Maybe Elly Cho has created the biggest painting among Korean artists. The big picture does not reside in a regular exhibition space or on the wall. Nor does it stay mounted, nor does it exist physically in front of viewers. The painting by her is floating up in the air for anyone to see from anywhere on the ground, even from a far distant place. Cho is an artist who returned home recently after studying in England for a long time. Moving from one genre to another, she has produced works in all genres, including painting, drawing, photography, installation and performance, that materialize or visualize her feelings and thoughts derived from her life.
To the artist, mediums are synonymous with language or tools. The artist chooses and uses the medium or material she feels is the right one to express what she intends to say. To her, if art is about revealing things, raw materials are something that can be revealed. Indeed, raw materials are like a cluster of elementary particles in that they are both charged and neutral. They can be shaped into thoughts, emotions or messages only by the hands of the artist. In this sense, Elly Cho is really free from the rigid conventional criteria and divisions between genres or mediums in the Korean artistic community. Never confined to any one particular genre or specific raw materials, the artist regards fine art and its mediums as a vessel to be filled with free-wheeling ideas and imaginations, honest thoughts and feelings, and above all dreams. The artist wants to bring dreams to viewers, which means making the viewers' imagination and feelings expand and triggering their thoughts. Indeed, all arts have a permanent tradition of proclaiming themselves as a messenger of spiritual infection and feelings.
"It is my desire to create paintings on the theme of hope. I want to produce works of art that move the audience to sympathize with my feelings and communicate with me through my works of art." (The Artist's Note) For this artist, the desire to create works of art is fundamental; the desire to create art that is beautiful, meaningful and touching became a part of herself. Once entangled, life and art are difficult to disentangle. Elly Cho's creative process seems faithful to the perspective that sees art as 'creative self-expression', which means creating personal artworks that reveal the artist's own personal vision of the universe. However, the concept of art as self-expression is a pretty new idea born and established only after the modern era. The perception that art equals the artist's inner self may seem valid at first sight. But it leads to a simplistic identification or an utterly naive equation of artists with their works, letting the basic characteristics of art forms pass unnoticed. Thus, such perception may give rise to some serious or fatal misunderstanding.
The work of art cannot be separated from the artist, but is not necessarily identical to the artist. The mind and spirit of the artist alone do not make art. What the artists do is, before anything else, to learn the creative process and create their own artworks. It takes both work and practice, and the creative process involves a lot of manual work. Therefore, the best artists can do is to create artworks that really pique their interest. On November 22, 2005, Cho unfurled a colorful painting of 20 by 60 meters in size, hanging from a hot-air balloon in the sky above Olympic Park in Songpa-gu, Seoul. The painting, which was entitled "The Soaring of Cheonggyecheon," was perhaps the largest of its kind so far in Korea. The hot-air balloon flew around over the city for about an hour, allowing everyone on the ground to see the painting.
This exhibition was a form of performance, installation and at the same time a painting. It was a typical painting except that she raised it high in the sky for all to see, rather than putting it up on the wall or hanging it in a specific spot. Viewers would tilt their heads back to look up at the sky and appreciate the giant painting floating around up there, which is readily visible from far and wide. Besides, the painting would be constantly fluttering and tossing and turning in the wind. "I thought the Cheonggyecheon restoration project was a landmark accomplishment to make Seoul a beautiful place to live in, so I wanted to create a meaningful artwork befitting the greatness of the project. That was why I thought I would display the abstract presentation of Cheonggyecheon, the long stream stretching about 11 kilometers from the Cheonggye Square to Han River, in the sky so that Seoul citizens can see it from their windows. I decided to use a hot-air balloon as a means to make my plan happen... I painted buildings on the upper part of the painting to symbolize the dazzling and bustling civilized world of the Cheonggyecheon area before restoration, and I painted fish, trees and so on on the lower part to symbolize the new look of Cheonggyecheon as an urban stream with natural beauty. In addition, I included in the painting a park symbolizing Seoul Forest as well as Supyo Bridge, Saebyokdari, Narae Bridge and Dumuldari, placing significantly the enchanting historic bridges over the stream." (The Artist's Note) This huge banner painting is hanging high with the vast expanse of the sky as the wall.
Indeed, the sky may have been the first canvas for our creativity, presenting a diversity of ever-changing images. It harbors different colors and also a wide array of shapes, as could be seen by the ever-changing shapes of clouds and the whole spectrum of colors from dawn to dusk. The sky is a huge canvas for those given to fantasy and imagination. Elly Cho went up to the sky with the painting. Very often we see airships adorned with product logos or images or advertising balloons bearing banners put up high in the sky. They are giant airborne billboards, images and at the same time paintings. The artist took a ride on a hot-air balloon with a banner painting hanging below. She wanted that, as the banner painting went up high into the sky, it would be seen and appeal to viewers anywhere on the ground. Calling for an active viewing and appreciation of art, this exhibition encourages a new exhibition culture that is on a different level than the existing exhibition culture in the narrow sense. Moreover, the artist broke away from the institution of exhibition by extending the display of images beyond an enclosed exhibition space into the space of our daily lives. The painting mounted in the sky reminds viewers that they still retain intact the same eyes of the days when they gazed up at the moon, the stars and clouds. While watching the painting that is hanging down long and flowing in the wind and drifting slowly in the sky like a kite, the viewers recall their fond childhood memories packed with nostalgia and romanticism and at the same time take an interesting glimpse into the emerging sign of a new form of public art.