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K.NOTe no.25

Gunwoo Shin


K.NOTe no.25

Gunwoo Shin


Publisher Total Museum Press Pyungchang 32gil 10, Jongno-gu, Seoul Korea (03004) Tel. 82-2-379-7037 Director Jooneui Noh Editor in Chief Nathalie Boseul Shin, Yoon Jeong Koh Cordinator Hyosup Jung, Taeseong Yi Intern Minseo Park, Eunyoung Park Designer Hein Sohn Sponsor Arts Council Korea Date of Publication 2017. 4 Š Author and artist The reproduction of the contents of this magazine in whole or in part without written permission if prohibited.


K.NOTe #25 Why Was He Compelled to Talk about “Isolation”? Nam-See Kim Art Theory. Aesthetics. Art Criticism

Though Gunwoo Shin majored in sculpture at college, he didn’t walk through the typical path of a sculptor. Rather, he “wandered” around, wavering between sculpture and painting as well as between plane and solid. Yet, that wandering, I believe, is what has driven Shin to his highly productive work today. Even though Shin created a lot of two-dimensional pieces of art, he was never completely immersed in plane. Take his two-dimensional work on aluminum. He scratches an aluminum plate to create an artwork. Is this a painting or a sculpture? Maybe his work is closer to painting since it is a visual outcome created on plane. His sculptural sensibility, however, has led him to choose aluminum, which is “more artificial” and “sexier”, over iron, refusing the tradition of painting that it should stick to paper or canvas. Moreover, unlike conventional drawing or painting, his work on aluminum is not restricted only to the surface. In his early years, Shin scratched patterns into aluminum plates and attached objets onto them. If anything changed later on, it is that certain colors and figures started to emerge on the aluminum plates. Yet, the way such colors and figures appear is also different from ordinary painting. The artist scratches or colors an aluminum plate and then rubs the surface with sandpaper. Through this process, the scratched or colored surface disappears and becomes a mark or maybe a trace. By repeating this job, the artist adds multiple layers onto the aluminum surface. When you look into his works more closely, you can see the traces of the multiple layers he created. On the very bottom exists the cold hue of aluminum itself, on which a number of abstract marks scratched into the aluminum plate appear. 4

> Runner(detail) acrylic on resin on wooden board 90 Ă— 60 cm, 2015


Overlapping the marks, multiple layers of colors and fragmentary figures show up. Those layers create a contemplative depth on the surface, something like our inner side where scars from repeated wounds and chaotic memories overlap each other. Those scratched marks, scattered colors, and fragmented figures create an impulse, which is held down under by the transparent medium the artist uses to coat the surface. This power of things that are "held back" or "detained", the power of things that want to spring up from the extraordinary depth, such tensions abide in Shin’s two-dimensional work on aluminum as well as in his painting-relief (combination of painting and relief). While his aluminum works contrive to hold back the objects that are trying too flounce off, Shin’s painting-relief allows the characters to “stick out,” as if there were no other choices. In fact, this is, however, just an alibi for freedom. Even though the characters, broken out of the two-dimensional plane, look freer, they are, in effect, more “stuck” in the canvas than the fragmentary figures and expressive colors on the aluminum plates. Not only half of their body created in relief is literally stuck inside the canvas, but their inner states are more restrained than their bodies by a sort of forceful internal suppressions. Primarily, this is attributed to the form itself, "paining-relief". First, the artist wraps canvas around a wooden plate. Then, he forms clay into a desired shape and makes a mold with silicone, into which he pours resin to create a relief. Now, the artist attaches the relief onto the wooden plate covered with canvas and lastly he draws on the canvas and paints the relief. When working on such paintingrelief, the artist must carefully calculate in advance the size of the artwork as well as the size and shape of both the object that will be drawn on the canvas and the relief that will be attached onto the surface. The original object you create with clay should be made according to the pre-calculated size and the location where the relief is going to be placed should also be planned accurately. Only when all those factors are thoroughly planned does the whole manufacturing process go smoothly. In this respect, painting6

relief has no room for the feelings of the moment or spontaneous movements of hands. That is, the possibility of impromptu, emotional expressions that were allowed in his aluminum work is blocked at source. Such methods remind us of religious icons, in which spontaneous and personal feelings couldn't get involved due to strict rules on the style of expression and the postures and facial expressions of the characters. Traditionally, relief sculpture was a style of art which was used to portray gods, heroes, and rulers to decorate, mainly, temples. Above all, relief sculpture pre-determines the direction from which the artwork is shown. Relief doesn’t allow us to look at it from the direction we want. Though relieves put up on the walls are actually facing us, we cannot see beyond or behind what is in front of us. In other words, the other side of a relief is hidden from us. We cannot see the rear of a figure in the relief. In religious structures, relieves permit us to see only the front not the back of saints and authorities. This trait may be similar to that of painting in that it can also be seen only from a certain direction. The decisive difference between painting and relief is, however, that characters in relief sculptures are a step “towards us” than those in paintings. Characters in relieves protrude toward us from the plane surface. However, such is the very aspect that places a contradictory demand on the relieves of gods and saints. In relief, saints are “out” into the real world we live in but they cannot be the same as us humans. They, albeit being close to us, must maintain their transcendence as “saints”, which keeps them at a distance from us. Throughout the history of Western art, no other object has faced such contradictory demand more than the figure of Jesus Christ. Jesus is a son of God born with a human body. This duplicity being both a god and a man has posed a fundamental dilemma in embodying Jesus Christ. Since he is a god, humanizing Jesus calls for great discretion. Yet, at the same time, it is required to reveal some of his humane qualities as he was born with a human body. The Crucifixion where Jesus dies after going through a tremendous amount of pain in order to atone for people' sin is the crux of this dilemma. 7

The physical pains Jesus has suffered deserve to be highlighted, while not undermining his transcendence as god. Hence, the face of Jesus is very calm in contrast to the obvious physical pains he is being given. His body is covered with severe wounds and blood coming out of them, but his face doesn't expose any feelings of pain his body may be experiencing. The body cries in the throes of death but the face is in divine calmness, which doesn’t mind the pain of the body. This is what gives the figure of Jesus Christ a transcendental distance, barring us from being presumptuous to feel empathy with the half-God and half-man. Let’s take a look at the characters of Shin’s painting-relieves. Their bodies are being dreadfully destroyed like the body of Jesus on the Cross. A warship penetrates through a man's heart, planes are stuck in a man's chest and calves, a man’s head is decapitated, the body of the Runner is split into halves from the skull, and the left wrist of the Ghost seems amputated. However, all the characters maintain a grave, calm, and contemplative countenance. Winckelmann‘s comment on Laocoon’s look that remained stern even when he and his two sons were being eaten by a giant snake - "noble simplicity and quiet grandeur" - may apply to the faces of the characters in Shin’s painting-relieves. However, when you go more in-depth into Shin’s work, you can see that such calm faces are not a reflection of inner peace or stability as they are in Greek sculptures, but rather, an expression of strictness which is holding back the pains, memories, and desires struggling to break away with as much or even more powerful energy. Therefore, I say those expressions are a product of tense self-control. The tension, shown throughout the whole process of Shin’s painting-relief, which contrasts with the grave calm faces, is what makes me think so. Dominating Shin’s painting-relief are the motifs of “penetration” and “slit”. Fighter jets pass through his character’s chest and legs, a warship penetrates into a man’s heart, and a number of shells are stabbed into a woman’s back. There are holes in the walls as if they were bombarded and asphalt roads are torn up like scars. In <Defiance>, the motifs of penetration, slit, and crack can be found 8

in the surfing board, the edge of the desk, the painting machine, and the cactuses growing through the drawer. They are also in the dark clouds coming through the window, the surfing board with a threateningly sharp edge, and the scene where the tail of a female sphinx, facing the face of a man naked to the waist, touches the penis of the man. When we look at the cracks - cut, scratched, or torn up - dotted on the surface of Shin’s painting-relieves from this perspective, it is as if there were a monster, breathing hard beneath the canvas or behind the characters where our sight cannot reach, powerful enough to swallow all of us unless it is detained this way. Shin’s works were born from the encounter of the forceful power trying to protrude from the surface and the artistic elements holding back the force. In his two-dimensional aluminum works, a solid medium serves as a restraint, while in painting-relieves, the method and the form themselves are what holds back the power. This creates a subtle tension surrounding Shin’s works of art. In Shin’s work, a lot of biblical motifs - St. Martin, Salome, St. Christopher, the Annunciation, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus put down from the Cross, and Doubting Thomas – are mixed together with ordinary objects, people, animals and plants. Motifs of religious paintings of Rubens and Angelico appear simultaneously with images from Japanese Ukiyo-e, altar portraits of Buddha, and traditional Islam paintings. Perhaps such hybridity is another trace of wandering led by the strenuous work of “holding back” that Shin may be taking on.


> ambushed III 50×75×185 cm graphite on resin 2013



> blitzkrieg 180Ă&#x2014;366 cm acrylic on resin on aluminium 2013



> Crow's ordeal 140Ã&#x2014;140 cm acrylic on resin on wooden board 2015



> Defiance(ph.2) 80Ă&#x2014;120 cm acrylic on resin on wooden board 2015





Harrow mixed media on aluminium 40Ă&#x2014;60 cm 2015


> matador II(triptych) (detail),120Ă&#x2014;140 cm acrylic on resin on aluminium,wooden box 2015



> matador I,II,III(triptych) 120Ã&#x2014;280 cm acrylic on resin on aluminium, wooden box, 2015



> Rustproof(ph.1) acrylic on resin 26×14×79 cm plinth 33×33×90 cm 2016


< Tae(ph.1) acrylic on resin 30×35×72 cm plinth 40×40×80 cm 2016


> Yves 165×40×40 cm pigment on resin,neon light 2015



> Hiatus 110Ă&#x2014;220 cm acrylic on resin on aluminium 2014



Gunwoo Shin Gunwoo Shin(b.1978) is korean visual artist based in Seoul and London. He optained his BFA and MFA in Seoul National University in 2006 and continued his study in Slade school of Fine Art, London. His remarkable solo exhibitions were 'BLITZ' at Gallery2 in 2013 and 'All Saints' at Gallery Koo in 2015. His most recent solo exhibition is 'retrograde' at Noblesse Collection in 2017.

Nam-See Kim Ph.D. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Art Theory. Aesthetics. Art Criticism Professor, College of Art & Design, Ewha Womans University



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