son, and the son of a daughter all dwell in me.

In reality, however, there are a number of adults who don't take too much liking toward children.

There os a lint in the late Kim Kwangsuk's 'Sad Song' that says, 'When you see the child in an adult'. When you closely observe problematic children, you'll find that in mist cases they're due to a defence mechanism. I think that 'constant praise and encouragement' inner being. This applies squally to adults as well.

Have you ever encountered any young people who consider your projects to be mundane because it's overly politically correct?

Politics and arts, science and economic exist within the same cycle. If I were to make their comparison to fishing, artists play the role of throwing in the fishing rod, and the scientists take the role of reeling in the catch. Economists cut up the fish on the chopping board, and lastly, politicians are responsible for allocating the fish. If the fishing rod hadn't been thrown into the water, the cycle is immobilized with no fish to cut or allocate. This cycle has to be converted from border to connector and I think this job is left up to the artists.

I would assume that you'd consider Paik Namjune, with whom you shared an exhibition at Whitney Gallery in 1994, your soulmate.

I got to experience his 1981 piece soon after he passed away. I think it was drawn during the tine then he was getting ready for his first independent exhibition at Whitney Gallery in New York. There were scribbles in many colors written onto a TV monitor. It read, "Fifteen years were spent in reading the chronicle/ but still far left to go/ don't know if I'll finish before my days are over/ but still...' This is both the shortest and the longest book I've seen. It's the shortest and the longest advice ever given thus far.

I'm curious about how you'd define 'Comtemporary art'.

An artist is 'a journalist with artistic heart. 'Sitting in front of a canvas holding a paint brush doesn't make you an artist. The artist of this age has to be able to pull out the antenna within to connect what's inside to the outside. 'what is contemporary art?' is a difficult question to answer. It's like asking 'What is contemporary food?' As the saying 'You see a painting only as much as you know it' implies, true understanding of art can begin at the intersection of what you know and see. As an artists work is subjective, the audience's eye also needs to be subjective in order to establish a relationship between the two. There is no reason for you to like an art piece just because others like it. The way you see and feel about a particular art piece changes in accordance to your experiences. There may be times when you start to see something in a piece, then there may be a time when all the things you saw and felt may suddenly vanish.

As involved as you are in creating a cover for Gwanghwamoon reconstruction, you must have been especially upset by the new of South-gate collapse. May I request Kang Ikjoong's 'Ode to South-gate'?

"south-gate has collapsed./ Tiles crumbled and pillars burned./ Japanese swords and scuffle between brothers made us wail sorrowfully./ Cheers of independence and screams during the World Cut made us laugh out loud./ the day of reunification was anxiously awaited./ No, South-gate did not collapse./ It's just resting exhausted by six hundred years of history./ It will resurrect tomorrow letting go of its sorrow./ Under the same sky, on the same ground and amid the same screaming of cheer."

Do you have a definite political stance?

I support Obama. He is relatively successful in providing hope and vision to Americans and in enabling Americans to dream of a new change. If he presents specific agenda as to what needs to be changed in what way, with definite strategy on national security and foreign policy, there is a good chance of victory in the presidential election. What we consider to be the basic responsibility of a political leader is 'connector'. Someone who can connect east and west, south and north, therich and the poor, and the present and the future. This is only possible when you empty yourself like a pipe. This applies to politicians of any nation.

Your thoughts on the controversy over the import of American cows?

Issues concerning public health and sanitation should be placed ahead of political and economical theories. Americans will not necessarily like you more just because you say 'yes' at the negotiation table. The disappointment over our government's negotiating skills, diplomatic skills, as well as its ability to communicate with its people just blew up all at once. In the midst of chaotic nights of candle demonstrations, we hauled in an enormous fish. It's the start of personal broadcasting station in which anyone with a camera can air live shows by means of the internet. I believe that it will be recorded in history that the true 'media current' started in 2008 with candle demonstration against mad cow disease. Youtube may air dead, pre-recorded video whereas we air footage that's as live as fresh fish jumping on a cutting board. Now that a strong, big net has been produced, what kinds of fish are to be caught in what way, and where to sell the fish are some issues for us to consider.

In the last piece of your book portraying your melancholic journey thus far. Kang Ikjoong, you say that "I want our country to be the mist beautiful (not the richest) country in the world. "What would you consider to be truly 'beautiful'? And what is 'the ultimate power of culture' that you so "immensely want to own"?

The 'harmonious country' as portrayed in Kimgu's 'Beautiful Country' is one that is unbiased. Like an acrobat walking on a thin line, you need to hold a stick with tradition and history on one side and future and vision on the other.

Culture is to thread as philosophy is to a needle. Like thread and needle, culture and philosophy need to be together at all times. When you sew onto a white cloth one stitch at a time with a needle called philosophy, you end up with a beautiful flower pattern called culture. Nation with a strong 'power of culture' is one that awakes 'me' with a needle called philosophy, then asks himself where he is standing and where he is going.

You stated that " an artist is a storyteller who tells what he has seen upon climbing up a mountain." Do you see the top of the mountain?

Student who studies where there isn't an exam, artist who draws where there isn't an exhibition, storyteller who climbs a mountain even during a rain storm... That is true student. true artist, and a true storyteller. I'm far from it.