Ran Hwang (b. 1960), has raised her profile creating labor-intensive works of spiritual content that primarily uses buttons and pins and threads. She was born in Busan, grew up in a Buddhist family, and arrived in New York in 1997 to pursue an artistic career. In Korea, Hwang had been a realist painter before she started MFA at School of Visual Arts. In her interview with Richard Vine, Hwang discusses the evolution of her artistic career. Working at a fashion embroidery company in Manhattan’s District while studying at School of Visual Arts, Hwang encountered the buttons, pins, and fabrics that would become the mainstay of her art. Beginning with collage boxes, Hwang’s work evolved into wall installations. The tok-tok-tok of hammering pins reminds Hwang of Moktak, the rounded wooden instrument used in Buddhist chants, evoking the meditative character of her work. Buddhas, phoenixes, and plum blossoms began to appear in these wall installations followed by transformed traditional Asian architecture. Hwang's work permanently resides in the collections of internationally acclaimed venues, including the Brooklyn Museum in New York, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Deji Art Museum in Nanjing, Dubai Opera House, Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, New York University and National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul.
Ran Hwang creates large icons such as a Buddha or a traditional vase, using materials from the fashion industry. The process of building large installations are time consuming and repetitive and it requires manual effort which provides a form of self-meditation. She hammers thousands of pins into a wall like a monk who, facing the wall, practices Zen. Her works are divided into two groups. In the first, pins are used to hold buttons remain free to move and suggest the genetic human tendency to be irresolute. She chooses buttons, which are as common and ordinary as human beings. In the second group of works, a massive number of pins connect yards of thread creating a negative space of the presented images, threads suggesting connections between human beings and a communication network between seemingly unlinked human experiences. The filled negative space in the absence of the positive space suggests mortality at the heart of self-recognition.