God's World_Symposium on Sim Up's Contemporary Sculpture

Jeong HyungTak | Editor-in-chief, Quarterly Contemporary Art Journal

  Born as a son of a farmer in Hampyeong, Chonla, Korea in 1959. Moved to a city because of industrialization in 1965. All his family members moved to Gwangju. Went to Gwangju Suchang elementary school from 1966 to 1971. Recorded as “has loyalty, but distracted and violent” in his student record. Did not care about his title as a “problem kid”. Showed a talent for art. At Gwangju Bukseong Middle school in 1972. Began smoking. Interested in getting involved in fights. He may have considered fights as one way to confirm his identity. Realized his unattractive face. At Gwangju Daedong High school from 1973 to 1977. Interested in painting and participated in an art class. Academically was the bottom of the class. Took university entrance exams three times from 1978 to 1981. Memorized < Book of Life > by Yoo, chi-whan and immersed in Nietzsche and Praj??-Paramit?. Wanted to be a philosophical fighter. Outbreak of Gwangju pro-democracy movement. hauled and detained by the airborne troops. Witnessed that a naive human being became a beast by the organization and beaten to a pulp. Realized the violence of the giant organization. (Rewarded as a man of 5·18 democracy merit.) Started to agonize over identity of the values that he should aim. After admitted to art education in Cheonnam University in 1981, entered the army. After claiming “Neither North nor South”, created a firearm rampage. Arrested and imprisoned in a mental hospital for 6 months. Experienced intense depression. At the university from 1983 to 1987. Diagnosed as normal in a psychiatric evaluation that the university required. Distributed copies of the evaluation, but treated as a real lunatic. Interested in geography and astronomy and immersed in reading relevant books. Didn’t get good grades, but acknowledged as a promising new artist. Representative of Theater Madang from 1988 to 1989. Put the Taebaek Mountains by Cho, Jeongrae on the stage as a theater foundation performance. Received contribution from Cho, Jeongrae and Lim, Hunyoung. As the 2nd performance, put on the stage a satire drama < One law for the rich and another for the poor > based on the biggest thief Cho, Sehyung and Ji,Gwanghun who suicided claiming “another for the poor”. Bored and resigned from an art teacher in 1989. Involved in several businesses such as construction, restaurant, internet, and hospital from 1990 to 2002. While managing a plastic surgery hospital and an internet advertising company, faced a lawsuit for violation of medical ads. Swore at a prosecutor and a judge in a trial and put under court custody. After custody, had to end the relevant business and bankruptcy. Got a studio in Beijing in 2006.

  Female figures throwing up industrial waste ‘as if they bubbled or murmured with their buttholes’ and his figures revealing internal organs make us imagine a certain specific other. Like a theater of situations or speech bubbles of a cartoon, his figures are filled with silent roar. As if plastered with curse, his statues give us mass like Michelangelo’s or Rodin’s but also resemble Giacometti’s sad modern figures with long arms and legs. In fact, more than anything, these statues are like SIM Up’s curses. It seems that they are full of silent roar or curse. What and to whom is he mourning.

  SIM Up moved to China in the fall of 2005. As he said, there was no special reason for that. Let’s say national political situation and an individual’s disappointing journey. His first studio was Hwantie that used to be a base station of trains next to 798 art district. At present he is working in SongZhuang where many forging shops are located. He created so many artworks there during the summer of 2008 when he had his first solo exhibition. Most of his works were the group statues of human beings. At his first solo show titled ‘Blue Sky’, he showed figures who got a M16 rifle in their heart, group figures born in the genital of the crooked Statue of Liberty, and group statues entangled and rising.

  As sculpture naturally reminds us a human figure, for a long time the foremost interest for sculptors has been how to represent a human figure realistically. SIM Up also focuses on a human figure. It is no exaggeration to say that nine out ten sculptors are interested in this subject. Sculptures representing human body describes not only a certain event but also relevant emotion and desire, that is abstract ideas. In the 1960s, a human body as a unique and ideal form began to be questioned and simple and geometrical sculpture appeared in America and England. It was also the Cold War era when America and Russia developed their own nuclear missiles. SIM Up’s M16 and AK47 seem to represent violence of America and dominance of Russia and East Europe.

  In the history of sculpture, human figure statues are important in terms of representing social issues, such as nuclear war, global terror, sexuality, desire, identity, disease and sexual discrimination, and homosexuality. This is of course only for the western modern sculpture. In Korea there is no sculptor who represents politics and life through human figures after Ku, Bon-ju, within my knowledge. It is because human figures might be considered an old and worn-out subject.

  It is always possible, therefore, that a solo human figure seems stiff and rigid even though recreated and group human figures seem to commemorate or honor some collective events. Among the modern sculpture in 1980s, cut of human body and abjection (Julia Kristeva, in her Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), took this psychological term from George Bataille who was a surrealistic philosopher and claimed that it is a desire to remove individuality and familiarity from human body) may be considered as one of the ways of postmodern expression, but at the same time reveal the limit of the genre of human figure sculpture. At the exhibition of < Abject Art: hate and desire of American Art > at Whiteney Museum of American Art in 1993, all the human figures of Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, and Robert Gober were all hurt and injured. Maybe this pronounced the limit of human figure sculpture. Shm, Up’s human figures, nevertheless, have an important value in such triteness. In this contemporary sculpture history that has already reached up its limit, his human figure renewed its genre. It is actually new to combine mass, long and thin arms and legs, and exaggerated facial expressions with political messages. What is new about him is the way he deals with his subject and the message itself.

  SIM Up’s human figures are clear warnings about western culture, especially power politics of US and consumption culture. They have definite messages. Revealing internal organs and swearing obviously imply the Western as the other. It seems that such an obvious and simple identity game finally acquires a significance. It is because there is no such artist who works with human figures with such straightforward language in Korea. Regarding the issue of existence, Korean artists have inner-directed perspectives. But he is different.

  His work has the dirty other. As the other, there is America that Stars and Stripes and Statue of Liberty represent or transnational capital. Of course this dirty other implies another pure other. As an infant and a mother cannot keep an appropriate distant in the early mirror stage, a regard toward a pure other or subject easily becomes a regard toward the dirty other. It can be a totalitarian and violent subject. So many western cultures and scholars, thus, always think of an appropriate distance, that is, a right amount of distance between the subject and the other, which can be elegant symbols or parody in art.

  SIM Up, however, discards everything. As Franz Fanon who was an Algerian intellect in French colony, claimed that this right distance was the logic of colonialists and tried to break up with ‘indecent narcissism’ of European colonies that never mentioned universal human beings, SIM Up’s language throws up an East- Asian language to the other of the first world. Such communication method seems too dangerous and out-fashioned, but also valuable. For at last the story about the dirty other or sick other comes back to us as one about myself and ourselves.

  The other returns on the wane. Modernist’s idea that the other is outside has lost its place, as both Eastern traditional philosophy and Western contemporary philosophy emphasize. Here are some examples: Derrida’s Chinese calligraphy which ‘disturbs’ Western logocentrism, Chinese encyclopedia which confuses western order of things for Foucault, and Chinese women who seduce Kristeva with alternative identifications. While contemporary structuralists and philosophers actively discussed destruction of opposition between the subject and the other, I have no idea whether art, especially Korean sculpture, has any artistic language to represent such argument over the subject and the other. SIM Up proposes a radically new way to keep an appropriate distance from the West. In so doing, Korean sculpture and the capital implode. His direct message was in fact from the West before us and now it is all of ours.

Texture of steel and strength of mass in his work is visually overwhelming. In fact, however, it is only a poly covered with molten metal. Even though there are some real bronze and metal, but many works transcend the heaviness of the materials. In terms of material, human statue with air cap vinyl exactly shows this.

   Air cap vinyl can be a discarded object. It is abject and left out. It is only a tool for wrapping. No tool has its own nature. Nature means birth, which is natural and innate. Tools, however, are only made. Tools are ‘only in the hands’. Food pigs and laboratory mice are not born. They are only ‘used’ as tools. Empathy toward industrial objects of course can be artificial, but are they only considered within such human emotion? Look at all the symptoms that show counterattacks by these tools. After the first nuclear test, we witnessed drastic increase of cancer patients. We even cannot expect the outcome of genetically modified food and have seen so many cases that these tools contaminate land and air.

   Air cap vinyl is a tool to wrap the valuables. Here the value is the value of the capital. Air cap vinyl is located in the outside of the exchange value. They are trashes. But their existence are also within the system of the capitalism in the idea of ‘wrapping’. Without them, no jewels, artworks, refrigerators, or I-phones can be distributed. In the sense that they belong to the system of the capitalism and at the same time can be discarded at any moment, they are ‘eliminated values’. They are anonymous elements. Even though they are within the group, they are excluded. Can you think of a certain minority excluded in the community? They are within the group but at the same time excluded. Or they are ‘mass’,but not ‘population’. Again, air cap vinyl is ‘included in the situation but outside of it’.

  Colorful lighting inside of air cap vinyl is a new method. Without any lights, the statue reveals its own terrible appearance. Poor stiches and coarse and dirty wrapping reveals itself to a viewer. There is no need to read his work as the inside of the modern society and human beings and the fantasy of the capitalism. It is brilliant enough to represent this air cap vinyl as the skin of the civilization. This air cap vinyl human figure may be read as an elegy toward the abject who are within the capital system but cannot be valued. Or it may be considered to represent freedom and escape from the other, such as capitalism, western culture, war and terror.

The strength of this sculpture is not in a subject matter or traditional sculptural techniques. Rather, it is in that it reveals something that is original in sculpture. We do not know what is original in sculpture and do not need to define it. It is still quite exciting to meet such powerful work after a long time.