U-Ram Choe: extraordinary, empty

U-Ram Choe, a Korean sculptor who focuses on kinetic works, has a solo exhibition in the John Curtin Gallery, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival.

Urbanus Female on show in the John Curtin Gallery
image: choe u ram website
The show seems, at first, enthralling. The rooms are dark, and sparsely populated with strange mechanical creatures: flowers, fish, 'Aliens' (a la Geiger), dragonflies. These robots move - some constantly, some intermittently, some in groups, pulsing in arrhythmic patterns. Beautifully mechanical, complex and dramatically lit in the dark chambered space, they are astonishing creations. 

There is also a theatrette, showing a making of video, and videos from the original (and more complete, it would seem) show in Tokyo.

Upon closer inspection, the creatures seem flimsy, made of a ubiquitous thin sheet metal, with whirring servo-motors and cogs. The mechanisms have the sheen of complexity, but when compared to a real, working machine, have none of that economy, expressed purpose, or variety of function - a custom motorcycle (or indeed, a stock bike), with its electrics, cooling fins, exhaust, cylinders, pistons has much more to say about mechanism than these thin sculptures which, after a few cogs or pivots, lead back to a plastic servo motor - sometimes given a crude intelligence by way of a computer chip.

These plastic motors jar nastily with the faux-baroque stylings of Choe's creatures. The work sits uncomfortably with modern technology - Choe has neither embraced the clockwork techniques of the past, nor embraced the materiality of the 21st century; temporary, disposable, ugly as it is. Choe's works are not the beautiful automatons of a by-gone golden age, nor do they celebrate the digital trash of the jack-in, remix and hack-on-the-cheap aesthetic that William Gibson explores in his Sprawl novels. For a work of sculpture, materiality was sorely lacking - there was no sense of tactility or lasting quality - more the glittering superficial sophistication of a made-for-TV sci-fi movie set.

These feelings were compounded by the clumsily written, over-long fictionalised positioning texts the works were given as accompaniment (the language barrier may be in action here) which lacked poetry, and by images of Choe developing his sculptures in the medium of 3D model making on a computer, in the 'Meet U-Ram Choe' video presentation.

In this video, Choe speaks of working on making the works responsive, with emergent and site-specific behaviours; if any of the creatures on offer were engaging in such activity , I could not divine it, and certainly I felt no sense of dialogue with these dumb machines. 

The work itself had little to say - I did not draw from it any of the response to the city of Tokyo that Choe claims it to be (the only site specific reference was to Kent St! which seemed to cheapen the whole affair)

Exciting show, but very unsatisfying. 


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