Dubai: Ran Hwang’s artworks are breathtakingly beautiful and evoke a sense of tranquillity and spirituality. The Korean artist uses mass-produced materials such as buttons, beads and string to create monumental landscapes depicting cherry blossoms in bloom, serene Buddhist temples, and birds soaring in the sky. She has recently created a chandelier work for the Dubai Opera and is presenting her first solo show in the UAE, The Flight of Time. She speaks about her meditative practice:
Why did you choose to use buttons as your medium?
After moving to New York in 1997, I worked at an embroidery studio in the garment district, where I discovered boxes of unused buttons. I saw myself in those neglected lifeless objects, and wanted to bring them alive by using them to create art.
What is your creative process?
The most important part of my work is that it is based on a process of meditation and self-healing. I use wood or Plexiglas panels as a base and start by making a sketch. I prepare my materials by inserting one or more buttons on each pin, which I then hammer into the wood. For Plexiglas, I make renderings with AutoCad and then laser cut holes on the surface in which I stick the pins with glue. The repetitive action of hammering or sticking hundreds of buttons and yards of string is a meditative and therapeutic process and becomes a ritual of emptying the mind.
How has your Korean and Buddhist heritage influenced your work?
I use Western objects with an Oriental mind. My father used to write Korean calligraphy and paint the Four Gracious Plants — plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo, which are considered noble plants in traditional Korean painting. I grew up grinding ink sticks and painting with him, so these are familiar subjects. Similarly, Buddhist temples represent a sacred space that gives me strength in difficult times.
How did the 9/11 incident in New York impact your practice?
Just a few years after moving to New York, I witnessed the collapse of the twin towers from the window of my home. I lived across the Brooklyn Bridge, but the debris flew all the way and landed in my yard. The painful experience led me to contemplate ideas of collectivity, life and death. Since then the transience of life, the urgency to seize beauty in the present moment and the cycle of life, death and rebirth have become key themes in my work.
What are the concepts behind the different series in this show?
Each series deals with the idea of time. The plum blossoms bloom in early spring but fall off the next day, so my Plum Blossom series symbolises the ephemerality of life and cherishing the short but precious moments of life. The Buddha series is about the vanity and emptiness of power; and the Temple series is about asceticism and creating a sacred space for healing.
The Flight of Time will run at Leila Heller Gallery Dubai, Alserkal Avenue until December 31.