Exhibition Catalog (Presence) / 2006

Buddha with Lucky Objects, 2004

The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY

Julien Robson



Ik-Joong Kang¡¯s work sustains an impressive and surprising scale, through the simultaneity of both immense quantity and intimacy. His installations intuitively express a merging of cultures through the social, psychological, and artistic processes of accumulation, creating meditative spaces that reveal a personal history while transforming the everyday into the spiritual.


Buddha with Lucky Objects is a special installation that has been developed for Presence. Combining thousands of three-inch-square Buddha paintings with hundreds of small hanging objects collected from five-and-dime stores, this work synthesizes diverse cultures into a single environment.


Ik-Joong Kang reflects on impressions left when, as a child, he visited religious temples decorated with folk art in Korea. The rich traditions of Eastern faiths have lived to merge and change over centuries in Korea, and shamanism1, in particular, has survived there for over five millennia. As an elective New Yorker, Kang draws upon the traditions of shamanism that are still practiced today in his native country and merges them with the colorful plenty of his newfound home.


In Buddha with Lucky Objects, thousands of small, square paintings done on blocks of wood line the main wall. In front of this array is a circular enclosure whose back wall is painted gold, but whose interior is formed from the tiny Buddha paintings. Painted by hand with flat color and graphic symmetry, Kang¡¯s Buddhas reference the tradition of Mudang paintings. These folk portraits of favorite deities are used by Korean shamans to create a sacred space in which to converse with spirits through dance and song. The image of the Buddha is used by shamans to symbolize the ultimate god.


Kang¡¯s overwhelming abundance of Buddhas exaggerates the shaman¡¯s ritual use of multiple portraits. The paintings would typically be made in sets of two, three, or four, each done by the same hand, and hung on the wall of the shaman¡¯s sacred room, or Tang, until the shaman¡¯s death. Faded or dusty Mudangs might be disposed of, requiring the Shaman to commission a new set, which would be considered equally effective.


In the circular enclosure, amidst this multiple presence of Buddhas, Kang introduces the type of cheap and colorful objects found in five-and-dime stores. These erratically hung, brightly colored material things of everyday life in the U.S. simulate the random and absurd abundance of goods experienced in any urban or suburban shopping spree. An overwhelming collection of prosaic clutter, it appears exotic in this defamiliarized space. The wonder and intrigue of American culture as seen through Kang¡¯s eyes during his first years in Manhattan is reinvented for the viewer.


Kang, like the shaman who utilizes folk portraits in the Tang, invents a new and functional purpose for his collection of objects. A motion detector senses the viewer¡¯s presence, in turn activating a fan that shakes the wall of the enclosure. With the viewer¡¯s movement, the objects begin to rattle, producing a sound that reverberates within the cylindrical wall and recalling the shaking instrument used by Korean shamans in the spiritual ceremony called the Goot. In this ritual, the instrument generates a chanting sound so powerful that it can be heard from miles away. The Goot sound is believed to call the gods in times of need, and allow the shaman to converse with the spirits to interpret their messages for people of the earth.


In Kang¡¯s installation, the viewer becomes the shaman whose movement actively engages the instrument that summons the spirits. And when the viewer settles and is still, the objects cease rattling, and the viewer becomes conscious of his or her power. Inside the installation, one confronts the world given life by the presence of the individual and, through looking and exploring, gains new insight into the environment and the self. Kang invites his audience to take control of the Tang, and to understand the significance of one¡¯s own presence in the function and presence of the work of art.