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Ham Kyung-ah
Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery

Ham Kyung-ah, the artist who doesn't touch her art

Carefully crafted, one could go on and on about Ham Kyung-ah's artwork. But can we praise this artist even if she didn't physically make the work herself?

Written by
Michelle JY Park
From installations, videos, performance art or traditional sculpting, artist Ham Kyung-ah has tried her hand at just about every single medium available. However, it's the not the materials or the physical presence of a piece that takes precedence for the artist. She’s more interested in the concept and the story that goes into making it happen.
Stepping into her gallery, you’ll notice right away the image of a giant chandelier entitled “What you see is the unseen/ Chandeliers for Five Cities.” From afar, the image seems to be a high-resolution print, but up close, you’ll notice the tightly woven stitches. While a moment of marvel is due to the technique, it’s actually not the work of the artist. The works are a continuation of the Embroidery Project that she first started in 2008, and the 1,800 hours invested into the embroidered chandelier were done by women in North Korea. So where does the artist stand in the work? She cut up the newspaper articles, collected images that spoke to her, and sent the design outline to women in North Korea, all through a middleman who transported the work back and forth through China. Look beyond the threads that hang like dripping paint on “Abstract Weave – Morris Louis Untitled 1960,”and you’ll soon realize that there are short excerpts pulled from news articles, embroidered in a similarly colored thread to camouflage its content.
Ham’s work is all about the insider information, the process unseen to the naked eye. It’s the viewer’s responsibility to find out the back-story behind the work. Without any wall text or commentary to guide viewers, it is nearly impossible to spot the hidden text at first glance. Don’t be that visitor who leaves the gallery thinking of the artist as a skilled craftsman, giddy with the wrong knowledge.
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