Becoming Again, Ran Hwang’s meditation on transience, is a fitting last exhibition at Third Floor, before the gallery closes for a one-year refurbishment. Launched in 2006, Third Floor is a non-commercial art space that promotes contemporary art by commissioning and presenting works in the Hermes flagship store on Orchard Road. Next month, the iconic Liat Towers flagship store closes for a one-year refurbishment.
It is fitting then, that the last exhibition to show in that space, South Korean artist Ran Hwang’s Becoming Again, is a meditation on time. For indeed the 10 years since the inauguration of Third Floor (located on the third floor of the store) have flown by in a flurry of shows including works by Takashi Kuribayashi (in conjunction with the Singapore Biennale 2006), Laurence Dervaux, Heman Chong, Flavia Da Rin, Luis Terán, Rei Sato, Ming Wong, Yeondoo Jung, Ranjani Shettar, Christine Ay Tjoe, Shinji Ohmaki, Joo Choon Lin, Nadim Abbas and Aiko Tezuka.
Becoming Again is an immersive multimedia one-work installation, comprising a curved wall of Plexiglas that forms a shimmering screen studded with buttons arranged obsessively as a conflagration of cherry blossoms. As you watch, the blossoms glow with projected, shifting lights, changing colour and shapes in a kaleidoscope of moods; a golden phoenix unfurls its wings to the left and majestically flaps through the cherry forest to the right before a climax of golden showers. The artist, Ran Hwang, swathed in a grey dotted shawl, guides us through the work, a meditation on the cyclical nature of time, the brevity and fragility of life, which is represented by the evolving flowers, first chastely pale, then prettily pink, then autumnal gold, then fading into the void as the cycle begins again. The mythical phoenix – a symbol of grace, infinity and renewal – echoes the transient nature of existence that is at the core of Hwang’s work.
Beauty can be found in the most ordinary, and the humble button is a metaphor for the ordinariness of human existence. I want to encourage an appreciation of the simple things we overlook in the frantic course of everyday.
Your work uses a feminine vocabulary, with materials from fashion such as buttons, pins and needles.
My first memories of art were of my father avidly painting Chinese inks and I must have been five or six, very introverted, grinding his ink stone for him. While he painted, I would be drawing by his side. I spent all my time drawing, all through school and one day I started making paper dolls and making Barbie dresses for them and all of a sudden I found myself with friends! I became very popular, and from that time I became very interested in fashion.
When I went to study in New York, I scoured the flea markets and I would find old Chinese pieces of embroidery, and that fascinated me. I found many beautiful used items that were abandoned, and that was when I first discovered the beauty in found objects. I began to use those to create mixed media collages. My first job in New York was interning at an embroidery company. One day in the office, I found a stash of abandoned buttons in a corner. These lifeless, worthless abandoned objects were like me. I was working for a living in the day and could only work on art at night and I identified with the buttons. And so I decided to resuscitate these beautiful discarded buttons as works of art. I began to work more and more with buttons and now I make my own buttons using a traditional Asian method. Each button is made of seven layers of paper, then varnished, made just for me.
You also utilize traditional Eastern imagery.
My dad, a writer who passed away more than 10 years ago, and who never got to see my works, had influenced me a lot in this. His paintings were traditional scholar’s subjects of bamboo and plum blossoms, etc. And after I moved to New York, I began to feel the pull of tradition and history, especially embedded in vintage objects. And if I need to categorize my work, then I’m a Post-Modernist; even if the visuals may be figurative and traditional, but the techniques and medium are contemporary, so this isn’t exactly traditional.
When did you decide that you would be an artist?
I never wanted to be anything else! Right from the time that I was drawing Barbie dresses with my father, I knew I would be an artist. Now I have a permanent team of 25 working for me full time, in both Seoul and New York. I have so much to tell after surviving some really challenging personal times. I’m really grateful that I can create the art that I do.
How does Singapore and this collaboration with Hermes make you feel?
Before I arrived, I thought I would only find buildings here and I was surprised to find so much greenery! There’s also this combination of old and new, the organic and the man-made that I find really interesting. The Third Floor-Hermes space was inspiring because the sides consist of glass. This potentially makes the projected image different during daytime and night. Due to the low ceiling, the work also fills up the exhibition space, so the viewer solely focuses on the work and gets overwhelmed by the scale of it.
Becoming Again is on till 31 January 2015. Time: 10:30 am to 7:30 pm daily. Third Floor - Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers. Free admission