KANG Ik-Joong received his MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and a BFA from Hong-Ik University in Seoul, Korea. The artist is internationally recognized for creating major public art works using multiple 3 x 3 inch canvases to spotlight the plight of people and societies around the world. In December 1999, Ik-Joong Kang worked with 50,000 children from South Korea in creating 100,000 Dreams. This project featured a one kilometer-long, vinyl tunnel-inside which all of the children's works were displayed. Though North Korean children did not participate as planned, this project has since manifested itself on a wider level.
In 2001, Kang completed the project ‘Amazed World’ commissioned by the Republic of Korea in association with UNICEF. Approximately 40,000 works by children from 150 countries and a diverse range of cultures, religions and political beliefs were displayed in a giant maze installation in the lobby of the United Nations building in New York. In 2013, the artist built a 175-meter-long covered bridge, ‘The Bridge of Dreams’, in Suncheon, Korea, containing 120,000 drawings by children from around the world. Last year alone the ‘Bridge of Dreams’ drew more than 5 million visitors. Kang has installed children's drawings at many hospitals and public places around the world including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (Ohio USA 2006), Zaitun Library (Erbil Iraq 2008) and Asan Medical Center (Seoul, Korea in 2010).
Floating Dreams in London 2016 is the latest in a body of works, situated in the center of the River Thames by the Millennium Bridge in London. This piece spotlights the suffering of displaced people and communities in war-torn locations across the world. It was constructed from 500 miniature drawings and illuminated from within; the three- story-high lantern structure acts as a memorial to the millions displaced and divided during the Korean War (1950-53), a poignant symbol of hope for the reunification of North and South Korea. The installation was commissioned and presented by Totally Thames. Ik-Joong Kang commented, “The river is alive. It talks, breathes and thinks. I knowthat the Thames does same thing. And it can also connect and embrace us."
His next project is making a one-mile-long circular shape bridge over the Imjin River that separates North and South Korea. Kang says, ‘The children’s dreams fill the inside of the bridge and anyone who walks on this bridge will be sent to the future without even having to buy a ticket’.Kang has exhibited internationally, including a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York in 1996; a two-person show with Nam June Paik at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, Connecticut; and group exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, the British Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Ludwig Museum in Germany, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea. In 1997, he was awarded The Special Merit prize in the 47th Venice Biennale and in 2014 Kang was among the artists featured in the Korea pavilion that received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Kang has received many awards and fellowships, including a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship. His works in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, the British Museum in UK, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Ludwig Museum in Germany, the Samsung Art Museum, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea.
The work represents a colossal effort--a larger-than-life statue of General Douglas MacArthur was constructed from chocolate bars and stands in the middle of the gallery on a low dais made of cubes of resin. The walls of the gallery are covered with Kang’s trademark squares, here made of chocolate and imprinted with U.S. military insignia. The work underscores the powerful way that memory can function through vision, smell and even sound--notably the Tom Jones hits, popular in the U.S. and Korea in the 1960s, that Kang has playing in the gallery. Deployed in a relatively small space, the work poses a kind of sensory overload from the strong smell of chocolate, the maculation of the space through the repeated squares and the giant statue. The physical disorientation suggests the similar fragmented process of the recollection of long periods of time.
Chocolate is a powerful metaphor to Kang. As a rare luxury in post-war South Korea, casually supplied to local children by the victorious G.I.s, chocolate symbolizes the sweetness of American plenty while its silver foil is a literal representation of the glittering promise of wealth and the American dream. Kang drives home this point by incorporating MacArthur, who gained a place in the hearts of Koreans (and a place in their parks, through proliferating statues) by masterminding the Inchon landing, a crucial turning point in the Korean War. The memorialization of the past is also emphasized by small toys and other childhood memorabilia set within each transparent resin block under MacArthur's statue. Each gonggi (jacks) set, each eraser and each pair of doll shoes are fossils embedded forever in Formica, as if to suggest the enduring quality of Kang’s memories.
Despite the importance of memory and the past, Kang’s work is very much a work of the present, avoiding Korean American artistic clinches that attempt to compensate for lack of substance by using inscrutable components of the past. Chocolate is a double entendre metaphor because when exposed to heat, it rapidly melts and this property parallels Kang’s idea of America's waning military power in both Korea and the world.
Likewise, the childhood memorabilia used are not actual objects hoarded from yesterday but objects that can be found or purchased anywhere in Korea today. Such an incorporation of present objects implies that memories are often remembered using the constructs of today. The conflicting ideas of the present and the nostalgia of the past give Kang’s 8940 Days of Memory a pulsating energy that reminds the viewer that the past and present undergo a process of constant interaction.
Ik-Joong Kang, 8940 Days of Memory, Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, 120 Park Ave. (E. 42nd St.) New York, N.Y. 10017, July 11-Sept. 27, 1996.