Wook-Jang Cheung
born in 1960


Works of Wook-Jang CHEUNG: A Long Journey

KIM Mijin (Professor, Hongik Univ., Planning & Criticism)

As all creations grow, I see them returning. They travel as they grow. They travel far and they return.
萬物竝作, 吾以觀其復. 大曰逝, 逝曰遠,遠曰返 -

1. Where the thought is evoked by the past, the present, and the future

Wook-Jang CHEUNG has continued to explore the spirit and nature of sculpture for 40 years; since he first studied art as a high school student. He brings current environmental issues to his works as he digs into the nature and unique characteristics of art itself via the corporeality of sculpture. Featuring big animals such as polar bears, camels, and dears with organically long and thin limbs like twigs or plants made of glistening stainless steel, “A Long Journey” is a surrealistic but sublime collection.
CHEUNG has worked with a variety of materials for his sculpture ever since he was young, pondering upon the nature and life. These works epitomize his long exploration of human beings, the key themes from his earlier career and the environment that surrounds them. “A Long Journey” integrates the vertical and ritualistic characteristics in the wooden poles or pagodas he carved during his 20s and 30s in a single form.
The animals in “A Long Journey” do not show their energetic identity as wild life that defend their domain, search for food, or as preserved species in a jungle, the North Pole, or a desert. Instead, they are in the mixed shapes, neither plants nor animals, with their heads raised toward the sky. These variant forms, transitioning to other states, are a testament to their long process of transformation in the face of an extremely tragic environment. Plants and animals have existed with human beings for thousands of years in symbolism, mythology, archetype, philosophy, and history. As science and civilizations developed, however, they have become part of our everyday life. The symbolism of an oversized animal that has legs but can’t walk-deprived of its territory due to human greed? looks all the more shocking for its surreality. The ideal age when human beings and nature lived in peace with each other is expressed in the horizontal and long shapes. CHEUNG has frequently employed vertical and horizontal shapes in his previous works. Those shapes resemble water because of the material characteristics of stainless steel. The scope of symbolism within a simple shape is wide. Stories of time and space of plants and animals and human beings in the horizontal and vertical shapes have plenty of significances.
For over a decade, he has been creating works to explore the structural relations between human beings and plants and animals with realistic descriptions and mental forms. This adept method has allowed the sculptor to maximize big shapes in a simple but ideal form without having to describe them.
Sculptures of stainless steel reflect images not on a flat surface of a mirror but in a soft and organic form. The result implies the instability of the binomial structure while the reflection brings about the interpretation and forms that are more nomad-like, complex, and diverse. Rather, it makes us disoriented. The wide variety of transformations by expansion, proliferation, refraction, renewal, and protrusion draw us into the secrecy of time, history and memory. The surrealistic animal which has plant’s legs is the visual expression of two forms that cannot mingle together, sounding an alarm to human beings who defy the principles of the universe. This work is surrealistic but lofty because it comes in a vertical and long shape representing the modesty and the transformation created by human beings who defied the principles of the nature.
“A Long Journey” is a collection large enough to fill up the entire square space of a gallery. Unlike most works installed on the floor, it uses space highly efficiently.
It appears that only the lines of organic shapes are on display in the space, leaving space at the eye level.
These works are more effective when displayed outside. In an ironical reflection of the sky and the external environment on the glistening surface of stainless steel, the bodies of plants and animals look hollow. Of course, the bodies should have been made with light material since they are on thin legs. Seen from distance, the shapes reflecting the external environment are mysterious and beautiful like a dusky mirage. Not just this, look at their legs not their bulky bodies and we start to think about the changing shapes of plants as if we encountered the spirits of a lost forest.
Emblematic of a utopia, the balls of stainless steel scattered on the floor reflecting the land and sky are in confrontation but at the same time in balance with unstable shapes.
Where is the destination of “A Long Journey?” That must be where the thought is evoked by the past, the present, and the future.

2. Wire Net: the Cross of Perception and Imagination

Wook-Jang CHEUNG experiments with material, tools, and relations with space in order to be free from ponderous materials; asking the question ‘what is sculpture?’
As a sculptor, he has been in search of answers to the fundamental questions about the styles and process of work such as things that are light and heavy, inside and outside, lines and faces, filling and emptying, memorable moments and routine, and time and space.
is the statue of David created with bent stainless steel wires made after Michelangelo’s masterpiece sculpture. Along with the Venus, Michelangelo’s statue of David is one of the most representative plaster figures from the Renaissance, regarded as a statue that has to be studied to master the human body and aesthetic expression. Since primitive ages, three dimensional statues have been set up in cities in addition to architecture in commemoration of gods or heroes. Those statues possess significant context in the history of sculpture as historic memorials in resemblance of the material properties of plaster and bronze. Wook-Jang CHEUNG also had been creating such works for the past 20 years. Since 1999, however, he started to carve works of hollowness in the shape of ordinary figures. “A Very Light Thing (1999)” and “A Man (2000)”, and “A Woman(2000)” form the backbone of the David statues. Sticking to concrete and realistic expression, he embarks on a journey in search of new shapes through the fundamental root.
He has turned the monumental and mass sculpture into hollow sculpture in accordance with the academic system which has to reveal clear shapes. He has deprived a sculpture, which is an icon of authority and a masterpiece in history, of its skin by simply bending wires, the most basic unit of metal. The transparent surface of wire net is reminiscent of a form full of the glorious history of sculpture.
This work has drawn upon perception and senses with the least visible objects and materials. Sculpture and material properties, as experience, have disappeared and only the meaning has survived. The wires of human beings, horses, and David invoke consideration of mind and material in the silhouette of the wire net. The sculpture standing upside down also defies experience. It gives freedom to the visual experience of sculpture that has to be set upon the existing values and foundation. The work creates illusions of lines on the walls in the gallery under the lighting, filling up the space. The sculpture communicates with objects and the silhouette leads us to the ideal space of infinity. That is an aesthetic shape that redefines the meaning of ‘hollowness.’ This wire sculpture mingles with the world of perception and imagination while attempting a method of communication and confrontation.

3. Plane Peace of Aluminum: Drawing of Relationship

Having dealt with metallic materials most of the time, Wook-Jang CHEUNG came to discover aluminum that allowed him to obtain more flexibility and freedom in expressing colors and texture as it does not glisten with compressed gray matter.
His works between 1994 and 1998 which sought tradition and modernity by combining the sphere torso, lines, surfaces, and square abstract elements are under experiment once again in the square aluminum display. Those aluminum sculptures create variations of monotone of points, lines, surfaces, and spheres as pictorial elements, transcending painting and sculpture with a balanced and sophisticated technique by placing the torso either outside or inside the display.
Although the sculptor himself calls it a drawing work to experiment with material properties and formativeness to better approach sculptural expression as traditional practices the work, given the level of its completion, is independent itself as a plane sculpture.
Sharp lines carved on the display, thick and protruding lines and surfaces of organic shapes are the unbalanced drawing of depth and mass, expressing the delicate brightness and texture of different hammerings and carvings.
Texture and description should be in the extremely meticulous relations and display to reveal sculptural senses. The metallic properties of aluminum deliver the delicate colors and texture in monotone through the forging technique of bronze ware.
This technique causes an optical illusion of time and space in a virtually expanded space by adding patches on a pictorial plane surface. If he had used bronze to express properties of matter so far, other properties are unveiled in this work as he respects the material itself while hammering and carving aluminum. Adjusting dark colors by shortening metal pieces of rough and delicate texture, he drew stones of different colors with a small cutting machine. As he works he controls his breathing as if he communicates with the material because of their extremely sensitive response. Secured and welded with bolts and nuts in the final stage, the surface becomes one like an oil painting on a canvas.
This plane sculpture excellently delivers harmony and tension where the properties of material and the sculptor come to communicate with one another.
“Three Holes (2002)” is a sculpture of a horse’s head under a mask with three holes, a theme of human beings and horses he has often dealt with.
Coming in the silver-white texture on the coarse surface of the thinly hammered aluminum, the sculpture, the inside of which is painted in a yellow acrylic hue, is interpreted differently depending on the observer’s point of view while expanding the scope of the senses with its one eye, mouth, and the bold hole in the neck.
He continues to explore the uncharted domain of freedom of creation about his lifetime theme, the environment that surrounds him and human beings. Juxtaposing Lao-Tzu's attitude that seeks art in life and the perception of art of Western alchemy, he digs into the structural relations between human beings and environment. The works made of stainless steel and aluminum visualize the themes as they show the delicate nature of metal that embodies the principles of heaven. Not just within sculpture but also in the gallery, he creates blank space between shapes, symbolizing equal relations. The blank space and the mass at eye level interact with each other at the minimum and we are reminded of other correlations in the air in “A Long Journey”, from inside in ‘the wire mesh’, and in the space outside the frame in ‘the plane aluminum sculpture.’
The work brings up Lao Tzu Chapter 16 “Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace. They grow and flourish and then return to the source (致虛極 守靜篤 萬物竝作 吾以觀復).”
Beside the degree of completion, his works possess a dramatic tension structure about the nature of what’s visible and what’s not. However, the reflection, hollowness, and monotone make his work approachable. This is attributable to the thought and techniques forged in the long years of composure. He explores the properties of matter with Lao Tzu’s teachings of hollowness that reflect the nature of all creatures in mind. This consistent attitude interacts with the nature of objects to create natural shapes. That is how his works give birth to comfortable communication to experience time and space beyond our imagination.
Introspecting the relations between human beings, animals, plants, nature, society, and environment, Wook-Jang CHEUNG merges material, technic, and mind. We look forward to seeing how his pursuit of harmony will play out in the coming years as he continues to enrich his work of art.