Jeff Koons meets the metaverse in the work of inflatable sculptor Jaewon Kang

Mixing 3D software with inflatable materials, the South Korean artist-cum-designer makes large-scale pieces that are based on optical illusion.

Date
25 January 2022

If Jeff Koons started out in the metaverse era, then the results would probably look a lot like the work of Jaewon Kang. A sculptor through and through, the South Korean artist has swapped the traditional practice of sculpting for creating both inflatable and digital pieces devised in 3D software, aluminium, stainless steel and digital image or video. “However, I believe that the reason why the inflatable sculptures stand out more is because of the overwhelming sense of scale,” he tells It’s Nice That.

In the past Jaewon worked at a company producing inflatables, which was run by his parents, where he learned how to operate 3D modelling and pattern production technology. This inspired his own creative practice, wherein he has built inflatable sculptures like Real Skin, an octopus-like structure that would come to life as it was filled with air, plus various other blow-up creatures.

In his more recent works, Jaewon’s sculptures are mostly based on optical illustration and crafted from marble and metals. But when he does create an inflatable sculpture, these maintain their shape through an air blower. “So when the power is turned off, the shape disappears immediately and becomes a very small volume of fabric,” he notes. Conflicting in their properties, Jaewon explains how he’s working in the realms of “future sculpture”, a place in which 3D techniques are applied to 3D figures in order to construct his shapes. This means that he actively uses 3D software in his work: “Unlike the traditional sculpting method, which is made by sketching drawings and constructing the frameworks, I have applied the internal functions such as twist, skew, bend and gravity to the basic 3D figures.”

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Jaewon Kang: exo2 mars, digital image (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

By working in this multidisciplinary way, Jaewon is able to innovate with shape, form and balance. “I discover the accidental shapes and, through this process, I create the forms with a sense of movement,” he notes. Once the composition has been formed, he’ll then complete the piece as a 3D file and use digital image or video, 3D printing, aluminium, stainless steel or inflatable materials. “I think the limitations of not being able to actually touch it in the monitor are compensated by giving a new perspective to the sculpture.”

Last year, Jaewon held a solo exhibition titled Pattern 2 at 021gallery in Sangdong. For the show, a series of digital sculptures were displayed at the entrance, while inside, a large inflatable piece was built from five aluminium sculptures. The piece, titled Tr_11_crop, was crafted with the intention of fitting the exhibition hall tightly by cutting both the top and bottom from a piece called Tr_11, the latter placed on a pedestal at the front of the exhibition hall. “As it is a digital-based sculpture, I was interested in sculpture, duplication and transformation in 3D software.” Elsewhere, in September 2021, Jaewon also participated in a show called Typojanchi-Cranes and Turtles with a large inflatable piece called Swoosh. “By applying the functions of 3D software to the basic 3D figure, the shape was transformed and similar to Nike’s Swoosh or horn-like shape. I like this shape, so I made it as an inflatable sculpture.”

Meander through his portfolio, and you might be perplexed by which has been made digitally or IRL. The grand scale and obscure shaping gives his work an almost unidentifiable and otherworldly quality. “I would like you to focus on the sense of the large volume and the optical illustrations of physical properties such as metal,” he contours. “I think it’s quite fun with the process of creating my pieces through various media, rather than approaching a grandiose goal.”

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Jaewon Kang: trippy deflate, digital image (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

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Jaewon Kang: trippy 11, digital image (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

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Jaewon Kang: Trippy 12, Chrome plating on ABS (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

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Jaewon Kang: Swoosh, Inflatable, 796x185x500cm(Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2021)

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Jaewon Kang: trippy 12, digital image (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

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Jaewon Kang: Exo 2 crop, Inflatable (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2021)

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Jaewon Kang: Tr al, aluminium, 35x15x25cm (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2021)

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Jaewon Kang: Tr 3, Inflatable, 350x300x500cm (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2021)

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Jaewon Kang: Dynamics 2, digital image (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

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Jaewon Kang: exhibition hall 1 2 (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2021)

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Jaewon Kang: exhibition hall 1 2 (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2021)

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Jaewon Kang: deformation6, digital image (Copyright © Jaewon Kang, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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