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Aggregation10-SE032RED

March 5, 2017

While searching around in the V&A museum, one piece of object in Korea section had caught my attention. It is an art work called “Aggregation10-SE032RED” done by Chun Kwang-Young in 2010. It had caught my attention because its existence is a contradictive juxtaposition of the art work and other artifacts and the whole museum: a modern art work being put in a museum focused on history and cultures, surrounded by traditional Korean ceramics of different dynasties and named by a series of meaningless numbers (that looks more like a serial number of a collection than the name of an art work). My immediate question was why it is here and what the museum tries to show by presenting it.

The art work looks like a rugged surface filled with cracks, but if you look closely you can see each block constructing the surface are wrapped with book pages printed on Hanji paper. It is a traditional Korean handmade paper with smooth surface and strong tenacity used in making lanterns, clothes, boxes, jars and other daily objects.[1]In the description, Hanji paper is described as “used in many area of life, including wrapping household objects for storage”. From the fact that it wrapped each block in this work, the description does somehow justified the work. However, the function of Hanji paper here is far more than merely wrapping. The description reads in the second paragraph: “These complex defects symbolize the difficult history of Korea, but the strong paper reflects the resilience of the Korean people[2]”. Instead of focusing on Hanji paper as a traditional technique, the work has focused on the symbolism meaning of this material, the citizen’s resilience against difficult history.

“Symbolism”, “history” and “resilience” seems to be the focus of this object. The fact that such an art work is made by a Korean artist reflects a strong patriotism. The reason why the museum is showing it is shown in the brief of the whole collection: “a strong sense of nationhood” “a rich symbolism” and “venerate traditional heritage”[3]. It is also interesting that the brief mentioned “the state offers financial support to artists who rework traditional forms and maintain traditional skills”3. The purchase of this art work is also funded by a Korean museum. Both of these suggests that, the V&A museum is not the only decision-maker of what to present in Korea section, the local museum and even government are also involved, which is rare because in this case the nation itself can somehow determines how it is presented in another country.

Moreover, how the museum takes outside suggestions is also important. The piece of work is positioned in between the traditional Korean ceramics. Its position is so awkward that it’s almost like cutting in the line of the artifacts from Korean elite and art work showing resilience of citizens. Apart from the lack of space and other more sophisticated reasons, one possible explanation is that the museum didn’t take the suggestions very well. The main part of the collection is to present the respect for authority and social order under the influence of Buddhism and Confucianism (which is reasonable as it’s just beside the room of Buddha sculpture collections) as well as the life of the Korean elite. Being an outlier of the main collection, the art work may be merely positioned in a place where it physically fit.

The one piece of artifact shows how the function of museum has switched from researching purpose into mass education. What’s more, the collections and descriptions can be so important that it may build up a certain impression of a country for the visitors, no matter if it’s true or not.

Art work surrounded by traditional Korean ceramics (right) ; details of the art work (left)

Anran Yang
Mar. 5 2017

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