In today’s world of plastic surgery, personal trainers, and Photoshop, there are more ways to modify the appearance of the human body than ever before. For artist Kim Joon, the ways we alter our bodies—specifically tattoo art—offer insights into our collective desires, values, obsessions, and insecurities. “I see skin, and sometimes the monitor, as an extension of a canvas,” Kim has said of his explorations into printed, patterned, and textured flesh.
Based in Seoul, South Korea, Kim creates lush digital images that cast the human body as elements of still life. In his latest exhibition, “Kim Joon: Somebody” at New York’s Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Kim crops his images closely so that out-of-scale jumbles of legs and arms and ears and breasts look like colorful piles of plastic toys. Elements in bold swaths of glossy color or embossed with alligator skin stand out against the naturalistic details of a hairy leg or elaborately tattooed skin.
Along with the new pieces from Kim’s “Somebody” project, the exhibition features well-known earlier series, like “Fragile” (2010), which casts the human figure as hollow bodies in broken porcelain, adorned with the marks of famous makers like Villeroy & Boch, Herend, and Royal Copenhagen; and works from “Bird Land”(2009), which explores the culture of desire by printing high-end logos from car brands and fashion labels on the skin. In these captivating works, consumerism turns the human body into a commodity and human beings into conduits of desire.
But despite the stunning realism and texture of his images, Kim’s figures are artificial, like the image-making he investigates; these are not photographs of meticulously painted bodies, but three-dimensional human forms created on the computer, onto which he grafts patterns using the program 3D Studio Max—animal skins, corporate logos, porcelain designs—like a digital Dr. Frankenstein. The forms he creates are as intangible as the desires he delves into.
“Kim Joon: Somebody” is on view at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York, June 12 – July 12, 2014.