Harmonious Encounter of Eros and Caritas
Young-churl Shim's work is characterized by its deadly panic and ecstasy of life. Her work is described as blooming flowers in vibrating waves of dazzling sunshine in the paradise, a synthetic garden filled with confusion at the beginning of the world and subsequent moral allegories towards the universe stemming from the confusion and mysteriousness of the genesis and logic that is mixed with doomsday scenario with enhanced passion and excessively critical self-reflection. She does not let viewers to accomodate her work merely by looking at her work. The viewers have to be fully emersed themselves into her work and Shim's work allures people into her magical trap that he placed in her works. Shim's works, where all kinds of sym-bols that manifest people's lives and sense of holiness coexist, can be called as the 'Empire of the Light' and 'Ecstasy's Shrine' and they are formed by the combination of images of technopia, which is defined as the dream of future, and eroticism and shamanism. The synthetic world created by her can be the 'lower world' where Dante was led into by Vergilius and 'highest stream' that Dante and his lover Beatrice saw together.
Shim sings the songs that are dedicated by human to the God as a response to the God's grace through her work that are formed by electronic equipment. But her way of love towards God is quite different from that of disapproval against the God's figure by the iconoclast started at the Byzantine period and Calvin's stoicism. Shim defies Puritanical oppression against images and expresses her delight, joy and desire of life through sensual and flirting light and joy of brilliantly dancing colors, intertwining mushroomlike figure that provokes symbolic images of seething physical enjoyment Shim's works are luxurious but at the same time, gloomy and lovely but at the same time, contain painful self-reproaching pathos. Her work possesses endless desire for the spiritual world that surpasses far behind of our imagination. She sees the light at the end of the hell that is deeper than the death itself, like the life saving rope that Dante had grabbed with great difficulty when he was in the deep mire of skepticism. We can reach into her art world only when we reach her deepest art world. She hangs dangerously at the end of the world where one feels farther away from it when one gets more enthusiastic about her works.
My impression on Young-churl Shim works starts from her Babel Tower made of 1,500 Bibles stacked up together. At that moment, it was a shock and a strength. The seven candles, emerged as an one group, made me imagine horrific catastrophic allegory as seen in the Revelation. Even though the Tower made of Bibles had very vulnerable structure, it was able to solidly stood there with the help of invincible strength of faith. So, the perilous and yet solid trace of accumulation always stays in my mind with considerable weight. But, I decided to forget about her work for the sake of my psychological convenience. My life was too busy and my world view was too different form that of Shim's for me to remember her work in depth any more.
I look at her works as a pagan and an onlooker, but also as a paradoxical observer. I would like to mention her 'Electronic Garden' that strikes my mind and symbolizes garden of sensuality. I rethink about that exceptional magical power that leads me into the deep contemplation with its gushing voluptuousness with uneasiness. Furthermore, the mushroom's organic figure and luxurious decoration surrounding the figure makes juxtaposition with geometrical structure that goes well with machinelike and neutralness of stainless steel and metallic cool and that makes us wonder on where we suppose to rest our imagination. An imaginary plant, made of scrap metal, is growing at one side and the mysterious light, that swims through the dark space in between the plant, shines their heads facing upward.
All kinds of sophisticated terminologies that make modern art holier, such as ready made, assemblage, junk art, combine sculpture, nouveau realism, installation, technology art, cybernetics etc. beg me to define Shim's work with one of these words. However, it makes me wonder. whether any of those terminology is any help in understanding her work and I try to imagine something that is very remote from her work. All art products are the descendant of confusion since there was a confusion at the beginning of the world.
Everyone agrees on the fact that Shim has been displaying art works using electricity, video, neon, hologram, fiber optics, computer, virtual reality and electronic control system since he returned from the U.S.A. In this regard, she can be called as a successor of Prometheus who delivered civilization to the human and descendant of Hepaistos the blacksmith. As clearly seen in her work, she uses all necessary materials to express her intent in her works. That consolidate her work into one axis called religion but that is also acting as a factor that allows her work to equip with openness and prevents her work to becoming scaled back to a religious confession and subjective self-hypnosis and furthermore to a enlightement level.
Like she did in the past, the phrase in the Bible 'Distress produces patience, patience produces discipline and discipline produces hope'1) was used as a theme for her display. One can witness from her display theme, she is trying to visually express the process of creation of the world. The viewers will be encountered with framed door made of wood first when they enter the room. The frame is composed of geometrical feature that reminds the images of compositionists' creation. When the viewer go through the door, they see the assemblage of mushrooms, orderly placed in the dark room. These geometrically aligned mushrooms, that are made of plywood, are cleanly lined up like the trees planted in the newly built road. The floating soft pastel colored mushrooms are like the of foundation stone or pillar that support the shrine and it also like the parade of pilgrims who follows the road of religion. By appropriately setting the light in each mushroom, it seems that she tried to emphasize the holiness of her work by the light coming out of the mushrooms. As one walks into the path, one encounters the space where Shim display her 'Electronic Garden', which has been displayed for few times in the past. in that 'Electronic Garden', there are human figures of mushrooms made by welding scrap metal objects that are disintegrated from various machine parts, TV monitors confined by synthetic materials that look like lump of soil or rocks, and mushrooms made of marble and bronze. The 'Electric Garden' is the man-made space (virtual or cyber space) rather than an imitation of the nature, that was created by the God. However, this man-made space is composed of various materials. The 'Electronic Garden', which is the composition of Christian discussions, manifests the common desire of human and beauty that emits brilliant light that goes beyond Christianity. Eroticism lies at the center of that beauty. First, let's focus on the fact that the things that stimulate our eroticism took the form of mushroom figure which symbolizes female's secret body part and male's sex. As publicly known, mushrooms use sprogenesis as their reproduction method and thrive in wet land. The mushroom contains fatal poisons if they have more vivid and beautiful colors. So, mushroom is a food that has rich nutritions but at the same time, it is a poison that destructs like the feeling of love is an endless exchanges of abundance and deficiency and it accompanies indispensible relationship with the impulse of death, mushroom has attribute of double standards that act as supplier of nutrition and poison and graceful beauty and hateful temptation towards corruption. The mushroom that grow in the land can be defined as a mysterious creature that sprouts out of the land's womb. The shape of mushroom that has sexual uniqueness in its form and it also contains special features in its requirement for survival. Let's now look at the shape of mushroom that stimulates our eroticism in conjunction with other regions' totem worshipping religion that have mushroomlike figures. In carrying out the research on finding out the role of Icon in the spirit of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Mircea Eliade mentioned unique Indian culture based on his experiences. During his stay in India, he witnessed married and unmarried women rubbing their bodies with 'lingam' and decorating their bodies with flowers. Lingam symbolizes male's sexual organ and it takes the form of finely sculpted male genital made of stone. If the female used this lingam was married, she would have known what that was and what kind of physiological function it carried out. That enabled him to realize the real meaning of lingam. Lingam symbolizes mysteriousness of the universe, ie, mysteriousness of life, creativeness and richness. For these reasons, lingam does not symbolize reduced human body parts that can be interpreted as a anatomical thinking but it symbolizes the God of Shiva. Generally speaking, the religious impression from the icon and symbol and its potential had opened the world of spiritual value to Eliade.2) The word lingam is connected to the Sanskrit language 'linga', means genital, and 'langula', means a plow, and these words have special importance in Hinduism. And the word langula came from Australia's Asiatic root 'lak'. The word lak refers to shovel and symbolizes male's reproductive organ. Figuratively speaking, female is compared with the earth and male's reproductive organ is compared with shovel and seeding is considered as same as sexual act. Therefore, male genital symbolizes farmer's productive plowing activity.3)
It represents human's genuine assimilation into the nature and example of showing spiritual value that is connected to human's sexual activity.
In this regard, I would like to direct my attention to the symbolic meaning of the mushroom which is the significant object of Young-churl Shim work. The mushroom can have a symbolic meaning of male sexuality or female sexuality and mysteriousness of life-since the mushroom thrives on the dead trees-that springs out of gloomy death. At any rate, one has to remember that like the lingam, that Eliade paid special attention, the mushroom's external similarities with lingam eventually lead into the extension of life and richness and fertility.
I sense the mushroom as an eroslike impulse through aura that flows in Shim's entire work not as the sexual characteristics that the mushroom contains. Individually, the independent mushrooms represent "Beautiful one'. The beautiful lover refers to inescapable sea of grace that makes her to go into the deep hole and a parody for the God. However, I envision another world that seems to be beyond that boundary and that is the desire toward eros. Without the need to mention S. Freud's Psychological Analysis, we know that Eros represents man's desire for life, ie, something that has very close relationship with the protection of human race. Eros was the son of Aphrodite, it was the Goddess of Beauty and symbolized desire. Eros was able to achieve his love with beautiful Psyche who is symbolizing spirit. The Eros' mythology represents allegory on the victory of love that overcomes the God' interference. For that reason, many Greek philosophers glorified Eros. Plato's 'symposia' is the most well known example of that glorification of Eros.
The love, that wants to be one by consolidating two similar bodies, is the representation of our basic instinct that wants to go back to our original state. The fact that we want to be one whole person by combining two unstable entities mean that we are the manifestation of Eros and could that represents our challenge towards the God? But we humans do not realize the fact that the God separated up into two unstable being.4)
Of course, the glorification of Eros by Aristophanes who was invited to the playwriter Agaton's house was not the conclusion of the feast. Socrates, who also was invited to Aristophanes', had proved that Eros, who tried to reach idea was the ultimate idea by using his uniquely ironical conversational technique that denied fictions contained in eloquent speakers' argument by using his logic of igno-rance. But to reach the conclusion, physical love was not denied. "By giving birth and raise and prosper, make the land abundant". "All living creatures in the land, all birds in the sky, all crawling creatures and fishes in the sea are afraid of you horrified of you since they are in your hands".5) As seen in this phrase, the Genesis of Old Testament also did not deny the achievement of love through the exchange of human's, the God's creation, sexual activity. Eroticism is definitely a form of special reproductive organ, but the act reproduction and act of rearing offsprings are often the result of psychological pursuit rather physiological or medical pursuit. That is, even though eroticism has indispensible relationship with sexual act, it is also connected to personal passion and obsession that are related to sex, anthropological, mythological and psychoanalytical issues. In fact, it is not the overstatement to say that the history of mankind was largely led by sexual love and sexual desire between man and woman. Sex carries tremendous weight in a person's live and mythology and art often uses this love (or lovemaking) between man and woman as a theme. Sex satisfies reproductive desire of human and it also satisfies human's pleasure side and it discreetly encounters with the death. The sculpture showing the worship for female's reproductive capability in primitive multilineal society and primitive tribal culture that connects sexual act between man and woman with abundance of food, suggest that people considered sexual act as a sacred activity.
As one can see in Young-churl Shim's work, the aura of Eros' contains even the characteristics of mythology and isn't that why people tried to related her work to shamanism? But, it is necessary to pay attention on the fact that she is accommodating sex as a condition for human rather than she considered it as a sacred thing. Another word, she had expressed feeling of love and sex not only as a procedure and expression of life but she transformed it into the love towards the God. I think that will be expressed as a form of enhancing human's sensuality in her work. Her 'Electronic Garden', that emits erotic aura at the maximum level, is not the Garden of Eden but rather it shows the end of civilization. It could be the Sothom and Gomora that God punished, it could also be the millennium empire completed by science and technology and furthermore, Young-churl Shim's 'Electronic Garden' is the world that includes heaven and hell at the same time, as seen in Hieronymus Bosch's 'Garden of Delight'. Even though, it is loud and outgoing and mutual reaction from the sound and light flowing out of the various electronic sensor, the Garden represents 'Mooreundowon' that oriental culture pursues or 'Archadia' in Greek mythology rather than utopia. However, above all these interpretations, the Garden itself represents the concept of 'here and now', the reality. It acts as a mirror of our world and reflection of ourselves that love and hate and birth and death.
The 'Electronic Garden', where mankind's all kinds of feelings and order and confusion intertwine, lead people to reach the state of losing oneself or mysterious ecstasy where the God and human become one, ie, ekstasis that goes beyond of phenomenon by using the light that shines material (body) as an agency. Her work leads people into ekstasis in that it is filled with psychological 'ekstasis' like the ones seen in Bernini's St. Teresa's ecstasy. Like the 'Electronic Garden' that expressed religious miracle and the God's grace that the saint has experienced into the state of sexual fantasy, Young-churl Shim expresses Eros' final goal that surpasses physicality and humanness, ie, the joy of completed love, like the proved truth by Socrates, with exalted religious ecstasy as an ultimate form. By doing that, she tried to find the light of rescue that will lead one to Eros to Caritas through lonely man, in the Old Testament era, who was chosen by the God who punished the land of ecstasy.
According to the Ganan mythology, to punish the worldly sin in the Noah era, Yahveh created the Deluge and let Adam's descent and Lamac's son Noah to make the Ark and ordered to board a pair of all living creatures and pass down their genes into next generations. As intended, Yahveh send all the living creatures except the ones on the Ark into the water and send down rainbow to keep the promise he made with the living creatures. The Christians interpret the relief from the flood as the symbol of baptism and Noah's Ark as the symbol of church. The Deluge was not witnessed only Old Testament if it is seen as the branch of mythology and not as a Christian creed. The first epic poet, Gilgmeshi who was the legendary king and even the god of ancient Mesophotamia's Sumerian people, wrote the phrase in his poem describing that punishes human with horrible flood. All mythologies in the agricultural society recognized natural phenomenon such as birth of plant, drought, harvest, famine, birth and death as a sexual recycling process, the most representative example of that is seen in ancient Greek mythology called Mesophotemia's Tamuse mythology.6) The mythology described fight between Aphrodite and the Goddess of Earth Persepone in Babylonian religious literature, Tamuse was described as the God of reproduction Ishtar's mate or lover in the natural phenomenon. In harsh natural environment where it is divided into rainy and dry season, Tamuse dies every year and descend into the other dark world from the joyful this world. She set out for travel into dark world to look for her lover. When she goes down to underground, her passion for love doesn't operate, so all living things stop their reproduction activities and face the crisis of destruction. But when she returns to the earth with her lover, the earth regain its vitality immediately and all living creatures thrive in the water and on the earth. Besides the example of showing the love between man and woman was personified as a natural phenomenon that relates the love with the death and shows the cycling process of the lovers' birth, death and reincarnation, these examples are seen in the mythology related to poet Orpeus and his wife Euripides.
The God's grace for wishing reproduction, prosperity and fertility of land can be considered as a glorification on active reproduction activities. The Noah's flood can be interpreted as an moratorium on sexual activity, ie, the same as the time when Ishitar went underground. Usually, ark is the place where preserves seeds for all reproductive plants and it can be seen as the and of womb where the seeds can bear out the deadly darkness and silence.
By looking at Young-churl Shim's version of Noah's Ark, I thought that her work does not only mean the rescue from Christian way of thinking but she might tried to express mysterious and profound cycling process that starts from the birth of life and destruction with overflowing sexual energy. The shape of mushrooms growing out of the ship is look like the shape of penis from outside but it could be interpreted as a thing that refers to living creatures that do not stop growing even in the deadly silence and bear life with endurable life. The neon surround them symbolizes promise of fertility, that is, beautiful promise like the rainbow. However, her work does not seem to stop in expressing glorification of preserving life and prosperity through the exchange of sexual activity. Interestingly, in her ship, there is a young man hiding his eyes with feather. It naturally make us related her work to 'Blind Cupid' interpreted in Panofsky's 'Studies in Iconology'.7) That is, in the Renaissance's painting, Cupid, the son of Venus (Ahprodite), the Goddess of Beauty and Passion, is expressed as an Eros (love) in the Greek mythology and Venus had given to her offspring called 'pleasure' by consummation with Psyche (spirit). The reason why Cupid appeared with his eyes shielded was because of the influence of Christian morality was in effect, and it also meant some kind of forbiddeness. In the Bible, as much as it place much importance in the sexual activity, one can witness phrases that forbids sexual activity in many places in the Bible and it can also be witnessed in Noah's record. Noah represents the lonely being chosen by the God and at the same time, Noah was the founder of agricultural technology. After the Deluge, Noah settled down in the land and harvested grape vine and made wine. One day, Noah's son and Ganan's ancestor Ham saw Noah's lower part of his body sleeping naked and drunk and inform this to his two sons. Noah scolded Ham for that and cursed that Ham's offspring will be the servant of his other son Sam. Noah's son Sam and Yamet ignore the fact that they saw their father's naked lower part and put their father's lower body with clothes but Ham on the other hand, just embarrassed about the situation and let other siblings know about the fact. Noah was seen as the figure who was equipped with both godness (lonely being) and human-ness (drunkeness). According to the Bible, Noah's drunkeness was occurred because he was working with Satan when he made wine. Satan poured blood of killed sheep, lion, pig and monkey on the roots of grape vine. Satan made Noah to realize what kind of characteristics the wine contains. So, Noah's curse is seen as a lion's violence rather than an act sacred promise. At any rate, Noah's curse on Ham made us think the classical rule called violation and forbiddeness on sex. In this respect, Young-churl Shim's Noah's Ark contains the dual structure that glorifies reproduction through sexual activity and glorification of natural phenomenon based on sexual activity and also the curse on sexuality when it is used indiscreetly.
Mushrooms, that are growing at the wet swamp land, can be considered as a symbol of all living things like the Osiris' body, who was the god living in wet ancient Egypitan land, was expressed as green that symbolized the reproduction of life. That is a expression of people's awe that overcame severe environment and at the same time, it is a metaphor for expressing respect towards the nature. Generally speaking, the eroticism in the mythology has similar characteristics. The characteristics in her works such as mysterious environment, sensuality, space as a altar and nature, sensitive and orderly growth image are the expression of surprise on sexual exchange and they are the expression of holy self reflection on the God's grace like the Noah's case where she glorified the rainbow after the big disaster. Her wish to return to the God meets the climax and expressed as a thorny crown that the Jesus wore when the she was crucified into the cross. The love achieved after experiencing difficulties is completed at the thorny crown.
Through all these, one can see that the visual panoramic characteristics of her work is the strive for God's supernatural love known as agape from humanlike eros, love for the neighborhood, caritas which is the most valuable love among the three love for God, namely religion, hope and love. Therefore, Young-churl Shim's work manifests selfrespect state defined by Standal's egotism in that it describes psychological characteristics in a very detailed way, which is different from the concept of egoism used in English. In conclusion, she explains that the origin of sin did not stem out from by just looking but on the contrary, one can get salvation only through the holy acts. And she suggests that by using loud and sensual virtual reality.
Tae-man Choi / art critic
1. The New Testament, Rome, chapter 5, phrase 3 and 4.
2. Aphstoros-Kapadona: Eliade: artist, critic, poet scholar. M. Eliade: 'Symbolic and Holy art', translated by Kyu-tae Park, published by Suhkwangsa. p17.
3. Ibid, p36.
4. From Plato's 'Symposia', announcement part of Aristopanes (quoated from Kan, Wal-do's rewriting.
5. The Old Testament, Genesis, chapter 9, book 1 and 2.
6. J. C. Frazer: Golden Branch, Translated by Sang-il Kim, published by Eulyoo Moonwhasa. pp.407-410.
7. E. Panofsky: Studies in Iconology, Harper & Row. Pub.. 1972. pp. 95-128.
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