Moon landing – Edinburgh Art Festival

What weighs 150 kilograms, is nearly eight metres round, and is made of several thousand pieces of polysterene wrapped in old text book pages and jammed closely together to resemble the surface of a pitted planet?

The full answer is Aggregation 06-JN028, the work of Korean artist Kwan Young Chun, from 2006.   This giant, photogenic, Pluto-like object hanging from the ceiling of the Dovecot Studios’ main gallery, has become something of a poster child for the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Aggregation Dovecot Kwang Young Chun

Aggregation 06-JN028, 2006, Kwang Young Chun

Aggregation 06, made by Chun in his Korean studio, where he works on his pieces with 15 assistants, travelled to the UK by way of New York.   It was due to be a starring exhibit at Art15 in Olympia in May, but baffled customs officers inadvertedly scotched that plan when they held on to it for a week.

The work is shipped in three crates, each more than two metres square, with the pieces bolted together on arrival; look carefully, and you could initially see the faintest horizontal line, something like an earthquake fault, in the sphere.   When I popped back in the gallery for a second look, the 73-year-old artist’s son Young Chun – his father did not travel to Edinburgh for the show – was fixing some pieces in place;   in plentiful sackfuls of different sizes, they had been given out as souvenirs at the EAF launch.

His father’s work, he said  “is like a Korean soul.”   The pages of the textbooks, inscribed with both Chinese and Korean characters,  are made of mulberry paper, and are anything from 60 to more than a century old.    The older Chun collected them when they were discarded en masse in the wake of the Korean war, when China’s entry on North Korea’s side drove back American and South Korean forces to what became the permanent border.



Aggregations also features several large wall pieces, made in similar style, a few in  brilliant colours.  The works’ rock life surfaces have smooth indentations,  which look like craters, or padded footprints.   They reward a close-up look.


Watching the artist direct the construction of these pieces is “like watching a chess grand-master,” said Grey Skipwith, the London gallerist and expert in Korean art who oversaw the arrival of the works.  “He sits out and plans 50 moves, and then equally rips it apart if he is not happy.”   Skipwith recently founded Skipwiths gallery in Mayfair with his Korean wife, Heejin No.

“Every aspect of these works is of deep significance to the artist,” he said.    “The Korean mulberry paper is from  traditional text books.     They taught in the traditional form in Korea, which is not one subject per chapter, it literally jumps from philosophy to medicine.   It uses Chinese as well as Korean characters.   It’s how he learned at his father’s knee as a young man.”

The Korean alphabet is only 400 years old and up until the Korean war Chinese was widely used by the Korean elite in the manner of Latin.      As they were cast aside, Kwun collected the books partly out of nostalgia.

The triangular form of the pieces is a traditional one used for wrapping teas or medicines, tied with twisted paper.    They are all hand-dyed.  The flat wall pieces could easily include 7,000 of them.

Several of the works in Edinburgh are available for sale;  the artist’s prices typically range around $1-200,000; Chun is a well-known figure in contemporary global art.    “He is huge in Korea, big in America, he’s been exhibited at all the Art Basels of the last decade,” said Skipwith.

Chun has shown at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London,  but this is billed as his first UK museum show.  He has one work on permanent display in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  “His work has always been impressively cross-culture, and Edinburgh is the cultural heart of Scotland.”

Aggregation 08-N044, 2008, 200cm x 291cm; Aggregation  06-JN028, 2006, 250 cm diameter;  Aggregation 13-DE054, 2013, 199cm x 293cm; mixed media with Korean mulberry paper, image courtesy Dovecot Gallery, photo credit Stuart Armitt

Aggregation 08-N044, 2008, 200cm x 291cm; Aggregation 06-JN028, 2006, 250 cm diameter; Aggregation 13-DE054, 2013, 199cm x 293cm; mixed media with Korean mulberry paper, image courtesy Dovecot Gallery, photo:  Stuart Armitt