by Shraddha NairOct 01, 2022
Rising from the ashes, the mythological bird Phoenix is a homage to the Egyptian god of Sun. Many of the literary writers, from Ovid to Shakespeare, have drawn comparisons between the human mortality and the Phoenix immortality to underline the indomitable courage of the human race in the face of despair. The sculptures rendered in the colour of ash by Seoul-based artist Park Kipyung bring back the question of human life running against the time. The art of sculpture-making, especially when the human forms are carved, gives the liberty to play with the uniformity of the human form. What is striking about Kipyung’s sculptures is the deformity - missing facial features, half a skull, limbs cut into two hollow pieces - that invites the audience to have an introspective experience on human existence.
The life-size sculptures made out of cement, resin and steel are installed in an assembly of people, engaged in a battle and even in single-formed isolation. Talking about the idea of giving life to these sculptures, Kipyung says in an interview, “In an age when emotions and personal beliefs judge the truth, and in the age of accepting a reality show full of lies as true, in a post-truth world new ‘facts’ are being renewed every second; I questioned the conditions of human formation in society and wondered how I could remain in the world. How are works of art read and experienced? How does work resonate beyond itself? How does it respond to the way it is distributed, and to the context in which it appears? What alternative is there to this change in context?”
The history of classical antiquity is punctuated by the warriors and values and epic fighting to serve the larger good of the cosmos. The contradictions and paradoxes of the Greek and Roman myths that inspired the arts and creativity of its times continue to stand tall enough to influence the works of contemporary artists. Kipyung too draws inspiration from these myths and engravers for his sculptures. He explains further, “The work so far has been attempting to objectify and mythize myself by combining images of classical art with my own body. The Amphitheater series (2016) borrow images from sculptures and engravings of Uffizi Wrestlers, Hercules, Christoffel Jegher, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, and Gin Lorenzo Bernini. I want my fake relics to be self-identifying and alive in the future, not as a tool for communication or a work of art that expresses something. Clearing the subjective traces in colour and form is a condition to get there.”
Even if the Greek men won glory at the battlefields, the victory was more about the introspection rather than the celebration. Few of Kipyung’s sculptures in the shape of the hollow human forms engaged in the battle at once debunk the idea of winning the battle, rather indicating the futility around it. Along with these thematic traces of existential crisis, the sculptures abide by the constructive rules of measurements. To emphasise this, Kipyung says, “By borrowing as a formative language, I would like to emphasise the artificial sublime in my work and build my personal experience as a myth for posterity. The Amphitheater was produced by combining the side of the body without character, by using the law of frontality of Egyptian relief in reverse. The figure sculpture that created only two sides does not make the interpretation of it ½ + ½ = 1, but makes ½ + ½ = 0 so that it makes it impossible to understand and makes the reality of itself no longer real.”
When art and politics are in sync with the zeitgeist, Kipyung’s sculptures touch upon the importance of the aesthetic and political ways of looking at a life, where human life falls short of perfections but rises to strike back.
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