The murky scape

The murky scape

At the very first sight, Seoung Wook Sim's work attracts and disturbs at the same time. His sculptural pieces are dark, stark, menacing, unhinged, and anxious. Things seem to be falling apart. They hang precariously from the ceiling, spread venomously on the floor, or stick perilously on the wall. Time and space stand suspended unsteadily. Borders and addresses appear and blur quickly.  Aspects of illusion and reality melt, and ominous signs of gloom and doom, fear, and even death seep through. No two viewers are likely to feel and respond to Sim's art in the  same way.

The young and genial artist from South Korea says that his work is principally about imagined landscapes, objects, people and physical constructs. They are clearly not 'attractive' illustrations but thought-provoking reflections of a sublime, if tragic, reality of an unstable world. They present signals of psychological stress and a silent call for deeper understanding of the hazardous world we have ourselves created.

Sim's work has been exhibited widely, receiving critical admiration. In 2014, his piece titled Construction and Deconstruction was awarded the grand prize in the sculpture section of the Prudential Eye Awards in Singapore. The artist was at the Incheon art platform, South Korea, recently. Here are excerpts from a freewheeling discussion...

On his background/art education

My father, who worked for the government, was supportive of my decision to pursue art. He probably saw the limitations of a well-paying but a tedious bureaucratic job. My mother, however, worried about the risks of a career in art. Anyway, I graduated from Hongik University, Seoul before heading to complete my masters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA.  Art education has been helpful to me in many ways. In remembering how Mary Jane Jacob, the dean of the Institute at Chicago, encouraged and inspired me to explore ways and discover a visual language to convey my ideas.

On his choice of material

From the very beginning, I was not very keen on conventional materials like wood, stone, steel, etc, although I appreciated their inherent qualities. I was more interested in unconventional materials  that represented a modern
aesthetic and also brought a new challenge which suited my kind of work. I have been a professional artist since 2007, and in these 10 years have explored the exceptional qualities of plastic and in particular, glue sticks. My sculptures are sometimes large and appear complex, but I have found a rather simplified process which helps make them.  

On the dark themes his work seems to address

From an early age, I possessed a streak of protest and dissent. Since my father was in the government of the past regime, I had to suppress them to a large extent. Things have changed substantially now, and we can freely express ourselves. My views and concerns about social, political and cultural issues have always remained strong. I do not,
however, consider myself to be an activist, or that my work to be overtly ideological. I believe that a good artwork provides broad hints about the artist's ideas, concerns and motivations. It is up to the viewers to interpret these hints and suggestions in their own ways.

On his Black Gravity series...

I have worked on the Black Gravity series for almost a decade, using hot-melt glue sticks. In doing so, I fabricate and pile up dark ornamental forms, which look like a big black and weird sculpture. These works come through a meditation about the imaginary and unreal worlds. I have always had this curiosity about this strange world where one feels isolated in a constricted space. Black Gravity is a physical manifestation of a psychological response to an imaginary world that differs vastly from a physical one. For instance, one cannot measure the weight of shadows by using a conventional method; but it is possible for an artist to create shadows that appear light or heavy. All these may sound a bit ridiculous, but they aid and encourage me to traverse into the unknown.

On the importance of the viewer's response

Very important! The viewer, in many ways, brings a closure to the artwork by conveying his interpretation. I am always curious to know the viewer's reaction even if I don't concur with his interpretation. Same goes for the critic. In my view, a critic can bring in a new perspective or reading to my work, which can be useful to my artistic growth.

About international exhibitions and venues

It is a great experience to show one's works at different venues. My works have featured in shows in the US, the UK and elsewhere. Being sculptures, there are many challenges ­ ­, but in the end, it is all satisfying and educative to expose them to different audiences.  Although I'm a Korean artist dealing basically with local issues, my work could also be relevant to other people on a global level.

On size & scale of his work

I feel size and scale are not so important as long as the theme is properly addressed. I have, of course, worked on varying sizes depending upon the theme, curatorial briefing, space availability, etc.

About the larger context driving his recent work

My recent work basically looks critically at this cycle of construction, destruction, reconstruction, and deconstruction, which happens continuously and rampantly everywhere. I try to observe the borders or edges of this everyday phenomenon. Curiously, at some points, there seems to be no difference between construction and deconstruction! I seek to examine this aspect of reality - not just from a mechanical or representational point of view - but as something which has long-term socio-political implications for everyone. Ultimately, I see all these as a manifestation of human desires and greed, not restricted to one community or country, but spread across universally. I try to present this stark reality through my work.

On his future projects

I don't know. Tomorrow is always a mystery. Better to be concerned about today, right?

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