​​PENNAME  by L. Mace   posted October 4, 2020.

Rooms With A View   JooLee KangSeoul, South Korea강주리 姜妵利 

For anyone who might wonder if artistic innovation with ballpoint pens had begun drying up like the ink in an old pen, along comes  JooLee Kang  with a ballpoint display which breaks the mediums’s pen-on-paper confines. The artist’s  Cannot See But Exist, Can See But Not Exist  (pictured above & right), a site-specific multi-media installation which  starts  with the pen but does not  end  with the pen, just went live  in her homeland of South Korea  as part of the  Changwon Sculpture Biennale. Yes: sculpture. For the event, Kang takes liberties with the idea of sculpture because, with the guiding theme of this Biennale being ‘non-sculpture’, that’s the idea. In doing so, she is also taking liberties with the idea of ballpoint art — perhaps that’s the idea for Kang — and in turn she is providing ballpoint art lovers a breath of fresh air. 
     If an artist can consider their work the-air-they-breath, then there’s definitely something in the air in Changwon, or at least moving across the walls, ceiling and floor of the exhibition hall: the atmosphere Kang has created with her work, which was allotted a room of its own in an old commercial refrigerator. In that room, viewers are not so much  looking at  the artwork as they are standing  with  and  within  it. Video mapping presents Kang’s drawn pages floating around the room, an apt motif during this period when  things-floating-in-the-air  is on everyones’ mind. The connection registers with Kang: ‘’When I and Shenshen started to talk about this work, COVID-19 was hitting hard in China and Korea.’’ She is referring to Chinese artist Shenshen Luo, a friend since art school in Boston with whom Kang collaborated for the Biennale. The video projections are Luo's contribution to this project. ‘’We share a common interest in theuncannyand cognitive uncertainty,’’ she explains. ‘’We both agreed that this crisis obviously showed the power tension between human and nature. Environmental issues are no longer something we can push back or ignore. The work shows our thoughts about existence, change, and absence, especially like this chaotic moment.’’ ‘Environmental issues’ often rear their heads, quite literally, in Kang’s ballpoint drawings: as animals bearing extra heads or limbs. Silhouetted representations of such drawings were cut into acrylic panels and positioned to appear floating along with the projected artwork.

The city of Changwon is described as ’extremely well-known in the art world as the home of some of Korea’s most notable sculptors’, and Kang considers it ‘’an honor to participate.’’ She exudes excitement about her work being displayed alongside big names in the Korean sculpture realm, names with whom she is familiar and some whom she can refer to as ‘colleagues’, but admits to anxiety about this being the first time she incorporates video mapping into her artwork. That dichotomy of excitement and anxiety is mirrored in her presentation of the static yet kinetic, the intimate but dynamic, the natural and unnatural, and her methods of ‘cutting and reassembling’, which jibe with the Biennale themes of ‘non-sculptural experiment for sculpture’ and ‘incompletion towards completion’ with attention to the ‘process rather than result’. ‘’I think my way to approach and create a mass and space is different from other sculptural minds. This time I'm trying to add one more layer with Shenshen's video work and I think this work could question and extend the definition of sculpture.’’ All of the particulars are worked out and executed by Kang, herself; no art assistants or interns. In this case, she was on her own for the full installation; the wide reach of COVID kept her Beijing-based collaborator from attending. She also handles the booking of exhibitions, phone calls, even stuffing envelopes. ‘’Sometimes I spend all day long dealing with these issues. I divide my time as studio days and meeting/paperwork days. I try to keep at least 4 days a week as my studio days.’’ The life of an artist is on-call, 24-7, and Kang listens to music on-the-job but, surprisingly, the Changwon installation runs silent.
     Kang’s ballpoint penwork had already taken on three-dimensional proportions over recent years.  Cannot See But Exist, Can See But Not Exist  evolved through a series of works displayed under the title  Chaos; paper assemblages constructed of original drawings, and/or ink jet prints of ballpoint drawings with original drawing applied to the opposite sides (pictured, right). Kang describes the two-sided distribution of original art and inkjet as ‘’all mixed up; one side is original and the other side is inkjet printed or both sides are originals or inkjet printed. Not drawings with white backs.’’  

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Artwork, top & mid-right :  Cannot See But Exist, Can See But Not Exist, 2020;  mixed media video installation ;  Changwon Sculpture Biennale, Changwon,  Korea;  260 x 610 x 240cm (room). Right :  Chaos, 2017;  pen on paper and inkjet prints ;  Taipei Fine Arts Museum,  Taipei,  Taiwan; approximately 180 x 150 x 7cm.  All artwork © JooLee Kang

Who better to write about art than an  artist. Who better to write about  ballpoint  art than a master practitioner : Lennie Mace. As his debut writing contribution for  The Ballpointer, Mace spoke with fellow artist  JooLee Kang as her debut feature appearance in the journal ; one master to another...

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