Ring of Animals presents an integral series of new works that together activate a forgotten communal space that premodern people believed to be real. A sacred area in which the spirits of living organisms, including animals and humans, can communicate with each other through natural connections while being linked in relationships of equality. For this, Hong was inspired by the architectural setting of the exhibition space, housed in a Dominican chapel, and its proximity to Antwerp Zoo – one of the oldest zoological gardens in the world, established in 1843.
Central in the exhibition is the installation Ring of Animals (2023). Here six sets of straw-woven shoes for different species of animals are placed in a circle. Using a traditional Korean technique, Hong creates a mystical ring of animals featuring creatures that normally do not share a common habitat: giraffe, kangaroo, heron, baby elephant, gorilla and bear. Paradoxically, these light-hearted objects evoke feelings of guilt and anxiety and highlight the urgency of caring more for all living creatures, not only humans. A composition incorporating field recordings and electronic sounds is played intermittently, creating a bewitching atmosphere and demarcating a boundary between the human and animal.
Additional works have been placed in the corridors leading to the chapel. The weaving piece Signalling 2 (2023) represents a sound wave of an elephant’s voice. And in the open closet where Dominican monks used to hang their overcoats, Hong has placed the work She’s Here (2023), a costume for a heron. This unusual garment for a bird is made of a plant-based fabric traditionally used in Korea to make shrouds.
The exhibition space’s former function – serving collective, spiritual contemplation – has been accentuated by two circular cut-outs in the gallery walls, exposing stained-glass windows that are usually covered. With this exhibition, Hong thus re-establishes the chapel as a place for protection, but also for reflection on the ineffable and inseparable bond between man and animal. A space allowing for associations between what we see and what we imagine, between the forgotten and our current time.
Curated by Zuzanna Rachowska
In collaboration with: straw craft masters Chung Kyung Lee and Yeon Hwa Park & composer Owen Lloyd
Artwork production sponsored by Korea Artist Prize Promotion Fund, from SBS Foundation and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea