On A Dangerous Tightrope Between the Arts and Religion
Young-churl Shim is a kinetic sculptor as well as an installation artist. She is one of those very rare artists using video, neon, holograms, optical fiber, and surrealistic imagery. New materials and media not often used in the field of Fine Arts. A very reliable artist with environmentally formative talent, she combines the whole exhibition space with her peculiar magnificence into one order; and yet, she possesses a simple, honest craftsman's disposition which progresses all the way from the process of cutting and sticking to hand engraving. We cannot begin to understand or appreciate the true value of her formative sense, experimental mind, and craftsman's disposition without studying the spiritual world which has consistently dominated her life since 1990. The originality which emerges from unifying the spiritual sphere and outward expression is the most important part of her work.
All of Young-churl Shim work surfaces from the religious spring: a source of inspiration as well as meaning in her life. Faith is the steadfast driving force in her life which has been molded by her experience with God's deep love. She doesn't separate her life from experience with God's deep love. She doesn't separate her life from faith and the arts. Life is faith itself, faith is the arts, and the arts is her life. Faith presented her with joy and love. On that basis, her works are beautiful on the whole. Well-embellished shapes and colors present visual delights; and the mysterious lights which neon and hologram emanate give the audience an opportunity to experience ecstasy. A red and black pile of Bibles, running water, and the elegantly swinging movement of a clock pendulum arouse the appreciative, artistic impulse with its strong metaphorical message. She accepts that the principle of beauty is clear. For even a crown of thorns or a cross is beautiful to her. They are a symbol of love, salvation, and the hope of a new life after death.
All this time, Young-churl Shim has worked to "proclaim" the Bible's message of salvation. This effort has always been an awkward, negative factor for her non-Christian audiences. In this exhibition she shows inspirational works clearly gotten from nature. Behind her transformation is Divine Providence. It seems that God has allowed her to turn her eyes to His creations. By accident one rainy day, she noticed very white mushroom tops springing from the grass and was noticed very white mushroom tops springing from the grass and was at once attracted by their beautiful appearance. She realized that the profound providence of God was right there in nature. Since that time, she has stuck to working with mushrooms only. Now she forms the mushrooms such as 'pang-i' mushrooms, 'song-i' mushrooms, and 'nutari' mushrooms, usually seen at the dinner table, into various shapes and designs.
Why do the mushroom shapes displayed in this exhibition arouse our sexual imagination? When you see the installation work which consists of 'pang-i' mushrooms, you will be hallucinated as it sings of the primitive religion of phallicism. Folkloristic shapes and colors give us the feeling that it is not in harmony with her religious, Christian culture. Is Young-churl Shim interested in settling the matter of Christianity which is put forth by a section of Christian community? Isn't this erotic image very peculiar if we consider that western Christan culture has suppressed sexual presentation? Isn't it possible for confusion to arise?
As you see, "Love is as strong as death". (Song of Songs 8:6) is the title for this exhibition. What Young-churl Shim would like to say through this exhibition is that God's love toward humanity is steadfast and sensible like the sexula love of the natural world. We cannot say this approach is reckless if we think the manifestation of God in the Bible is very humanistic. It is not difficult to find out the part of the Bible which describes the relationship between the God and human as lovers or husband and wife. Dr. Scott Peck, American psychoanalyst, who has been searching for the relationship between the human spirit and religion determines that the relation between God and humanity is similar to the traditional relationship between man and woman in his book, Unending Journey Towards Spiritual Growth.
Sexual phenomena of which nature is full of may be a cast shadow on the essence of God. After she realized this, she started to pay attention to sexual images which are in nature as well as in local motifs. So the feast of magnificent light and colors that she enjoys using has absolutely nothing to do with traditional Christian color symbolism. Though she expressed a Christian message and belief she doesn't intend to connect with the traditional western Christian art. Instead it seems that she is constitutionally connected with the concept of folk beauty in Korean traditional or nature-oriented pagan culture. In spite of this, the artist's prudent selection of colors make joy, gratitude and love of God visible.
Young-churl Shim attempt at walking a dangerous tightrope between Christian doctrine and the language of modern art works as a prospective effort to enlarge the paradigm of narrow-minded Christian culture and to make Christianity as a new toboo reappear on the spot. Remember that Christian subjects had been alienated from the mainstream of western art after 20th century. These days Christians in western society don't maintain the same absolute authority and influence as in the past. They take new interest in the Oriental thought as an alternative to cooled love towards Christianity. This tendency is notable in the chapters of modern art. The Orient is something new and mysterious and left for them to seek after. However, this is only a westerner's viewpoint, so something new to them is not always new to us. As a matter of fact, new things for us may be science, civilization, rationalism, or even Christianity. We who subordinate to the paradigm of western culture, but have stuck to "ours" dependently had better question ourselves as to whether we should thank them for being interested in our traditional culture. From this point of view, Young-churl Shim delivers a sincere, fresh impact.
I think this fresh impact may be quite different for westerners and for each of us. For westerners, the scene of fresh love that their old flame finds with a new oriental lover can be an impact in itself. However I'm sure that Young-churl Shim is one of the pligrims who suggests the new spirit on the basis of our emotion and methodology simultaneously. The contradictory union between her avid faith and continuous experimental mind is Young-churl Shim specialty and talent. No one expect God Knows which way this talent will be developed. However, we should pray that Young-churl shim work never loses artistic accomplishment and ultimately, it is used as a small tool for God's glory and for the salvation of humankind as she envisions.
Heh-Kyong Kim (Curator: Gallery Art-beam)
Source : Gallery Artbeam, May 1996
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