The bowl of spirit : Seong-Rok Seo > Review

'Love' is the motive of my art world

Shim, Young Churl
Review Review


'Love' is the motive of my art world

The bowl of spirit : Seong-Rok Seo

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The bowl of spirit

Regarding Young-churl Shims work


Contemporary sculpture is distinguished from traditional sculpture in many ways. One of the big differences is the use of various media. Iron, wood, and stone have long since become banal, and these days, not only everyday objects but also various high-tech media are newly being proposed. In terms of the concept of materials, the conflict with traditional sculpture would never have escalated so much.

Like other sculptors, Young-churl Shim is one of the artists who mobilize various media. She has a fairly wide range of materials, from wire, wood, clocks, bibles, glass, pebbles, rocks, grass, flowerpots, cacti, and even computers. She makes full use of materials ranging from conventional hard materials to objects, and ingredients that make use of device concepts. 

In 1993, "Electronic Garden", an entry for the fifth solo exhibition held at Sun Gallery, was a case of a wide range of materials. Moving sculptures, computer graphic images, relief works in the form of holograms or abstract geometric shapes, fountains, etc., combined with advanced scientific technology and modeling, clearly depicted the recent trend in sculpture. Moreover, the artist did not neglect to pioneer a new visual territory through bold material experiments and introduction of new technologies while using a touchscreen operated by the audience and optical fibers that emit subtle light effects. In fact, the artist uses all kinds of media to transform the natural world into an artificial world, or more precisely, into a 'storehouse of high technology'. The installation and utilization of technology was remarkable enough to remind one of a scene from a sci-fi movie, with a forest embroidered with electric circuits, numerous monitors hanging from tree branches, and the surrounding colorful neon lights. 

The construction of an interactive discourse system that allows the viewer and the artist to have a conversation or the attempt to bring science and technology into art has become a universal work trend to some extent now, but from the traditional concept of sculpture, it is considered a 'breakthrough event'. This could be the 'combination of art and mechanical engineering' which has now established itself as a trend of the times. 


The sculpture seems to have lost its identity now, and it gives the impression that the concept of sculpture itself has been dismantled. What about Young-churl Shim? In my view, she does not seem to conduct simple formal experiments or work to satisfy curiosity. Rather than lose her identity and wander, immersed in the flood of mechanism, she seeks to bring out her soulful voice seriously.

In summary, in terms of formality, it is on the cutting edge of the road, but in terms of content, it shows a 'retro-like tendency'. Here, the term retrospective refers to the combination of art and religion, which is perceived as having been terminated earlier. In fact, the term 'retro-inclination' may sound undesirable to her. Just as the absolute exists regardless of the passage of time, from the point of view that art produced by humans cannot have any fluctuations in its relationship with the absolute, the need to rewrite 'retrovert' as 'permanent' can also be excluded.

Shim's work is full of messages of 'blessing' and 'grace'. It feels like it implicitly represents all the joys of living on this earth. The idea that "heaven is our home" (Nikiphoros Blemmidis) seems to be deeply permeated, and of course, such a character must have been derived from her unique religious view, playing a major role in leading to 'the ecstasy of the Holy Spirit', where the cross, the Bible, and light appear as important media in her work. 

An example of this is the work exhibited at the <Young Perspective - Proposal for Tomorrow> held at the Seoul Arts Center in 1991. At that time, the artist collected 1,500 Bibles and presented a work that was stacked layer by layer in a circular shape. The gospel message was carried through the neon shining in the wire vines on the upper part. In 1994, during the exhibition of the winners of the Total Art Award hosted by the Total Museum of Art, the path to salvation was constructed in a plot format using complex media such as TV monitors, virtual reality, holograms, sound, wood, iron, and stone. At this time, the process of wandering in the dark, discovering a new world, and finding the true meaning of life was expressed in each of the stages of pain fertility meeting faith blessing salvation, just like the plot of Road of the Heavenly Passion. 

To call it a 'maximization of directing', so to speak, in her works, the spectacle is often emphasized as much as the content. It is to decorate the exhibition hall just like decorating a stage set. This is because, for her, sculpture is perceived not as a molding to decorate a specific image, but as an environment for the space itself. Thus, the viewer becomes a traveler wandering through the space according to her directing technique, and the artist takes on the role of a friendly guide. 

The masterpiece presented at the Total Museum of Art was an example of how much she took great interest in the arrangement of spatial composition and the importance of directing essentials in the composition process. The viewer enjoys a variety of poetic experiences as if watching a play while walking along the cobblestoned circulation between the separate space-using devices using various technologies such as a tree monument, a mushroom garden, virtual reality in a cage, and a TV monitor. This stems from her unique taste in her work, which places importance on 'movement of space' and 'reaction of viewers'. 


There are many common elements that go into her work, but if I could pick just one, it would be the element of light. For her, light is mainly presented as neon or electronic light. There, we can see colorful and clear colors that are hard to come across in real life, but it seems to depict a reality that is more colorful than colors themselves. Of course, the meaning of light is not confined to a physical dimension. In her works, I think light can be compared to the truth. Opening darkness, turning ignorance into the world of knowledge, and insight into the true world are viewed as the meaning of light, and the meaning of light is also consistent with the meaning of truth. 

In fact, it is clear that anyone can understand the beauty of such light, and this is a known fact. However, not many people will understand its meaning. The person who realizes it and finds joy in it is a wise person, or the happiest person, but will not be heard. Young-churl Shim, who senses the light passing by us with his sensitive tentacles and wants to directly enjoy the meaning, is always in a state of ecstasy and wants to share the joy that only she feels with those around her. 

Needless to say, being represented through light is a state of transcendence. Standing at the final point of that transcendent world is beauty, or in other words, divinity. In this way, the concrete communication of theophany occupies a very important meaning for her. 

Of course, this fact is nothing new. A similar case can be found in medieval Byzantine art. In the case of Byzantine art, artists focused on the expression of a certain form, but what they aimed for was not the expression of the form itself, but the soul hidden behind it. For them, the body was just a symbol of the soul. That's why the modern theologian said that "the true artist describes the soul, not the body." To reach the ultimate point of the soul, artists dematerialized by reducing the form to the most abstract (as organic as possible). In Young-churl Shim's case, light is presented as the incarnated form of divinity, but what it actually means is the soul, that is, the spiritual world of immateriality. 

It is for this reason that it was possible not to be bound by the existing religious iconography in expressing the divinity. The idea is based on the classical proposition, but the interpretation follows the modern method. It seems that all the cutting-edge methods that can be mobilized have been mobilized, including installation prepared by a complex compositional method, light art by fireworks and lighting, kinetic art by 'water screen', and computer animation combining audio and video. In addition, through a series of works such as images, reliefs, and neon collages, he confronts another task of expanding the formative realm along with the expression of the divine, which shows how important the formative issues are, as much as the religious ones. 

At the same time, one of the problems that Young-churl Shim has been pondering so far is the discovery of 'native language modeling'. In other words, we want to find our own art, which is also the long-awaited project of our art, in tradition. As part of that, the artist published a work that abstractly transforms a hairbrush in the 80s, but in the extension of that work, she is now reconstructing and appearing native materials. The exhibition space is decorated like a shrine to the village deity, with piled up stone tombs, or painted with neon or fluorescent pigments on the trees to create a shamanistic atmosphere. Additionally, after making each stone in the shape of a box, computer graphics are displayed through the monitor installed in it, or actual soil is moved and the floor of the exhibition hall is laid with ocher, focusing on various angles of expression. Even in this case, without exception, the viewer becomes a tourist and explores the whole space, creating the illusion that the place we are visiting is not a 'folklore conservation area'. In short, by making them directly encounter the shamanic world that has been steadfast for many years, it is possible to take in the breath of folk culture that is still alive today. 

Nevertheless, if there is one thing that has the most important value in Shim's work, it is the expression of 'soul' and the attitude of confession of faith that must be passed for such expression. Just as no one can help but become weak in the face of death, in the face of God, she becomes a 'mild sheep' without question. She was crushed by the weight of the enormous being, and immediately bowed her head. 

In the 8th exhibition held this year, Young-churl Shim presented a work with the subtitle 'Love is as strong as death' (Song of Songs) in the same context as the previous series of Provide. At this time, 'love' would be stronger in the nature of the infinite 'agape' that only gives than the limited 'eros' nature that often goes back and forth between lovers. Only God can be the subject of such 'agape love'. It is self-evident that there is a depth and breadth that cannot be measured by a human scale. Therefore, the meaning of the phrase 'love is as strong as death' implies that God's grace is not only qualitatively incomparable with any other love, but also quantitatively infinite. 

Themes set in recent exhibitions are generally divided into three or four types. They are: 'Mushroom Garden', 'Noah's Ark', 'Video Monitor and Physical Image', and 'Electronic Garden'. Among them, 'Noah's Ark' is based on the theme of Noah's log ship in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Twenty mushrooms were installed on the ship moved to the exhibition hall, and neon was attached to the surroundings to suggest the existence of the living beings on board. In this work, lights are lit from the top and side, respectively, so that the bottom is treated as if a boat is actually floating in the sea, and objects on the boat are treated as shadows like people snooping on a ship. 

'What catches our attention is the shape of a mushroom rising upwards. The twenty mushrooms each have their own unique shape. Short / tall, chubby / slender. Sturdy/skinny, curved/straight, etc. However, these differences alone would not be sufficient to explain the characteristics of mushrooms. The part that needs to be pointed out and passed over in the mushroom is the 'interrelationship' of the structures. 

Noah's Ark means a voyage without a destination. Until the flood stops, they are doomed to drift on the water, stuck in the ship. Therefore, the main characters on the ship may face a dark, frustrating, and in some cases, a mountain of waves, and fall into a desperate state with the onslaught of death on the verge of death. Mushrooms cleverly express the psychology of the main characters, relying on each other to understand and comfort each other. They bow their heads toward the other person and pose, some leaning their bodies against others. Like a situation hanging on the edge of a cliff, the human weakness is conveyed as it is. However, the author does not only express weakness. A pair of pigeons engraved on the side of the ship suggests 'the end of suffering' and 'the beginning of hope'. Just as the Bible tells Noah that when heaven sent a dove, the dove came back with a bite on a branch and found land to anchor, the dove on the ship reminds us that the dove will be free from the hustle and bustle and will return to peace. 

We often use the expression 'life's journey' when talking about the ups and downs of life. Every man sometimes walks in darkness as deep as night, and then enjoys joy as bright as day. In all life, despair and resignation, and joy and happiness, are bound to pass in a hyperbola. That's why I don't think it's possible to explain the tumultuous path of life with the word "journey of life". Then, where does Young-churl Shim put the end point of his life journey? Obviously, for him, everything in life belongs to the Creator, so the only way to enjoy the peace is to belong to the Creator. 


The artist gave his mushroom work the title "Beautiful one". In this case, the object of the beautiful God is, of course, the Creator who is the absolute. Mushrooms are thus described as a source of life in themselves. He does not forget that the creation that is born on this earth, allows it to grow fully, and enjoys all kinds of benefits is due to the Creator's ultimate love. Such token of gratitude permeates among the cast bronze or marble sculptures, and the stainless-steel work placed on the stone. 

In The Beautiful Man, a commonality is that mushrooms appear in groups. In particular, in the case of works using platforms for crocks as an object, two or three mushrooms face each other and make a friendly expression as if they are having a conversation. Mushrooms that bloom on the poles may look awkward in some respects. Crocks and mushrooms have nothing to do with each other, but this is because they seem a bit far from 'noble figure'. What the two images share is probably something insignificant out of interest. Even the monotonous shape of the soybean pot is engraved in our impressions as mushrooms that grow anywhere. Nevertheless, intuition kicks in that a special intention is involved in the use of the two images. This is because God's love is not given to high-status people or given under special circumstances, as we would expect, but is given in the dark, like a poet giving food or so that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. If the mushroom symbolizes God's grace, this work tells us that that grace can be given wherever God's hand is needed. 

Seong-Rok Seo (Art Critic)

Excerpt from 'Finding Artists in the Art World' of August 1996


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