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Choi Jeong Hwa

Seoul, Korea born 1961

Clear lotus 2009 Place made: Korea
Materials & Technique: sculptures, polyurethane, motor, electrical components

Dimensions: 230.0 h x 400.0 w 400.0 diameter cm
Acknowledgement: The Gene and Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Fund, 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.51

An exciting recent acquisition of contemporary Asian art is Clear lotus, a huge clear vinyl inflatable flower by renowned Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa. An artist, designer and active contributor to the development of the lively Korean contemporary art scene, he is renowned for his inflatable sculptures and constructions using mass–produced plastic products and re–presented found or borrowed objects. Born in 1961, Choi Jeong Hwa began his career as a painter and, in 1988, was awarded the relatively conservative National Art Competition Grand Prize for his efforts. By the early 1990s, however, he had abandoned painting for installation, video and sculpture, particularly inflatables. In 1995, he created The death of the robot—about being irritated, a widely–exhibited orange, blow–up robot who struggles to get up from the ground but, worn down by the effort, is continually thwarted. According to the artist:

… the work had its start in a personal feeling of powerlessness. What’s most important is the contradiction between this apparent human vulnerability or failing in something that embodies supreme technological advancement.1

Many of Choi’s more recent works are gigantic floral–form inflatables, including lotus blossoms in black, white and transparent plastic. While much of his work can be interpreted as communicating concerns about waste, consumer society, globalisation and other contemporary issues, the artist consciously avoids such discussion. Rather, he celebrates the peculiar beauty of synthetic materials and everyday objects with flippant lightness and deliberate ambiguity of purpose. While Choi is not easily drawn on the meaning behind his sculptures, about his floral works he has said:

I feel strange when I see a real tree or flower. Nature, as such, is so rare in Korea these days, that I’m actually afraid when I encounter it. I’m afraid of the ‘real’. Maybe all I can deal with is an idea of nature, immune to destruction, so I make an artificial one to look at and enjoy.2

Choi Jeong Hwa’s blow–up lotuses have attracted considerable international attention since their first appearance in the Korean Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. The motorised flowers magnificently inflate and open, deflating limply before the cycle begins again. Although not a practising Buddhist, Choi is familiar with the auspicious Buddhist symbolism of the lotus emerging from muddy waters to bloom pure and exquisite despite its filthy origins.

Generously supported by The Gene and Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Fund, Clear lotus was commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia in early 2009. As a long–serving member of the Gallery’s Foundation, Gene Sherman directed her enormous enthusiasm and generous financial contributions towards building a national collection of significant works by Asian contemporary artists with strong international reputations, including Chinese artist Cai Guo–Qiang and Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto. Gene and Brian Sherman’s 2008 gift of Heri Dono’s Flying angels has been installed above a busy ramp where the flapping and chirruping angels bring pleasure to visitors on their way to the cafe and lower–level galleries.

Continually rising pristine, plump and sparkling, Choi Jeong Hwa’s Clear lotus is currently one of the most popular objects in the Soft sculpture exhibition.

Melanie Eastburn and Robyn Maxwell
Curator and Senior Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009

 

1 Choi Jeong Hwa, interview with James B Lee, ‘Flim–flam and fabrication: an interview with Choi Jeong–Hwa’, Art Asia Pacific, vol 3, no 4, 1996, p 66.
2 Choi, p 66.

in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009

Choi Jeong Hwa is renowned for his inflatable sculptures and constructions using mass-produced plastic products, and re-presented found or borrowed objects. While much of his work can be interpreted as communicating concerns about waste, consumer society, globalisation and other contemporary issues, the artist consciously avoids such discussion. Rather, he celebrates the peculiar beauty of synthetic materials and everyday objects with flippant lightness and deliberate ambiguity of purpose.

An enormous transparent vinyl bloom, Clear lotus magnificently inflates and opens, before deflating to sprawl dejectedly on the ground. Then the cycle begins again. The stylised sculpture has elegantly fluted petals with a central clumping of tentacle-like anthers. In Buddhist art the auspicious lotus rises from swampy waters to bloom pure and exquisite, despite its often filthy origins. Although not a practising Buddhist, Choi grew up in a devout family and has a strong understanding of religious philosophy and symbolism.[1] When discussing a much earlier inflatable flower sculpture, the multicoloured and variegated Super flower 1995, he referred to the capacity of the lotus to remain untainted by its genesis as a source of inspiration.[2] Still, the lotus blooms only briefly before the petals blacken around the edges and fall off, leaving a dry pod and woody stem. Choi’s flowers, however, and Clear lotus in particular, continually bounce back, as pristine, plump and sparkling as the first time their petals opened.

An active contributor to the development of the Korean contemporary art scene in the early 1990s, Choi is also a designer of interiors, furniture and architecture. He began his career as a painter but soon abandoned it for installation, video and sculpture. Among his best-known works is The death of the robot—about being irritated 1995. The orange blow-up robot struggles to get up from the ground but, worn down by the effort, is repeatedly thwarted. According to the artist ‘the work had its start in a personal feeling of powerlessness. What’s most important is the contradiction between this apparent human vulnerability or failing in something that embodies supreme technological advancement.’[3]

Many of Choi’s recent gigantic inflatables are floral in form and, like Clear lotus, created in monochrome: either in bright single colours or in black, white or transparent plastics. His lotuses in particular have attracted considerable attention following the appearance of Dragon flower, a white bloom displayed in a garden setting outside the Korean pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2005. Although the artist is not easily drawn on the meaning behind his sculptures, about his floral works he has said: ‘I feel strange when I see a real tree or flower. Nature, as such, is so rare in Korea these days, that I’m actually afraid when I encounter it. I’m afraid of the “real”. Maybe all I can deal with is an idea of nature, immune to destruction, so I make an artificial one to look at and enjoy.’[4]

Melanie Eastburn
Curator, Asian Art
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

[1]Jiyoon Lee, ‘Choi Jeong Hwa: enfant terrible or artist-philosopher?’, in Choi Jeong Hwa, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton, 2007, unpaginated

[2]Choi Jeong Hwa, artists’ talk, Second Asia–Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, September 1996

[3]Choi Jeong Hwa, interview with James B Lee, ‘Flim-flam and fabrication: an interview with Choi Jeong-Hwa’, Art Asia Pacific, vol 3, no 4, 1996, p 66

[4]Choi, Art Asia Pacific, p 66


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: National Gallery of Australia exhibition SoftSculpture (reference )