The Futurist Corporation

New Urban Species
6 May 2010, 4:47 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

From the Frist Center for Visual Arts:

Born in 1970, U-Ram Choe lives in Seoul, Korea. He has had solo exhibitions at The Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan, and bitforms gallery in New York. His work also has been exhibited at the Shanghai Biennale, Seoul Museum of Art, Samsung Museum, Sungkok Art Museum, Busan’s Metropolitan Art Museum, Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Bologna, Seoul Olympic Art Museum, and Seoul Forest Open Air Sculpture Symposium. Choe’s works are in the Crow Collection, Sungkok Art Museum, and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, and the Manchester Art Gallery.

Choe’s work uses mechanized parts, chrome patterns, electric dynamos and arranged lights to create what appear to be living creatures made from machine parts. He gives each of these creations a scientific name and a back story, giving the exhibit the effect of a natural history museum. Una Lumino Partentum, for example, consists of 22 lamps that blossom and retract in rhythm, as if inhaling and exhaling the electricity around it. Their shape approaches wildflowers growing out of a twisted vine, but the intricate metal patterns and silver glass symmetries make this piece appear, as Choe says, “a new species altogether.”

The life forms Choe envisions are urban creatures rather than natural ones, found in subways and factories of the “mega-city.” Consider the “Urbanus Female,” a 153x153x93 inch conglomeration of etched steel and robotics, the shape of an insectoid larval pod. Choe challenges the duality of organic and manufactured by combining the two in these breathing, animated organisms, which despite their organic shape and plantlike resemblances, are constructed from the most inorganic of materials in an unmistakably mechanical shell.

The most admirable element of Choe’s work is the manner in which he has created an entire mythology in which his constructions are to be found. This technique not only creates immediate intrigue around the work but immerses the viewer in the experience of the exhibit. To accompany Choe’s animated sculptures, he has constructed plaques explaining the mating habits, natural habitat, scientific name and diet of these beings. This sort of background presentation presents the beings unalienated from the world in which they are to be discovered. Thus the shock of the fantastic element in Choe’s work is transferred away from the sculptures themselves and into the imagination of the viewer. The line drawn around the unbelievable is no longer circumscribes the pieces themselves but the imaginary world that Choe forces us to envision.

To further lessen the force of the real-to-the-fantastic transition, this world we are encouraged to construct is one that most of Choe’s viewership already has the tools to envision. That which may be lacking in the viewer’s memories of metropolis imagery and urban environments is easily filled in by the robotic near-future environment of movies and fiction that his language invokes. Once this operation is accepted, the objects he presents become far from alien—they are actually the only elements missing from our mental picture!

The “Jet Hiatus” is a creature that is supposedly made from scrap airplane parts and flies near airports and other industrial airfield environments. Suspended in the air above the viewer, it purrs and giggles like a shy crustacean, except that its chrome metalwork and light-emitting diodes confuse the distinction between life-force and electricity. Like Choe’s other life forms, the Anmoropral cetorhinus maximus (its scientific name) feeds off “urban energy.” This theme seems to form the kernel Choe’s entire body of work. The idea is that human civilization’s excess energy production is picked up and used by machines, appliances in ways complex enough that eventually lead lifeless mechanicals to develop, reproduce, even evolve. This approach takes a creative approach to the serious and highly politicized issue known as “the energy crisis.” But rather that using language or phrases that pander to the lexicon of the contemporary scientific debate, Choe barely acknowledges the issue itself. Though his entire body of work relies on the idea of surplus energy, the work itself delicately keeps this issue in the realm of the unmentioned. Choe instead works in a sideways direction from this sense to allow a much more resonant message to come through.

By using the term “urban energy,” Choe in fact invents a new substance. To the creatures it is not the dynamos or the power plants that they draw life from, but the city itself. Much like the ambitious young adult enlivened by the possibilities of an urban center, Choe’s anmopistas and anmopispls are brought to life by the neon and alabaster found only in the megalopolis. By feeding of “urban energy” the creatures themselves could have formed nowhere (it appears) but amongst the refuse of a twenty-first century society.

To this extant, Choe’s understanding of the human-machine relationship is completely reworked. The life-force is no longer a sole possession of the alive. Choe’s work, by summoning forces that confront modern contemporary society, manages to fill a gap we did not know existed. He fills the non-alive with life, and thus invents a new taxonomy of the urban.

U-Ram Choe: New Urban Species is on display now at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The exhibit closes May 16.


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