The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA, Director Youn Bummo) announced the opening of MMCA Cheongju Project 2021—Chen Dai Goang: Dreams of the Perfect City, an exhibition to be held at MMCA Cheongju Art Storage Center from 17 September 2021 to 24 July 2022.
The MMCA Cheongju Project commissions new and established artists to produce and install works on the museum’s expansive front lawn and in other outdoor spaces around MMCA Cheongju. The series was planned with the twin aims of bringing viewers diverse experiences of contemporary art in an outdoor setting and providing artists with a platform for creative advancement through the production of new works.
Chen Dai Goang’s work focuses on large-scale installations that can be entered by viewers. Chen’s installation works mediate between environment, work and viewers, creating new spaces for viewers to move or stop in. Through this working method and strategy, the artist transforms the sites of his works into unfamiliar scenes, prompting new perceptions and experiences of everyday spaces.
Uju (우주; 宇宙), the Sino-Korean word for cosmos, is made up of two characters, 宇 and 宙, that both mean “house.” In the same way, the houses we live in make up cities, which in turn constitute the cosmos itself. This is the starting premise of Dreams of the Perfect City. For this exhibition, Chen Dai Goang has created a small “city” from a variety of materials and forms on the lawn space in front of Art Storage Center. Dreams of the Perfect City is a metaphorical symbol of the ideal city inspired by Cheonbu Gyeong (“Heavenly Seal Scriptures”), a core text in Korea’s Daejongism faith, and Kabbalah, the medieval Jewish mystic school of thought. Both of these sources offer explanations for the principles and logic of the universe; the motif of the work’s overall layout is drawn from the iconography of the wisdom-filled Tree of Life featured in orally transmitted Kabbalah.
The artist uses a variety of strategies for visualizing invisible factors such as systems, capital and culture. He mixes various exteriors and adds new patterns, reinterpreting architecture through his own unique sense of aesthetics to create imaginary buildings. Through art that transforms and recreates urban architecture, Chen explores possible forms for ideal future living spaces.
Each “house” sculpture is based on architectural photographs taken and collected by Chen on his travels through various Asian countries. Buildings are aggregations of historical, economic, technological, cultural and climatic influences, so much so that they may be regarded as mirrors reflecting their respective eras. The materials and styles of buildings and furniture in various places bear traces showing how the politics, economics and culture of the industrial era are imprinted in architecture, and of the tangled relationships between these influences.
Architectural Sculpture / Good-for-Nothing House / 240 Gapa-ri, based on Korean buildings, portrays the hard lives of the residents of Gapa-do Island, with its barren environment, in rich and diverse color, giving a paradoxical depiction of the lives of the islanders. Architectural Sculpture / Yangpyeong Terminal considers diverse aspects of contemporary life by recreating a bus terminal in corrugated iron.
Architectural Sculpture / House without Legs / Kampong Phluk Floating House 1-3 are based on floating houses in the eponymous Cambodian village. These works question the criteria for a happy life, while examining the political and economic history entwined with the houses and the lives of the villagers who live in them. In Architectural Sculpture / Surat Thani House, the artist discovers the unique cultural elements with which buildings are imbued, including Thai religion and climate, reflecting and recreating them in a new sculptural work. Architectural Sculpture / Knorr Bench takes as its motif a bench featuring advertisements for Knorr, a subsidiary brand of multinational corporation Unilever, giving a distorted demonstration of how advanced capital encroaches upon not only the economies but the cultures and daily lives of developing countries.
Architectural Sculpture / House of Empty Light / RGBCMYK Glass House, built on a foundation of the artist’s imagination alone, metaphorically reveals the mechanisms of the universe, whereby all things are created from basic elements alone, just as the entire chromatic spectrum can theoretically be reproduced from six basic colors.
For this exhibition, Chen has created a new work inspired by a modern building in Cheongju. Architectural Sculpture / Hucheongaebyeok(後天開闢) Pagoda, based on the city’s Tapdong Yanggwan building, is a new form of architectural sculpture incorporating the style of a Buddhist pagoda. By blending various building styles, Buddhist-influenced elements and eclectic Western houses introduced in Korea’s modern period, Chen gives form to the complex intertwining of Eastern and Western religious cultures.
Today, when most of the world’s population lives in urban environments, issues such as population density, pollution and rising real estate prices have gained prominence amid our search to build more convenient and efficient cities. We now face a crisis in which solving these problems has become a matter of desperate urgency, heightened further by the COVID-19 pandemic. In our present situation, Chen Dai Goang: Dreams of the Perfect City offers us a chance to explore our own surroundings from a new perspective by re-creating familiar everyday spaces in unfamiliar forms. Just as our houses form cities, which in turn form the cosmos, it is only by turning our attention to the daily spaces of our houses that we can take the first step towards building the perfect city.
“This project unfolds on the museum’s front lawn, a venue transformed through an urban renewal project from an industrial space to one of culture,” commented MMCA Director Yun Bummo. “The exhibition offers a chance for in-depth examination of the cities and society in which we live. I hope that rediscovering the meaning of the everyday spaces and places we normally pass by without a thought will provide opportunities to reflect on our cities, and on what constitutes ideal lives and spaces.”
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