Sagunja located in the crack between painting and sculpture
Park, Young-taek / Professor of Kyonggi University, Art critic
Kim Kwang-ho adopted the images of Sagunja or the Four Gracious Plants (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo) and lifted them in the sculptural form. Sagunja put in the paper is pronounced in a solid figure occupying the space. It escaped from the painting frame to come into being in the real space. At the same time, Kim put or connected Sagunja and a jar on top of the structure hinting a specific frame. Sometimes some natural stones are attached like pedestals. Therefore, materials such as paintings described in folding-screens or picture books, four-partitioned frame tables and jars on the table are displayed in the exhibition space. This scene is reminiscent of some orchids growing between the rocks. Images are originally based on optical illusion, phantasm and fiction, but his works are likely to maximize our visual pleasure or play through painting and sculpture. Moreover, since Kim’s works are composed of line-based sculpture, backdrop, thick shadows are cast on the wall, and floor once the light reaches the surface. This shadow keeps an inseparable relationship between the object that caused the shadow, and approaches from the equal dimension in the firm manner. Since the work (object) and the shadow that inevitably formed out of it operate at the same time, viewers accept them without discrimination and partiality. Kim’s previous works also lifted the shadow as a material or a 3D figure. On the other hand, his recent Sagunja series emphasizes the conspiracy relationship and indivisible relationship of the two elements with intensity by clearly casting the shadow around the work.
A shadow is illusion by nature and the shadow per se is not given any meaning. A shadow is disregarded as a collateral being, illusion and an inferior being to the agent causing the shadow. By contrast, Kim approaches the shadow, which is not given a special meaning in sculpture, as something significant. For it is line-based sculpture, the shadow cast by it keeps 1:1 relationship with the real substance. In other words, the object corresponds to its shadow with precision. Furthermore, this is a work transforming the dichotomous superiority-inferiority relationship into the horizontal one, allowing Yin-Yang, brightness (light)-darkness relationship from the perspective of relativeness. Moreover, the element of light usually stayed in a somewhat passive dimension focusing on brightness thrown onto the surface of matters or something that reveals with brilliance. However, Kim’s works intentionally highlight shadows and invite us to look at the shadows and the objects causing them from the identical position. In other words, the material lump and pictorial elements interpenetrate.
Sculpture, by nature, is a method presenting a concrete material in a specific space. That is an act of leaving in the practical spacer or place and exists “as an undeniable material” in the same position as other things. Unlike painting, sculpture is a thing and material that exist in a concrete form. While painting depends on trompe-l’oeil (trick of the eye) or illusion, sculpture is installed in a clearer truth. Traditional sculpture is about intervention of illusory elements into the surface of materials consisting of sculpture. On the other hand, modernist sculpture pursues the dimension of revealing or presenting the property of matter itself. This is a well-known truth. Moreover, since sculpture is a material placed in the space, it tends to push air filling some specific space once it is placed there. Sculpture that fills the space and pushes the invisible elements has this form occupying the space in an unyielding manner. Nevertheless, Kim’s works are line-like sculpture composed of lines and not any material with solid figures or volume, so they have considerably fragile properties of matter. Since his sculpture only exists in the dimension of lines, it is rather approaching painting. In fact, while painting exists on the surface, sculpture lives in the space. Sculpture fills the space with materials. However, sculpture of Kim Kwang-ho exists on the skin and is composed of lines. It is light sculpture. It seems to be floating in the air. It is made of only lines and flat, so the typical features of sculpture and force of materials are debilitated, which is quite understandable. This line-based sculpture with fully pictorial features is immersed in black full of shadow-like shapes and colors. While usual sculpture depends on the original color of the given material, Kim’s sculpture has bold black to locate like painting/shadows. With illusory sculpture reminiscent of reality, thin and slim iron wires are painting in the air. The lines are not put on the wall or canvas, but are floating as an act of levitation. Lines belong to the realm of painting. On the contrary, Kim Kwang-ho actualizes lines, the pictorial elements as the three-dimensional figures to create sculpture parasitic on a specific image. This is an act of not only reproducing the skin while attaching to the flat images but also proposing painting, which exists only on the skin/ surface, as a solid figure of the space, inviting viewers to a surprising twist. Here, the boundary between painting and sculpture becomes blurred. Besides, even the shadows that belong to thoroughly illusory images start to be involved. Thus, Kim tries a work where painting, sculpture and shadows mesh one by one.
While painting exists on the surface, sculpture lives in the space. Sculpture fills the space with materials. It is a thing that exists in the 3D space in concrete. While painting exists in the flat surface, sculpture lives in the space. For this reason, sculpture that in the real world of substantiality has stronger and bigger reality and existence compared to painting. In addition, it has corporality allowing tactile and physical contact beyond visual dependence. It refuses to stay in illusion and faces the holistic response of body. Causing “an incident” in the space and bringing the human body to the surrounding environment… that is also what sculpture does and a property of matter as sculpture. Furthermore, sculpture commands a lump and surface at the same time, inviting the viewer’s body to engage to be ruled by time and space. Sculpture of Kim Kwang-ho composed of flat surfaces and lines is seen from the front side, as is the case of painting. At the same time, making the shadow cast on the wall, the background, it embraces the surrounding space as an element of the work. The sold frame structure, flat sculpture and shadows cast in the periphery arouse some unfamiliar illusion and make us realize the relationship between the object we see and the space from a new perspective.
In his works that is materials, lines, sculpture and painting-like aspects equipped with both reality and virtuality, even the frames and pedestals work as unavoidable conditions of the works. A natural stone turning into a pedestal is accompanied by Sagunja made of lines and assimilates into part of the work. It is no longer a tall pedestal but a pedestal descended on the floor, and the pedestal itself is incorporated into part of work. This way, it reminds us of some orchids growing between the rocks, a small jar (liquor bottle) put on the natural stone or a framed painting. The images of Sagunja made of flat lines only or shape of jar exists only in the angular frame. This not only emphasizes pictorial characteristic put in the frame but also presents the image blocked in the image as a solid figure again. Flatness and three-dimensionality cross the boundary of thin frame lines in an uninhibited manner.
Kim attracts attention of viewers, in the exhibition hall, by adopting Sagunja, the icon of traditional culture and philosophy system of Northeastern Asia. In case of Korea, Sagunja was self-portraits of intellectual scholar officials since the introduction of Confucianism. Sagunja refers to stylization and simplification of ecology of plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo, based on accurate observation. Sagunja painting is considered art with sophisticated symbolism among paintings of Northeastern intellectuals. It faithfully reflects neo-Confucian cosmovision and view of the world. Based on the highest virtue by the then intellectuals, loyalty, they associated images of plum as benevolence, chrysanthemum as righteousness, orchid as courtesy and bamboo as wisdom. This is systematization of symbolism left by hopes of intellectuals, who wished to be accompanied by depth of philosophy and truth of life. In other words, the effort of integration between nature and humans in the form of art is what makes the Northeastern art different. Sagunja painting is based on four plants such as plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo, symbolizing virtuous spirit of blooming and keeping freshness against cold. To be specific, plum flowers that bloom first against severe cold of early spring, orchids that spread their soft aroma far away even deep in the mountains, chrysanthemums that overcome the first cold of late autumn and bamboos that keep leaves green even in winter when all plants dropped off the leaves. Sagunja was chosen to symbolize the icon of intellectual scholar officials because it perfectly matched their pursued view of the world; a person who is faithful and loyal full of spirit of virtue without being swayed by the worldly turbulences and a person with lofty character spreading aroma and clarity. However, Sagunja of literati officials started to rapidly collapse in the 20th century. The class of scholar officials pursuing men of virtue broke down and the Confucian ideology and neo-Confucian view of the world were lost as well. Yoon Hee-sun pointed out, long ago, that Sagunja would fail to reach art only with the simple brushstrokes and strong intention as men of virtue, as modern-day aesthetic awareness was going through changes. However, the view of the world of the traditional time, Confucian values and ideology and a way of life of scholar officials symbolized by Sagunja may still transmit some significance. What matters would depend on how we make it alive again and reinterpret it. It means that it can never stay in the practice of borrowing the icon.
Kim’s iron wires-based works “reincarnate” wires as pseudo-Sagunja. They are painting and sculpture at the same time. By infusing warmth and flexibility into the lifeless and wires, Kim reincarnated them as life of fresh vegetability. We can say that the artist’s hand give life to wires. This derives from his vegetable imagination wishing to transform the dead world of things into an organic body. Furthermore, Kim’s works remind us of ideology and justification of traditional Confucianism symbolized by Sagunja, bring tradition to today while shaking the boundary between painting and sculpture. At the same time, his works even try to approach the relationship between the object and the shadow. These make works of Kim Kwang-ho profoundly significant.
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