Seung Yul Oh | Huggong-Monologue
09.07.22 - 20.08.22
The latest solo exhibition by Seung Yul Oh teases concepts of hard and soft and introduces two new works. Bowl takes the form of a monkey, the latest in a series of anthropomorphic sculptures that explore the dynamics of scale and oscillate between adorable and curious. Although enlarged to roughly one metre in length, Oh’s sculpture is accurately proportioned and realistic, seeming to come to life as it nimbly walks along a rod on all fours. We would expect the body of a monkey to have the warmth and softness of a living being, but this one is solid with a core of hard resin.
Oh’s sculptural practice has long sustained an intense dialogue between artist and material. His continuous exploration of non-traditional materials and their capacity to elicit emotion has included both domestic and industrial substances. He has experimented with resin, PVC, automotive paint, and polyethylene foam, alongside the ubiquitous stainless steel meal trays found in food courts to create intriguing forms and objects. Some have offered an unnerving impression of being close to toppling, unexpectedly immersed their viewer in vibrant colour, or prompted deeper readings of childhood items.
Throughout his sculptural practice Oh has created a variety of animal forms that have metaphorical or metaphysical implications. These works initially offer familiar characters, albeit oversized ones, brimming with impish allure but closer looking revels forms that slide between naivety and wisdom. Like the inflatables, these sometimes appealing sometimes unsettling animal forms offer a thrillingly contradictory experience of nostalgic comfort and physical threat. Depictions of animals have been included in visual art since the beginning of time and are often thought of as the stuff of childhood, as cute and somehow sentimental. However, Oh approaches this whimsical territory from awry, previously presenting overbearing penguins, odd bird-egg combinations, and supersized mice perched on their hind legs into signifiers of something more. The innocence of his anthropomorphic sculptures reminds us of comforting childhood characters, but, as with other depictions of animals in art and literature, they also offer a reflection of the world and our own relationship to it.
Oh is known for a practice that occupies, challenges, and interrupts physical spaces. These art works often explore an interplay between materials and movement. His inflatables float elegantly or define unnoticed architectural space, orchestrating relationships that were formally invisible. Oh’s new sculpture Huggong Monologue returns to the use of captured air to challenge and redefine space within the gallery. For much of the history of Western sculpture the art form was solid and robust. Created from stone or metal and meant to both stand the test of time and express noble sentiment, the 20th century arrival of unconventional materials on three-dimensional art practice blew this understanding apart.
Huggong Monologue introduces a soft element into the hard shell of Starkwhite’s architecture, the exact form of the 100 metre long sculpture left to chance and intentionally only discovered upon inflation in the gallery. Likening the experience a time when the school-aged Oh let off a fire extinguisher in the classroom, he sought to again feel the adrenaline and sensation of simultaneous fear and joy the prank brought. Both control and out of control, this sculpture echoes that experience and offers it to the exhibition’s audience. The work’s reddish–pink hue remembers the colour experienced through the thin skin of closed eye lids, “The colour of when things are invisible. The bright darkness. Tubes of expansion, peripheral, translucent” Oh explains. Provoking tensions between hardness and softness, scale and association, and art and industry, Seung Yul Oh’s latest exhibition places animal forms in conversation with inflatables to create anti-monumental objects that challenge conventional notions of what sculpture can be and where it can exist.