Artist's Statement: Jukhee Kwon on abandoned book sculptures

By Ben Miller | 10 December 2013

Artist’s Statement: Jukhee Kwon, who began studying Fine Art at Chung-Ang University, Seoul, cuts and slices abandoned and disused books to create incredible sculptures. Her latest works have just gone on display at London’s October Gallery

A photo of a woman smiling in front of a curtain of red sculpted material
© Jonathan Greet
“Discovering the abandoned book is the first part of the process. Then I often imagine its past and its time with its former owner – I’m interested in connecting its past with the moment I begin to cut.

I cut the pages in the book very precisely – line by line and by hand with a knife. I never use glue or tape, just a knife.  I also cut underneath the words, never through the words, so they can still be read.

A photo of a large amount of red material sculpted onto the wall of an art gallery
Red Tree Paper (2013). Paper book and mixed found paper© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jonathan Greet
For me, the process is in collaboration with the author, as the words can sometimes become the message or have an impact on the shape and form of the sculpture. Sometimes the title of the chosen book is the inspiration for a work, or the colours of the pages or the text printed inside of the book can also be significant.

If I want to create a certain piece which has a brighter white, for instance, like the work The Wedding Dress, I have to consider the purity of the white paper used.

Also, the texture of the page is important; for example, a book with very thin, fine pages, like a large dictionary, will create more body and flow than, say, the pages of a paperback book.

I find the part after the work has been created to be the most complicated part. The handling of the book after its formation can be a challenge to repack after an exhibition.

Although I find the creation of the book sculpture as it flows from the spine exciting, the process requires commitment and discipline. When it comes to creating the final form, I gently pull the piece out of the book page by page.

This too requires patience and discipline, although I wouldn’t want to change any part of the process – this is the best moment, one which has a raw, organic energy that is invigorating.

A photo of a series of large curtain-like sculptures made out of fine white material
Redemption (2013). Paper books© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jonathan Greet
I started to work in this fashion after enrolling in an MA at Camberwell, London, in a course about book arts.

This was where I experimented with cutting rather than binding books.

Gradually I improved my technique. However, when I was in South Korea, I was very interested in the idea of the cycle of life and how something worked.

Often I would take apart broken watches or other devices and turn them inside out to see how they operated.

As a former illustrator of books for children, I wanted to see how you could create books that were three dimensional, like pop up books – slowly my fascination with what you could create with a book expanded from that initial curiosity.

As a foreigner in another country, I find myself attracted to books in search of knowledge and I also think I’m a little like an open book in the way I express myself. I enjoy discovering new and different cultures from my own in Asia, so books are entwined in my life.

One work in the current exhibition is called Vita, which is an Italian book created in to a nest-like formation. This was inspired by observing my husband, who found some old nests when he was felling trees in Italy.

We collected them and I found myself fascinated by their intricacy. When I found the book Vita, I made a connection between this small book and the life that could be safely cocooned within a bird’s nest.

A photo of a tall loom-like sculpture made out of torn strips of white paper in a gallery
The Wedding Dress (2013)© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jonathan Greet
Another large-scale work is called Redemption, which is based on the idea of a temple. I sometimes find religious sites a little restrictive, and with this work, created from eight Italian books titled Mysterium Salutis, the books are placed like columns in circle.

The circle is an important symbol for Koreans as it can represent the moon, flux and flow, like the tides and the rotation of life. This time I changed this a little by creating an opening, an entrance.

I wanted to express the idea of a temple expanding, of opening up, so that people can access whatever they believe in. No matter what religion, the cycle of life and death continues.

I was exhibiting at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, when a representative of October Gallery saw my work.  They suggested a meeting with Elisabeth Lalouschek, the Artistic Director, and later she agreed to show one of my works in a group show which took place earlier this year.

At the same time, October Gallery decided to present a work at Art Dubai 2013 and subsequently proposed a large-scale work for Abu Dhabi Art Fair, which was made from 17 books; this preceded a solo show at October Gallery which opened this December.

I think travelling opens your mind and eyes. If I travel to a place where I can make a connection with the local people and mix with them, then it can be a very rewarding experience.

In Abu Dhabi, it was very interesting to observe the people viewing my work, seeing their reaction and their culture. Rather than travel, I would say moving country to country has had an impact, South Korea being a very different from the UK and Italy.

While I find change is a good influence, living in another country is different from travelling. Each country has a very distinct national culture and energy.

When I lived in South Korea, it was far more conservative than it is now – now it is changing fast, while London is sometimes so invigorating and energetic that it can be overwhelming.

I find Italy has a more relaxed feel – the food and lifestyle is good and the people relish the beauty of nature, so I am able to reflect upon the real discoveries I’ve made from my experiences of other cultures, rather than read about them from a book.”

  • Jukhee Kwon is at October Gallery, London until February 1 2014.

More Artist's Statements:

Artist's Statement: A master perfumer on the smell of Jacobean London

Artist's Statement: Alex Hoda on sculpting with used chewing gum and banana skins

Artist's Statement: Amar Kanwar on mining communities in Yorkshire and India

A photo of a series of large white column-like sculptures made out of fine material
Arabesque Dream (2013). 17 books: central column Who's Who; Outer circle Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14 volumes© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jukhee Kwon
A photo of a small light brown ancient italian book next to scraps of torn paper
Vita (2013). Paper book© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jonathan Greet
A photo of a circular series of sculptures of white columns made out of paper in a gallery
Arabesque Dream (2013)© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jukhee Kwon
A photo of a stream-like sculpture of white material made out of paper inside a gallery
Libro Libero (2013). Paper book© Courtesy October Gallery London. Photo: Jonathan Greet
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