God's World_Symposium on Sim Up's Contemporary Sculpture

Zou YueJin

   God’s World, the solo exhibition of South Korean sculptor Sim Up, was held at Wall Art Museum in Beijing from July 2 to 16, 2008. As the curator of the exhibition, I witnessed the most creating process of his sculptures. In this article, I will interpret the overall artistic and cultural meaning of his works. From the point of concept, the most power of Sim Up’s sculpture comes from his profound thinking about the confliction of global politics, economy, and culture and its root, his care about the predicament of survival faced by the human being, critique of world hegemony, glorification of the resistance of people in the weak position against the hegemony, and compassion on the suffering of these people. From his works, we could notice that the figures of American Statue of Liberty, U.S. Dollar, and American solider contrast vividly with the figures of resistance, struggle, and suffering people. The structure of binary opposition in Sim Up’s sculpture effectively reflects two extreme opposites of the power and the weak in current world. One outstanding character is the dominant-hegemonic position of America in the world. Such expression has great relation with Sim Up as a South Korean artist who has rich experiences of U.S. forces remaining in his country. What needs to be pointed is that hegemonic figures of America in Sim Up’s works represent the western industrial civilization with capitalism as the social formation. So the focus of Sim Up’s attention is the reflection and critique of western civilization represented by America. In this sense, what is reflected in Sim Up’s works is the universal suffering and circumstance of contemporary human beings.

  The reflection and critique of Sim Up’s works on western industrial civilization are developed in two directions. One is the critique on its inner logic. When the Protestant Ethic of Max Weber is combined with capitalism, we could notice that the result of capital impulse is the exploitation of resources that could be used, such as exploitation of natural energy and minerals, development of foreign market, employment of cheap labor force in poor country, and etc. Capital also carries out the military conquering, colonial domination, and cultural infiltration to any countries and people that impede the flow of capital around the world under the name of freedom, democracy, and human rights, which is the reason that all of babies produced by the Statue of Liberty are born with gun. To Sim Up, western civilization and social system of capitalism are violent in nature. From the point of today, such process has already undergone for hundreds of years, developing from violent colonial to cultural conquering and infiltration of the post-colonial. At the same time, the attitudes of non-western world to capitalism have undergone the complicated process from resistance to identification and acceptance. Capitalism won the overall victory after the Cold War, which also brought new confliction and resistance. What Samuel P. Huntington called the Clash of Civilizations, especially the clash between Christendom and Muslim world, frequently appears under various forms after the Cold War. This is the subject that Sim Up expresses in his works and this is also the reality of the world reflected by him. In fact, from the gas can that frequently appears in his works, we could imagine the hegemony that Sim Up tries to express and realistic base of his resistance against it. In other words, the events like the two Gulf War, War in Afghanistan, Cosovo War, and September 11th terrorist attack after the Cold War could all be regarded as the sources of concepts of Sim Up’s sculpture God’s World. They are also the motive of his thinking about the problems of the world with art.

  From the more rudimental meaning, the critique on the culture and value system of Western modern industrial civilization represented by America reflects Sim Up’s profound thinking on the dilemma and problems faced by human beings and the world since the industrial revolution. The logic base of the development of capitalism comes from the basic impulses of human beings. From the positive side, it reflects the pursuing of people to the happy life by conquering the nature. From the negative side, it represents endless desire, greed, and possessive instinct. Different civilizations in the world have different attitudes toward such basic instinct of human nature, and thus form different cultural concepts and value systems. Different with the cultural concept of Asia that centers on spontaneous state and harmonious community, the West develops person-centered cultural concept and value system after the Middle Ages that try to satisfy the personal desire as much as possible. When such Western cultural concept and value system is accepted and pursued by most countries and nationalities in the world after the 20th Century, it is inevitable to arise ecological crisis resulted by conquering, over-developing, and exploiting of nature and clash and war between different national culture and countries caused by such crisis, which is reflected in Sim Up’s God’s World.

  In order to effectively express his understanding and criticism of capitalism represented by America, Sim Up uses the artistic method combining the overall symbolization and realistic narration, which makes his art not only inherit the classic realistic sculpture but also have the contemporary characters. There are two important differences between Sim Up’s sculpture and the classic realistic sculpture. One is their different subjects. In classic times, the subject of sculpture, although it comes from religious story, or history, or realistic events, reflected the will of the ruling class for the sponsors of art were pope, or king, or the nobles. Artists could only act as the spokesperson and did not have any free idea. Sim Up’s art comes from his independent idea. His critique on hegemony and reflection on the dilemma of human beings fully reflects his independent personality as an artist. The other is their different artistic methods. The realism of classic sculpture is subjected to memorability and symbolization, which has great relations with its reflection of the will of the ruling class. But the realism of Sim Up’s sculpture is used for narration, the purpose of which is to reflect precisely the problems he thinks. In a closed exhibition space, he lets figures having different meanings build a kind of relationship. In this way, the concept and idea of artist is clearly expressed in such narrative meaning links. In this sense, Sim Up’s sculpture has the narration of the realistic painting in artistic method and presents the effect of contemporary installation in spatial layout.

  Furthermore, without considering of the difference between concept and idea, I think that the visual effect of Sim Up’s God’s World is similar with that of Chinese famous group sculpture, Rent Collection Courtyard. In these kinds of works, artists combine different group sculpture figures in a narrative way under the same subject. This forms an overall meaning correlation, from which the sculpture is sublimed to an overall symbolization. If Rent Collection Courtyard symbolizes the necessity of the overthrow of the cruel feudal society where the peasant is exploited by the landlord, then God’s World of Sim Up symbolizes various clashes and predicaments rooted in the Western hegemony and culture represented by America. Moreover, the reflection and expression of Sim Up on the contemporary global problems in his art not only makes him transcend the classic realism art but also expresses his rejection on the pro forma self-discipline and the artistic principle of self-expression of modernism, which fully expresses his compassion as an artist on the fate and the situation of the human being. In fact, what moves us is the human power from the innermost soul of an artist.