Lit under a soft light at Seoul Museum, the silicon sculptures look like real people, but they are not hyperrealistic (aka on the point of being creepy). Sam Jinks talks to Time Out Seoul about his idea of a beautiful object.
1/4"Unsettled Dogs"(2012) courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney
3/4"Still Life (Pieta)"(2007)
4/4"Tattooed Woman"(2007) courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney
By Michelle JY Park|
After seeing the works in person, my perspective on your works have changed. The figures are a lot smaller in person—how on earth did you get clothes this small?
On the “Still Life (Pieta)” (2007) is an altered jack we found, but everything on the sculpture is made. You can’t just get a dress off the rack, and it would take years to look around for clothes this tiny, with the right kind of color and fabric.
And who is this “we” that you speak of?
My mother. She’s a dress maker, and the only person that I have ever met that is as fastidious and as particular as I am. So for “Woman and Child” (2010), I gave her my design, the fabric, and a foam body that she could put the pins into. Usually, a version is made to be tested on the mock-up, because these are all hard bodies that we can’t manipulate to fit clothing onto, as the sculptures are oddly positioned. But my mother is an expert. She’s the best.
Before you “became” an artist, you were a commercial sculptor in the film industry. How and when did the transition come about?
I started out as an illustrator when I was quite young, but went into advertising and making models for TV ads. The transition into film came naturally. The film industry was great fun, but there was always someone else who molded and painted the form that I made. It wasn’t artistically satisfying, so I kept making my own artwork, and showed them when given the opportunity.
I saw a clip where you were inserting the hair strands into the silicon, like puncturing a needle through the skin. Do you ever get grossed out?
Never. But working on “Woman and Child” I looked at images of elderly people, and with “Small things” (2010), I had to feel the baby and its beautiful form, the way they are put together. The process gets meditative, especially with the hair work. But it can get tedious at times.
Most of the subjects are curled into a ball, usually with their eyes closed. Are they sleeping? They don’t necessarily seem dead.
It’s partly to do with the style. It’s to make them look strange or dreamlike, like looking through a window. Also with the eyes being closed, it allows the viewers distant themselves. I originally saw the works with their eyes open, but people were trying to encounter the work on a personal level. I wanted the work to be open to interpretations.
You mentioned that it takes from five to six years to make the work.
I never sit down in an empty studio with one sculpture in front of me. It doesn’t work like that. I do the drawing, make the mock-up, and then move away from it. If I don’t make this separation, I could ruin the work with a lack of perspective. So there are always multiple works being made, put aside, and then brought forward in time to make the piece.
Conceptual pondering aside, how long does it take to make the piece?
Once the piece is conceptually and physically resolved in the smaller versions, it ultimately takes three to four months to get it right. But it varies. People normally think that with something small, it would be easy, but “Pieta” was difficult, and so was “Woman and Child.” It’s one thing to have a great concept, but it’s another to turn it into a beautiful subject. Marrying the two is very challenging.
You don’t want the viewers to marvel at the technical expertise. But then why do you strive on making work that is technically invested?
For a personal reason. I like objects that are beautifully made. If something is beautifully made, it tends to last or have a currency—it becomes precious. The idea of making more “stuff” terrifies me. Cause the world is full of “things”. It’s one thing to have a great concept, but it’s another to turn it into a beautiful subject. Marrying the two is very challenging.
Although it’s not shown at here, I was especially taken by the imagery of “Tattooed Woman” (2007). Is the old lady getting married?
I love that work, but it wasn’t particularly well-accepted at the time when it was made. People had very mixed feelings about it. Back then I had a studio next to a complex of commissioned, low cost housing, a strange area with a lot of crime. Here, I saw a bunch of tough women with beautiful tattoos, supporting their crazy kids with very little money. It was my way of distilling that moment into a single image. So it isn’t a wedding gown that she’s wearing, but something closer to Mary’s veil.
Seeing the works in person, they don’t look as “real” or intimidating as they do in pictures. As your works are based on personal memories, what kind of attitude should the viewers have when approaching the figures?
Totally open. As I said, if it has an element of realism, people will project themselves onto it. My works aren’t hyper realistic, but real. If the realism goes a step further, it just becomes “weird”, like hyperrealism. I hope that the viewers can relate with the work on some level and create their own stories.
What are you trying to contribute to the contemporary art scene?
Contemporary art scene aside, I try to make an object that is as precious as an iconic piece of religious artwork. I want to make something that is for the ages—a perfect object that people can gain comfort from for years to come. To take the crucifix for example, the object does not only represent a sad, tortured figure, but the physical cross. It becomes something that someone puts on the wall giving millions of people comfort. Ideally, I would like to make an object that has that power, to comfort someone who doesn’t have the belief. I don’t know if I am contributing to the contemporary art world this way, but this is my work.
If that is your intentions, your works may be better suited outside, in the form of public art.
The clothes would be ruined, and the hair would be hard to maintain. An outdoor sculpture requires a hard surface that can easily be cleaned and polished down. But I would love to explore that idea.