Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Skin of Time" by Choi Tae Hoon

Choi Tae Hoon is a prominent contemporary artist in Korea. Not only did Tae Hoon study in Korea, but he was also a student at the Cité Internationale des Arts Residency Program in Paris as well as at the Vermont Studio Residency Program.

Tae Hoon works with steel sheet which he welds into different forms, working the sheet metal as if it were malleable like fabric. His favourite technique to use when working with steel is the plasma torching technique which uses compressed air to make holes in the steel plate; this is how the installation “Skin of Time” gets its unique texture.

“Skin of Time” is a giant tree laid on its side with punctured holes in its bark and engraved messages and memories that can only be seen at night. Trees represent multiple facets of Korean culture. According to the Vancouver Biennale, in Korea the tree symbolizes such things as the Shinsu or sacred tree, the tree at the core of the world, and the tree of life. The ability of the tree to embody so many different things yet still uphold its significance is extraordinary as though it may contain special values to each individual, the tree is representative of Korea nonetheless.

Tae Hoon’s sculpture represents parts of his life and his race against time. To me, it is as if he is solidifying his existence in the world and etching his memories into this permanent sculpture, effectively carving his life into his art. Lightbulbs have also been installed within the piece so that when the piece is lit up at night, light can shine through the thousands of holes in the sculpture. Light breathes life to the piece and gives the piece some dimension and movement so in this way, Tae Hoon is bringing time and life together through light.

For Choi Tae Hoon, this piece is in stark contrast with his other works from past seasons. Tae Hoon’s previous works included objects such as armchairs and telephones forged out of his signature material but in “Skin of Time’, Tae Hoon has created the natural tree out of a very industrial product.

At first, realizing that the tree was made out of steel warranted some mixed feelings but after some thought, I came to the conclusion that perhaps Tae Hoon is trying to illustrate the reality of society today: we have stepped so far away from our natural environment as to have almost completely immersed ourselves in industrial products for little of what surrounds us today is completely natural.

“Skin of Time” is exhibited in the same place the piece which became known as the ‘upside down church’ used to be. The ‘upside down church’ is still a very memorable piece for many Vancouver residents and I have encountered many who preferred the previous piece through my research. However, as we have been learning through the Walking Home Yaletown Project, perspectives of art change over time and perhaps Choi Tae Hoon’s “Skin of Time” will soon became as memorable to these Vancouverites as the ‘upside down church’.

By Justine Lee


  1. Wow, great review Justine! Have you seen it in person? Have people been as responsive to the work as other pieces from the Biennale?
    I wish we had more sessions to go and visit this work.... or a night session would be even better! Then we could see all the "light works" in action!

  2. Wow, Justine, thanks so much for this post and informative look at a piece we didn't get to as a group. I really feel like you take me right to the piece in your write up! And you definitely got so interesting and curious to look it up and see pictures of it and go visit it myself. I like how Sam comments about a night trip to this piece, I agree!

    The title "Skin of Time" is fantastic. It makes me think of so many things at once. I love that the engraved messages can only be seen at night because so much can only be seen in the daylight! And that it's made of metal but looks like a tree is another layer, I'd love to know more about. That's awesome how you talk about his practice too! We've been looking at so many things: urban planning, history, installation, it's great to bring it back to the artist starting the piece off in the first place.
    Thank you so much for this post, I'm so sorry we didn't get to go to it in person with you presenting this!! But it's excellent to read about it here. Thanks!
    From: Laurie