Ik-Joong Kang is a celebrated multimedia artist from South Korea, now living in New York. His “Floating Dreams” project, a golden cube that looks like an enormous floating lantern, is a large-scale art installation generated for exhibition on the River Thames in London, UK as part of its September 2016 annual ”Take Me To The River” arts festival. Commissioned by “Totally Thames,” this was his first installation to be created for the city of London.
Situated by the Millennium Bridge and flanked on the banks of the river by the glorious St Paul’s Cathedral, this compelling, luminous cube was made using 500 drawings produced by former natives of North Korea, and its dimensions are impressive. Three stories high, it is a war memorial on a grand scale.
“Floating Dreams” has been created as a reminder of the displacement of millions of people from North to South over the duration of the Korean War—1950 to 1953—and as a symbol of hope for the possible reunification of North and South Korea:
“When we are young we see the present through the window of the future, but when we become old we see the present through the memories of the past,” said Ik-Joong Kang. “This summer past, present and future will meet and shine on the River Thames.”
Born in Cheongju, South Korea in 1960, Ik-Joong Kang grew up in Seoul, where he graduated from the Hong-IK University. At the age of 24, he moved to New York to study for his MFA at the Pratt Institute, and 30 years later, he still lives there.
While still at college and juggling work at a deli and a flea market, he needed to “find a way to fit art into my lifestyle.” By working with 3-by-3-inch canvases, small enough to fit into his pockets, “my lengthy commute turned into a mobile studio,” said Ik-Joong Kang.
Huge mosaics created out of these small tablets of art became signature pieces: “Fun and simple. True Zen.”
Skilled in the creation of large artworks from small units, this was the perfect backdrop for the eventual realization of his gigantic “Floating Dreams” cube of 500 drawings.
Drawn by those displaced from North Korea, to resettle in South Korea during the Korean war and destined never to return, the 500 images were transferred onto pieces of Hanji—traditional Korean rice paper. A beacon of filtered light made up of the longings, hopes and memories of 500 war refugees from a brutal and disrupted past, “Floating Dreams” illustrates the dreams of displaced Koreans, hoping to one day see their former country reunified.
Inner illumination creates the ideal backdrop for the delicate drawings, etched on rice paper and magnified by the central light source. According to Kang, he has three objectives for his creation of public works of art: connecting, healing and embracing.
“Participating in the festival on the Thames, that runs through the city, fits into those principles in that the river symbolizes connection and healing,” said Kang.
“These elderly displaced people in Korea are earlier examples of refugees,” said Kang. “I wanted to create a monument dedicated to the refugees all over the world, made by the people who were forced to leave their hometowns.”