Email interview with U-Ram Choe conducted by N. Elizabeth Schlatter, curator, January 2013
The backstory on Jet Hiatus is fascinating! Is the following interpretation of Anmorosta Cetorhinus maximus Uram correct? An=animal, mo=motor, ro=rotation, sta=stainless steel. And Cetorhinus maximus is the same species name for the basking shark, which looks remarkably like Jet Hiatus. Why were you interested in the form and possibly the habits and movements of a sea creature, as opposed to other kinds of animals and plants that seem to be referenced in other works?
An=animal, mo=motor, ro=rotation, sta=steel & aluminum, How did you figure this out? Great!!! Above all I am interested in all creatures. I revere the power of the universe that created a deft and unimaginable ecosystem through the history of evolution. So I gain a lot of ideas from nature documentaries about organisms. Sometimes fish and plants get mixed and fungus and mammals blend as well. Jet Hiatus is an idea from the intermix of basking shark and jet engine. At the airport I saw a jet engine gaped at the mouth of an aircraft and to me it looked like a basking shark opening its jaw to eat plankton. And like a jet engine, it gulps down its prey.
Not only does your piece look like a basking shark, but its movement, while not replicating that of a sea creature, does appear to flow in an organic fashion. How do you determine the design of movement in your sculptures? Can you describe certain characteristics that you are seeking?
First of all, I want to appreciate you for accurately reading the movements that I have been directing. The shape and movements are different in every work, but the most fundamental aim is to imitate the movement of the organism to the maximum degree. When producing machine organism concepts, I first decide the ecology of that organism and seek the kind of motion necessary in certain environments and search for the creature with such gestures in order to strive for the identical replication of their movements.
There are some other artists in this exhibition who are interested in flow found within nature or in natural properties. Examples of what I’m talking about include Shinichi Maruyama’s photographs, Semiconductor’s 20Hz video, and Wind Map by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. Why do you think artists might find the concept of flow and movement in nature to be especially interesting?
My approach to nature seems different from the subject matter of the works mentioned above. To describe my circumstances . . . I admire the perfection of nature. For billions of years, organisms have been adapting to environmental changes and have repeated the evolution process for survival so that today we have diverse forms and ecosystems present in nature. The span of time impossible to perceive from the short life of mankind, the flawless forms of organisms adjusted to environments, mutual balance between the movements and etc.; their immaculate entanglement beyond human imagination and indefinable survival methods always enlighten me with countless inspirations.
In a previous interview, you said “I consider my works to be living things.” 1 But there’s this wonderful mix of natural and mechanical in your sculptures or anima-machines. While some elements mimic forms and movement in nature, it’s clear that the work is artificially derived. At no point are you trying to fool the visitor into thinking that this is an actual organic being because all the materials and mechanics are visible. Or are you? And, with this idea in mind, what are you hoping viewers will experience when they are in the presence of works like this?
When I initially lay out plans for the machine organism works, they are all based on the story that machines went through rapid evolution because of human desires and eventually began evolving on their own. Consequently, although they have organismal shapes and movements, their bodies are made with artificial materials, easily attainable from industrial society. Motors or metal components are plainly exposed to show that they are organisms composed of machinery products. Moreover, a related article about the organism is exhibited in company with the work as if it is the truth. I create a very realistic ambience by presenting fabricated evidences, maximizing the atmosphere like when a new creature is discovered on The National Geographic Channel. As the audience comes into the exhibition space and reads the article along with the work, I briefly delude myself that those imaginary organisms exist in reality. People have an instinctive desire for exploration of the unknown world. I want to provoke that part. I intend to invite people into the unknown world for a moment; shake their everyday routine and common sense and stimulate their consciousness through new and sensible experience.
The last sentence of the description of Jet Hiatus says the following: “Through reconstructed models based on already completed research, U.R.A.M. (United Research of Anima-Machines) is pursuing studies on how swiftly this creature, which is sometimes misrecognized as a UFO in low flight, generates the conversion of psychological flows into physical energy.” 2 The psychological concept of flow is at the heart of this exhibition Flow, Just Flow. Could you elaborate on that last point of the sentence from the Jet Hiatus description, of converting psychological flows into physical energy?
For a start, I will explain the engine rotating in the center of Jet Hiatus. From a marine documentary, I observed a school of sardines creating the gigantic shape of a lump as a shark was chasing after them. This huge sphere made by small fish speedily moves and transforms its shape to raise the chance of survival. When you take a close look, those small creatures on the verge of life or death revolve the best they can to confuse the predator. On the other hand, the shark also waits for the right time and digs into the lump of sardines as best as it can for survival. From their struggle for life, I find the most brutal and cold beauty. Accordingly, an agglomerated frame rotates in the center of the engine, symbolic of the fish shoal, and aluminum casts of shark teeth surrounds and spins around them. When the shark teeth change the rotating direction, the sphere inside also changes its direction as well. The psychological energy heightened for the survival among other species accelerates evolutionary process and also for our society, this kind of energy ultimately became the driving force for the development of the civilizations. ‘Psychological energy transforms into physical energy.’ This is my impression of the history of nature.
Regarding the psychological concept of “flow,” mentioned above, could you talk a bit about your creative process? Now that you have a team of assistants, when do you find yourself in a creative state of flow, and how are ideas generated and managed?
I spend a lot of time with my team not only working, but also eating and just hanging out. In those hours we naturally share our thoughts and I consult my ideas as well. Sometimes it appears that our flows of thoughts become one and I try hard not to let loose of the thoughts intensified in the midst of these discussions. Heaps of time is consumed to make the physically impossible things closer to imagined figure in the course of actualizing the central initial idea. Because of the moving equipment within the work, the process of sketches, design plan, compartments manufacture, assembly, experimental operation, modification, and final completion is required like that of an engineer producing new machines. Therefore, it takes one to two years in order for a work to be completely done. I have been working with a professional programmer since several years ago and he designs CPU boards and creates programs to produce a more life-like movement.
See an 2010 interview with Choe conducted by thecreatorsproject.com
U-Ram Choe (Korean, born 1970) received both his B.F.A and his M.F.A. from Chung-Ang University in Seoul, Korea. Choe has been awarded the POSCO Steel Art Award (2006); a residency at Doosan Art Center, New York (2009); Kim se choong Sculpture Award (2009); and the Young Artist Today Award (2009). Recent solo exhibitions have been held at the Gallery HYUNDAI, Seoul; the John Curtin Gallery in Perth, Australia; and at the Asia Society Museum, New York. His work has been exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery, London (2012). the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; 2008 Liverpool Biennale at FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Shanghai Biennial; Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; NTT Intercommunication Center (ICC), Tokyo; Art Basel; Seoul Museum of Art; Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas; Asian Art Triennial, Manchester Art Gallery; Sungkok Art Museum, Seoul; Metropolitan Art Museum, Busan; Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna; SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo; Beijing Expocenter; and Olympic Art Museum, Seoul, and Choe currently lives and works in Seoul, Korea.
Read more about Choe and his work
- “The Creators Project.” The Creators Project. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.thecreatorsproject.com/creators/u-ram-choe>. ↩
- Artist’s statement, accessed 18 Dec. 2012. <http://www.uram.net/eng_new/gallery/2004/1_jetHiatus.html> ↩