20 Jan 2022 — 19 Feb 2022
Ahra Kim

In 2021, Ahra Kim had an opportunity to enter the inner courts of Deoksugung Palace, one of five royal palaces in central Seoul. The opportunity came through a project opened within the venue. White walls, windows, and window frames. Kim found the indoor structures uncanny, unhomely. In traditional Korean housing structures, there is no clear distinction between door and window. Changmun, the Korean term for window, comes from the Sino-Korean 窓門, meaning "sky door". This ambiguous portal between the inside and outside, door and window, are not as common in Western architecture. Hanok windows can be detached and reattached, an accessible way to open and close the very space it bears boundary to. The vertically and horizontally verticed and structured windows have an architectural utility of limiting and delimiting space, while also in itself displaying a structured sense of beauty. The exhibition by Kim introduces such inner structures of the hanok and reconstructs it in the exhibition space.

The artist's deep fascination with structure can also be found in her previous work that explored and utilized gongpo (?包 - bracket structure) of the hanok. Gongpo is an in-between space of pillars and the roof, distributing load of the roof to the lower structures. One of its characteristic features is that the wooden beams are joined without nails, but with precise joints. Kim's sculptural background resonated with the concepts of gongpo; its iterative and rule-based nature captured her with a sense of inner calm and as well as curiosity for its technicality. We are quick to overlook the most amazing things once we perceive them through an understanding of axioms, equilibrium, and iteration. Kim found comfort and visual appeal in this wood-joint structure, where rational judgement was sufficient, and no emotional projection was necessary.

Ahra Kim's latest works use the canvas' wooden frames - not unlike the gongpo structures found in hanok. They are both of wooden structures with horizontal and vertical order. The artist's first solo exhibition was in 2016. Her presentations were limited to paintings, as there had been some spatial limitations to her practice. The three-dimensional forms can be scaled by adding or subtracting material, but with a painting, the canvas surface is the limit where any given form is bound by its size. Kim continues to work on canvas, but it was also its physical limitation that encouraged her to seek more versatile means in sculptural work. Changing perspectives often change our understanding of objects. In this case, Kim had stripped a framed canvas of its canvas, and was struck by the barren wooden frame. The materiality of the wooden frame and the wooden grooves and joints reminded her of the traditional wooden structures of hanok, namely gongpo.

And as her attention dwelled on those similarities, she also discovered the traditional window structure mirroring how canvases are structured. The windows of hanok are wooden cross-frames treated with sinewy mulberry pulp paper, in many ways similar to the canvas cloth stretched over a wooden frame to be painted upon. These two were strong enough analogues to connect the canvas frame to the hanok and became the starting block of Kim's exploration between the two seemingly unrelated structures. The artist's gaze begins at the window but draws into the inner spaces of hanok. traverses the wall and ceiling of the exhibition space and echoes the structure of the window and the window frame. The window and its window frame both connect and separate rooms and spaces, its structure extending to the ceiling. Kim dismantles this window-becomes-room structural frame and transposes it as her own reiteration. The objects of the exhibition space are metaphorical representations or iterations of structures found within and around the hanok - from the cross-board frame of the ceiling to the front gates, the wooden gate stop, and so on.

As such, her latest solo exhibition takes a step closer to exploring the underlying structures of space and objects. Wanting to forefront the structural approach of her works, she limited the usage of colors and stepped away from her previous use of dancheong (丹靑 - lit. cinnabar and blue-green, more widely including five basic colours; blue, white, red, black, and yellow). Her works take to the canvas from and the hanok's gongpo, give to the canvas surface and the hanok's windows, and return to the elements of space and structure. An additional dimension to this exhibition is that her works are spaces that can be entered. It is not just a visual representation but a sculptured space. It strikes a balance between vertical and horizontal. It enjoys the stability of right angles, materiality of wood, and the open yet structural space. It is the very epitome of sculptural space.

Both architecture and sculpture share the foundation of space and three-dimensionality. The philosophy of hanok architecture often alludes to openness and harmony. The light and translucent windows create an inter-relationship between the inner and outer spaces. Its light and variable space and interaction with space, shares its foundation with the essence of modern sculpture. Ahra Kim's work disassembles the architecture of hanok while simultaneously bringing them together as sculpture. The objects within speak for her visceral experiences and feelings encountered in specific spaces. As such, the sculptural space conveys a sense of coded experience rather than visual code. And for the spectator, entry requires the open imagination of mind's eye, to survey the space of hanok as both architecture and sculpture, a place of space and structure.
Installation view