U-Ram Choe. Custos Cavum, 2011. Steel, stainless steel, brass, aluminum, resin, CPUs, and motors.
Currently on view at the Asia Society Museum in NYC is a brand new work from Creator U-Ram Choe, titled Custos Cavum. As legend has it, the Custos Cavum (literally “guardian of the hole” in Latin) maintained a balance between two worlds, gnawing open holes and guarding them to assure their connection. When new holes would open up, the majestic creature would fall into a deep slumber and give birth to smaller, spore-like creatures known as Unicus. The Unicus, in turn, would travel to the hole, plant themselves and give birth to new Custos Cavum. As long as this process continued, there would be harmony between the two realms. At least, that’s the story kinetic sculptor U-Ram Choe chose to weave to accompany his new, massive anima-machine creation, now on view at his first solo museum show in New York City.
The new work is part of the museum’s ongoing In Focus series, wherein contemporary artists chose a piece of art from Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection as a source of inspiration. For his inspiration, Choe chose a sculpture of the powerful Indian god, Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Shiva Nataraja). Just as the Custos Cavum maintained balance between two worlds, so too did Shiva, who oversaw the forces of both creation and destruction.
Choe’s sculpture hums quietly in a darkened room on the third floor of the Asia Society. The only sounds that can be heard in the small, tucked-to-the-side room are the whizzing motors of the beast’s internal mechanized guts. The hum is so low and so pervasive that it sounds more like a distant waterfall. In the center of the room lies the clockwork spirit, breathing heavily while resting on pale white sand, fecund with fragile golden leaves. The exposed gears are delicately cranking bijous that, with programmed rationality, contrast with the generated life of the extremities they control. The coiled body pulses somberly, a dull glow emanating from within the hollow hull. Its grim skeletal visage betrays the rest of its body—its features harsh and weathered. The quietude of the room begs for reverence to the lifeless yet spiritual entity. There is an irony that such a mechanical creature is so pregnant with verdancy. The cybernetic behemoth is a vision of a programmed system of synchronous motorized parts bristling with the potential for life.
The visions of nature the sculpture inspires stand in stark contrast to its mechanical body. As it is intended to do, the Custos Cavum bridges two disparate worlds, displaying the harmony between the organic and inorganic. The complex motorized systems inspire the feelings of awe that one would typically only feel while in the presence of naturalistic wonder. Out of artificial objects emerges a compelling simulation of the seemingly confounding idea of life being born out of otherwise inanimate material.
Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Shiva Nataraja)
The triangulation of the human’s presence, the sculpture’s accompanying movement and the naturalistic imagery it evokes touch upon the mechanical as mediator between humans and nature. The spectator’s presence generates movement from the machine that gives birth to the sounds and images of nature. The human, then, brings to life the creature that inspires the awe that they subsequently feel. The mechanical as a tool cultivates a deeper appreciation of nature by generating an ecology of awareness to the purposes of each component. The element exists equally as part of the same environment of living and inanimate objects none taking precedence over the other.
In the presence of biomorphic characteristics of a fully automated creature, it arouses the potential for life to proliferate from anything. The spiritual could therefore be seen as the perception of life where there otherwise should be none. It is the seeming defiance of reason within a complex system of logical operations that invites the comprehension of transcendence.
In the context of the myth, which is just as much part of the work as the sculpture itself, the Custos Cavum as a species along with the Unicus participate in a never ending cycle of death and rebirth to maintain the connection between two worlds. The process must continue to so that the holes between the two worlds remain open yet as the myth states the other world was ultimately forgotten. Technology therefore should not be seen as a replacement for nature, but a supplement to its appreciation.