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 toy with 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 and take on a quiet coquettishness as it casually 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 has a core of aluminium. Throughout his sculptural practice Oh has created a variety of animal forms that have metaphorical or metaphysical implications. These works initially appear as a playful, oversized objects brimming with impish innocence, but closer looking revels forms that slide between naivety and wisdom.
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 slyly, previously presenting overbearing penguins, odd bird-egg combinations, and supersized mice perched on their hind legs into signifiers of something more. The cute 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 playfully explores properties of space and experiments with 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.
Press release courtesy Starkwhite.