gimhongsok: On A Smile
gimhongsok’s series A Study on Slanted and Hyperbolic Constitution
at Perrotin Hong Kong displays an unstable stack of corrugated
cardboard boxes. The stack of cheap boxes is reminiscent of a pile
of waste that can be found in the backstreets of any city. The viewer
may become confused upon seeing the tape and rips on the surfaces
of these boxes as these insignificant byproducts are placed in the
context of art. In another work, the artist has stacked the boxes and
wrapped them in a protective outer layer, the astounding realism
of which causes the viewer to question the work’s artistic and aesthetic
values. However, the boxes and the wrappings are not actually real.
The stacked oblong objects are hyper-realistic resin fabrications.
The viewer is prompted to question their own eyes upon realizing
the boxes are fabricated as the inauthenticity is noticeable only after
very close observation. Here exists an extreme contrast between
the hyperrealism and the insignificance of objects’ purpose. This is yet
another aspect of these works that many would have difficulty grasping.
Like many other gimhongsok’s works, this series requires extreme
effort and craftsmanship, but it simultaneously seems futile and silly.
The artist invites the viewer to engage in this viewing experience
in a traditional art viewing sense. In the case of sculpture wrapped in
aluminum foil, what the viewer sees is the work’s wrapping. Because
the wrapping is the artwork itself, the viewer goes back and forth
between questioning the content inside the wrapping and realizing
the futility of such unavailing deliberation. This ambivalent and recursive
indication leads the viewer to the irrational repetition or the extinction
of meaning. Here, the viewer might be reminded of the concept that
an artwork relies on the method that indicates art as art.
gimhongsok has created many works that walk a fine line between
appropriation and plagiarism. By intentionally referencing other artists’
works, he has presented works that reversely pose skepticism
on the viewer’s faith in artistic identity. A Study on Slanted and Hyperbolic
Constitution series is a delicate appropriation of works by renowned
American sculptors David Smith and Robert Indiana. The literal meaning
of the title emphasizes the Modernist sculptural forms that David Smith
has pursued in his work. Simultaneously, the meaning of Slanted
and Hyperbolic Constitution can be read as a dual expression.
From the sides, the stack of boxes reads “Love,” an explicit reference
to Robert Indiana’s most prominent work. By incorporating renowned
American sculptors from mainstream art history in his work, he hints
at the obscurity of an artwork while simultaneously dealing with several
subjects. He suggests ambiguity as a way to describe the identity
of non-Western art, which was once been neglected and considered
as ‘the other’ by Western-dominated art history and theory. What
he calls “agreement” is an assemblage of forms that has developed
from “Assimilated Differences” which has progressed from 1998
to 2007. Here, “difference” is a fundamental gap that cannot be overcome
or closed, and “assimilated” is the embracing internalization that
could only ultimately fail. One of the missions that contemporary art
presents to a Korean or Asian artist is to become forever an outsider
as well as an unavoidable subject, and to actualize an impossible
agreement between these divided identities.
“Assimilated Differences appropriates both the originality
implied in the differences and the division among
the differences. It appropriates history, politics, religion,
power, democracy, the public, everyday life,
and furthermore, associations of trivial matters.
These appropriations imply the placelessness and the
disappearance of boundaries, rather than plagiarism.1”
Himhongsok’s work stems from writing. The recurrent theme is that
power originates from demarcation, which takes place in all layers,
from everyday life to political oppression to circulation of capital.
He posits that demarcation is strengthened by agreements among
the profit-seeking and that an artist emulates this demarcation
and fills the inside with other “agreements.”
“When a pedestrian puts an empty bottle in a trash bag
on the street, or a trash bag is thrown away on top
of another trash bag on the street, the form generates
a lot of allegories. A collaboration as such is extremely
spontaneous as there has been no certain kind prior
agreement among collaborators. The result of such
collaboration is a true societal agreement.2”
This assemblage of thought gives us a clue as to why appropriation
—which is recurrent in his work—leads to dislocation, errors, irony,
or empty, pointless jokes, instead of a parody or criticism of the original
work. The importance of the original work is inseparable to the institutional
hierarchy that the work has established. Hence, it accompanies
the reflection of the hierarchy. The “subsidiary construction,” which
has appeared in Himhongsok’s work since 2008 is about replacing
traditionally central components of art with its byproducts, such as trash
bags, discarded boxes, and wrapping paper. By themselves, these
materials for the subsidiary construction invoke strong significations
and generate pure and exceptional connections to other semantic
elements as a result of their voluntariness and unpredictability.
Himhongsok’s work presents the most uncompromising utopia that
the viewer could ever imagine. His work distances itself from
the demarcation and the hierarchy, destroys itself from the meaning,
and plays relentlessly with the possibility of humorous oscillation
between authority and anti-authority. This is why we find salvation
from Himhongsok’s work. I wish the viewer bursts into uncontrollable
laughter from looking at the works in this exhibition.