North Adams, MA
Using thousands upon thousands of buttons and pins, Korean artist Ran Hwang returns to MASS MoCA to install Untethered, a 140-foot-long sculpture featuring 14 birds, including six phoenixes. Hwang’s recurring representation of birds in flight echoes the transient nature of existence and serves to represent ideal life achievements, such as limitless opportunities and freedom from worry. The piece, limited by architecture even in the generous gallery space of MASS MoCA, suggests the contrary—that birds encounter predators and other obstacles, facing constraints and challenges that are out of their control. Layered amidst the birds, metallic thread-spider webs suggest, perhaps, that the more freedom is desired, the more difficult it is to achieve.
Hwang finds beauty in the most ordinary circumstances. Choosing the humble button as a metaphor for mundane aspects of human existence, she creates extraordinary landscapes by hammering them into Plexiglas and wood panels in a repetitive and meditative process. Hwang notes, “I create monumental iconic imagery using materials from the fashion industry. I hammer thousands of pins into panels like a monk who, facing the wall, loses himself in deep concentration. The pins hold thousands of individual buttons. I choose buttons because, like human beings, they are at once common and ordinary yet as unique as the rarest jewels. Each button can move freely between the head of the pin and the wall, suggesting the human desire to be free from any restriction. For the viewer, the details of my work coalesce into a clever illusion—recalling the Zen masters’ lesson that life itself is an illusion, from which we can awake only by clearing our minds of daily distractions.”
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.