Looking at the World from a Fantasy Garden : Young-ho Kim > Review

'Love' is the motive of my art world

Shim, Young Churl
Review Review


'Love' is the motive of my art world

Looking at the World from a Fantasy Garden : Young-ho Kim

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Young-ho Kim (Art Critic, Professor of Chung-Ang University)



Young-churl Shim has a very unique position in Korean contemporary art. Shim had her first solo exhibition in 1983 with a series of wood sculptures titled Comb, which showed combs in transformed shapes. Shim was inspired by the combs we use every day. Since then, Shim has crossed over into many different genres of art, from installations to new media, holograms, and performance art to environmental art, not to mention sculpture. She is truly an artist of colorful experience. She has dealt with a wide range of subjects, from individual exploration into femininity to religious messages, sexuality to historical incidents, all of which testify to her uniqueness. Young-churl Shim's career of thirty years as a contemporary artist shows diversity of genres and subjects, which I think originates from her natural passion for creative work. She is now in her mid-fifties, but her passion for creation remains as bright as ever.

Shim's talent as a sculptor was already evident in her early series about combs made of stone in 1983. She was attracted by the beauty of a comb and the repetition of its teeth, a small object to adorn women and a symbol of femininity. By exaggerating and transforming the basic form of a comb, Shim was recognized by her colleagues for outstanding talent and accomplishment as a sculptor. I am particularly interested in her early works because they are not only of outstanding formative beauty, but I also want to emphasize that her complex and diverse techniques in her later works are based on her outstanding artistic sense and aesthetics about sculpture. Shim was already recognized as a promising artist upon graduation from college. In the preface of the article published on the occasion of her exhibition, Professor Chung Gwan-mo lavished unreserved praise upon her work, saying, "Her aesthetic and senses are extremely sharp."

The works of the Electronic Garden series, which can be said to have set the trend of Shim's works, were results of changes in Shim's living environment. During her five years of study in the US, Shim discovered new technology and Christianity, to which she became devoted after her return home to Korea. She combined them to create new, truly original art. Throughout the 1990s, Shim continued to explore various media instead of working only with traditional materials for sculpture such as stone and wood. Shim attempted to maximize visual experience through media such as monitors and neon, and holograms, and optical fiber. Her works during this period are filled with festive mood and exorcist energies. Particularly noteworthy is that the Electronic Garden series reveals dualistic fantasy. That is, her works have sacred religious meaning, while at the same time expressing eroticism and sexual iconography. The Electronic Garden series garnered a tremendous response from art critics both from home and abroad, giving rise to a huge critical debate. The source of dualistic fantasy combining transcendental saintliness and erotic sexuality seen in her work was interpreted as a product of Shim's self-searching as a human being, and her works were interpreted as true results of her transformation through her self-searching.

After 2000, Shim began to produce the Monumental Garden series. This series seems to be a result of her compromising the limits of variable installation works as formative art and monumental formative consciousness deeply rooted inside her. The rising demand for environmental sculptures also naturally led to creation of this series. Coming out of closed spaces of exhibition halls, her installations were erected outside in natural and urban environments, providing opportunities for Shim to let her sculptures be wildly exposed to the public. Huge stone pillars reminiscent of an ancient sanctuary transformed into mushroom-like sculptures in various shapes and sizes and were installed in extended spaces. For Young-churl Shim, this journey of on-going exploration extends in direct connection from her previous works. Even the materials and subjects were all the same as those in previous years. What was different was the greater passion and competence of the artist, which allowed her to work in a city and natural space as well as indoor space. Shim's Monumental Garden aspires to be multi-media art that engenders diverse media including glass and lighting not to mention sculpture made of traditional materials. With Shim starting work as a consultant for the Korea Golf & Art Village project by an enterprise developing a multinational golf course, she began to achieve the remarkable feat of creating space by environmental sculptures where nature and art are in harmony.

Shim is now working on installation works of simple forms using stainless steel beads of various sizes. She is particularly immersed in her Shape of Sound series. This series is of flowers or square spaces of beads of about 10 centimeters in diameter. Beads hanging on vertical lines give off clear sounds as they strike each other by natural impetus from the wind, viewers' touch, or other forces. Shim's Shape of Sound is a 'kinetic sculpture' in that movement is an important element, and it is also 'sound sculpture' in that sound is used as an element to perceive the space. Furthermore, it is 'light sculpture' which emphasizes the effect of light reflected on the surfaces of stainless steel beads, and it is 'image sculpture' in that surrounding images reflected on the surfaces of the beads create mysterious space captured by fisheye lens. Shape of Sound is a multi-dimensional sculpture embracing movement and sound, and light and images. It expands the territory of sculpture as artwork that elicits viewers' participation coupled with varied formative beauty.

Shim recently installed a series of Shape of Sound on the upper part of the escalator of Opera House Square of Seoul Arts Center. This piece is an installation work made of stainless steel beads and still shows completed effects as a monumental artwork. The huge petal-shaped piece endears itself to the surrounding spaces of an escalator. Sometimes, air flowing in from outside makes the beads move and strike each other and make clear sounds. Lighting installed in ordinary space below this piece reflects off the hundreds of beads, making the work sparkle like jewelry. The images of viewers riding the escalator are, likewise, scattered on the surfaces of the hundreds of beads, bringing the viewers for a moment into an otherworldly environment. Shim's installation work is, thus, linked to the place where it is installed, and it arouses a different kind of inspiration and meaning depending on conditions in which it is placed.


Another type of work from the Shape of Sound series shows threaded stainless steel beads hanging down like a curtain all around the square steel structure. On this square structure is a mirror such that the curtain image is extended to the bottom. Unlike other works showing specific formative images, this piece is intended as a space for performance. The artist invites viewers into an inner space and wants them to share the memories of sound the artist herself experienced. Touching the curtain of beads as if smoothing down walls, she wants desire for narcissism to shoot out on the hundreds of images reflected off of these beads. Thus, the bead curtain functions as both a space of experience and a space of deep reflection.


Shim's art is always on the border. Her art straddles the border between diverse genres and media, but interfaces where fragments of consciousness flowing inside meet while conflicting with each other. In reverse order, her pursuit of the boundary can be seen as a factor that makes Shim's work rich and full of vitality. Shim's creative energy arises where the boundaries between genres are blurred and reconstructed. Her artistic journey, which may seem childish at times, contradictory or unfinished at other times, resists being evaluated by aesthetic perfection or the criteria of critics. If the journey of life is a process of thinking about boundaries of good and evil, truth and hypocrisy, and beauty and ugliness, and if art reveals such process, Young-churl Shim's thoughts about the boundary as a source of energy flowing on the foundation of her work ensure the authenticity of her works.


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