Gimhongsok (김홍석) is a South Korean artist known for his hyper-realistic and humorous translations of one material into another. Treading a fine line between appropriation and plagiarism, Gimhongsok challenges the notion of authenticity in artworks and asks the fundamental questions of what constitutes art—materials, processes or forms.Read More
The deceptive appearances of Gimhongsok's works reflect the artist's fascination with translation. Gimhongsok once explained in an interview with ArtAsiaPacific that he experiences 'the world secondhand', mainly through Western shows on Korean television and Korean translations of English texts in South Korea. His works are textual or non-textual translations themselves, which he begins by choosing a word or a piece of writing. Ignoring the word's original meaning, Gimhongsok associates it with objects and other words until a fictive definition emerges. In works like Material (2012) or Untitled (short people) (2017) the artist's translation manifests itself in sculptures of stacked inflated balloons. Despite their apparent fragility, the balloons stay grounded because they are made of resin and bronze respectively. Both works creates situations that betray the viewer's expectation of the behaviour of a material.
Text is rarely to be believed in Gimhongsok's works, as it poses his fictive narratives as truths. The Talk (2004)—a video he presented at the 2006 Gwangju Biennale—features a professional actor hired to play a foreign worker. Although the worker speaks of his legal rights, the English subtitles narrate the story of a successful Indonesian worker in South Korea. For Bremen Town Musicians (2006–7), the wall text informs the viewer that Gimhongsok has hired Mexican workers to pose in animal costumes for the duration of the exhibition and that he will pay them five dollars per hour. On the contrary, the artist had placed mannequins inside the suits. The discovery of the mannequins and the English subtitles offer the viewer a release from moral anxiety, though the latter comfortably disguises reality. Throughout Gimhongsok's works, realities refuse to depend on text or image—the accepted source of knowledge in the world at large.
In 2008 Gimhongsok introduced 'subsidiary construction' to his work: a concept that appoints by-products of art—discarded cardboard boxes, wrapping papers or trash bags—as the central component of the artwork. For the work A Study on Slanted Hyperbolic Constitution (2010), the artist stacked two cardboard boxes at an angle. Posing ordinary objects as art, Gimhongsok echoed Marcel Duchamp's revolutionary concept that it is the artist's intention that gives birth to an artwork.
Many of Gimhongsok's works reference other artists' works. Bremen Town Musicians, for instance, borrows the formal motif of stacked animals from Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's Love Lasts Forever (1999) and the practice of hiring workers—though in Gimhongsok's case a fictional task—from Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. The title A Study on Slanted and Hyperbolic Constitution, on the other hand, references the form of David Smith's modernist sculptures, while the stack of boxes that forms the letters 'L O V E' from the sides recalls Robert Indiana's ground-breaking typography. Gimhongsok's appropriation of primarily Western artists highlights the ambivalent position non-Western artists occupy in the mainstream art world. Long regarded as 'the other,' contemporary Asian artists face the challenge of assimilating themselves into the Western-dominated art history while their identities become subjects for art.
Gimhongsok is also known through certain collaborative works as Xijing Men, an art collective he founded with Chen Shaoxiong (China) and Tsuyoshi Ozawa (Japan) in 2006. Xijing, which means 'Western Capital' in Chinese, is a fictional city the three artists created to reflect the contemporary world they live in. Though without physical form, Xijing materialises through exhibitions and artworks. In 2008 Xijing Men presented Xijing Olympics: a performance video wherein the three artists played various sports games with their own rules. The humorous rendition, which substituted soccer balls with watermelons and guns with loaves of bread, satirised the capitalisation of the Olympic Games simultaneous to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
After graduating from Seoul National University in 1987, Gimhongsok completed his postgraduate studies in Germany. He is a frequent presence at international biennales and art fairs including Gwangju (2012, 2006, 2002), Lyon (2009), Istanbul (2007), Art Basel (2007), Venice (2005, 2003) and Taipei (2000). The artist currently works and lives in Seoul.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018