"The best part of my art pieces is that I can eat them after work.” It is certainly the type of comment that would be spoken by the person who quit his job as a commercial photographer and became an independent photograph artist to find fun in his life. With only a month left before thenew year and guilt over “not achieving anything” creeping in, one exhibition offers a simpler, friendlier vision of life. A self-proclaimed “not smart guy” who entertained America with his wit, Terry Border declares in his mouth-watering show that life is all about three things; eating, playing and loving.
▲ Provided by Savina Museum. SMOOTH AS GLASS.
Savina Museum, located in Insa-dong, is widely known for its unique exhibitions that introduce promising artists to the public. In line with their efforts to refresh the audience’s minds, Savina Museum extended an invitation to Border, displaying his works outside the United States (U.S.) for the first time with Eat, Play, Love. “Though personification is a familiar technique in the field of arts, Terry’s bent art is unique because he has a very thorough grasp of the central features of each object. He bends those wires every day to create instantly likable characters,” explains Director Savina Leein the catalog for the exhibition. “Eventhough his characters are made ofsimple wires, creativity and imagination are abound in them, and the symbolism he has infused there adds a certain depth to each piece.”
▲ Inside the exhibition. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHO EUN BYUL
Terry Border is not just a photographer; he is a storyteller whose humor and sharp insight on daily life are expressed through common objects. He is widely known as afounder of bent art, a medium that makes use of wires to breathe life into the nondescript. Border gifts fruits, vegetables and writing tools with little wire hands and wire feet before training the camera upon them, capturing candid moments with his modified objects as actors and elevating the ordinary into the realm of art. One noteworthy piece features an egg with a letter to its mother, standing motionless before a fine roast chicken. The piece issimply titled “Belated”; a message forevery child of every time. The cutesy aesthetics and piercing black comedy of each piece induce both affectionate smiles and long chuckles.
The strength of Border’s work lies in itseasy accessibility and simplicity. Every process of creating a piece is comfortably familiar, from the tools he uses in his work to the message it bears across gender, age and race; his wire-limbed children are daily objects, easily summoned for usebut hardly noticed when not being used,and his concern is for the seemingly mundane. In the words of Border from the same catalog, “Anything that could happen to little things we see and use every day could just as well happen to human beings, to society. Basically, I am throwing out questions and exploring them objectively through these objects.” It takes an artist to capture the essence of anything, and it takes an artist with the eyes of a child to truly see trivial moments, which can be a hidden trove of depth and meaning.
The exhibition takes up all three floors of Savina Museum, with 80 artworks in total. There is no room for claustrophobia despite the bulk of works shown, for Border’s art does not command audiences to train their eyes on every brushstroke or change in palette. What it calls for is a cleanslate—for the audience to wipe their minds of preconceptions and open themselves to tales told in wires, tools, and food. Indeed, by the end of the exhibition, it is not at all difficult to find oneself wishing for more helpings of Border’s brand of storytelling. Further, interview clips, rough sketches and Border’s own photographs of sculptures that inspired him are served on the side, offering insight into how “just an ordinary guy” can captivate his fans so; all these materials prove no flash of inspiration, no ingenuity elevated above the masses grant him his creativity. Border's ideas are instead borne of diligent observations from his everyday activities—walking, shopping, andcooking.
▲ Experience Booth provides the audience with the making experience. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHO EUN BYUL.
To commemorate his first overseas exhibition in Korea, Border presents the audience a special opportunity to enjoy an exclusively Korean section likely not to be found anywhere else in the world. Apair of dried persimmons return to the tree they were plucked in the form of wizened birds, and jujubes busy themselves with moisturizer masks. For “They Have Returned to the Trees,” Border explained that the shriveled stems and distinctive wrinkles of persimmons are so much like ugly birds; for “Smooth as Glass,” he recalled how he learned that jujubes were often used for facials in Korea—the irony of wrinkled fruit smoothing out human wrinkles.
One thing that the exhibition leaves to be desired is the translation. Titles tie ingreatly with the majority of art works, and Border’s are no exception. Despite the role of titles as a docent to guide the audience towards the artist’s mind, some overly liberal translations may lead thoughts astray from Border’s original intentions. “Badly Bruised” becomes “Knockout Victory of the Banana Champion” in Korean, drawing attention away from the wordplay on literal bruises and harmless ones that appear on the skin of fruits.
Be that as it may, the exhibition’s strengths outpace its failings. The core message of Border’s art is that beauty comes from the ideas of each individual when freedom is given to them to express their ideas through their own, personal views. While the concept of art seems, to many, to emphasize an exactre production of the world, Border’s hands reach deeper into the personal and the imaginative, drawing truth through subjectivity and from apparently trivial things in life; the greatest achievement is being oneself. Eating, playing, loving and doing one’s best—the greatest achievement is being alive.