Ulchiro Project is an installation consisting of seven objects that occupy the floor and walls of an otherwise empty gallery space. The largest of the objects is a tall aluminium A-frame on which nothing is displayed. Stretching perpendicularly away from the empty and fragile armature of the A-frame is a large white plastic inflatable that resembles a mattress propped monolithically on one of its ends. The inflated object is constructed out of white plastic rubbish bags. Industrial lettering printed on the sides of the inflatable suggest that the plastic bags were produced in South Korea. Across the gallery from this large angular balloon lies a plank of pink Styrofoam. On one corner of the Styrofoam is stacked a small group of cubes and boxy cut-outs. The sides of these cubes and cut-outs are pasted over with Japanese comics or manga. The final object displayed within the installation is a large rumpled sheet of cardboard that has been propped on one of its edges so as to create a small free-standing wall-like surface. The sides of the beige cardboard show signs of tread-like distress, as if run over by the tyres of a truck. Three separate items are displayed on the gallery’s walls: a small monochromatic red canvas, a small monochromatic white canvas and a much larger and foldable sheet or chart onto which Korean characters have been written.
The work was created by the British artist Ian Kiaer and first exhibited in the Alison Jacques Gallery, London, between 15 November and 22 December 2007. ‘Ulchiro’ in the work’s title refers to a market district in Seoul, South Korea; an area of dramatic modernisation in recent years and one which Kiaer has researched extensively. The artist considers Ulchiro Project an instalment in a larger group of works begun in 2004 known as the Endless House Project, a series of architectural models and installations made up of paintings, decorative and domestic items and furniture that question the autonomy of the object in relation to space, light and other objects. (See, for instance, Endless house project: Faro / Barrett-Browning 2008, Saatchi Collection, London.)
Several viewers of Ulchiro Project, including the art historian Sandra Rehme, have interpreted it as the makeshift model of a cityscape:
On closer inspection, what looks like a random collection of waste ... slowly materializes into captivating urban landscapes that draw on visitors’ imaginations to complete the transformation. In the gallery’s main room, which houses the installation Ulchiro Project … one feels like a giant looming over a futuristic urban jungle.
(Rehme 2007, accessed 22 April 2016.)
In describing his work, the artist has corroborated the appropriateness of seeing the installation as constituting a kind of ‘model’ and has sanctioned a multidimensional view of its potential meaning:
The nature of a model is to be structural in the way it carries ideas. So, for instance, a model can be representative, it can be experimental, it can project into the future a kind of conceptual or utopian way of thinking. It has these different statuses. But, at the same time, the nature of the model is to be flexible, it is to be makeshift, light, informal.
(‘Ian Kiaer: Arte essenziale (Artribune Interview/1)’, Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15rRaQHI_14, accessed 22 April 2016.)
According to the art critic J.J. Charlesworth, fundamental to the effect of Kiaer’s work is the tension it generates between the promise of civic sturdiness that comes with signs of development and anxiety over the work’s eventual decay that threatens all social structures:
Kiaer’s erudite work is a rare example of minimal means really exercising maximum effect. His scrappy, tentative assemblages and quasi-models have previously referred themselves to art history, and to classical and modernist moments of utopianism in architecture, subjects appropriate for work which, balanced between the ephemeral and residual, speaks constantly of things that are possible and things that have passed.
(Charlesworth 2008, p.112.)
Sandra Rehme, ‘Ian Kiaer’, Artforum, November 2007, http://www.artforum.com/archive/id=19041, accessed 22 April 2016.
J.J. Charlesworth, ‘Ian Kiaer’, Art Review, January 2008, no.18, p.112.
Supported by Christie’s.