Sunghong Min and the Reciprocity of Material Relationships
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH KOREA ARTS MANAGEMENT SERVICE
Seoul-born artist Sunghong Min has built a practice around disassembling and reconstituting found objects into structures that stimulate reflections on memory, movement, and reciprocal relationships between humans and objects.
Exhibition view: Sunghong Min, Receiver and Transmitter, Gallery Bundo, Daegu (10 November–8 December 2023). Courtesy Gallery Bundo.
Often presented in clusters, Min's sculptures emit a sense of community. This is a quality strongly felt in Overlapped Sensibility: Birds (2014–15), a gathering of handcrafted ceramic bird heads perched on bodies made of repurposed found objects and wooden pieces.
Min has likened birds to antennas, drawing on the former's association with news—the migratory swallow, for example, symbolises auspicious news or visitors in Korea—and the latter's ability to receive and transmit information. In 2018, two presentations by Min in Seoul underscored these parallels: an installation of 'bird' sculptures with motorised parts, titled Antenna Bird, in his solo exhibition Running Fence at CR Collective; and a large antenna on a round wooden base in The Blanket Area: Antenna Bird (2018) at the 10th Seoul Mediacity Biennale.
In another body of work titled 'Dasirak' (2016–ongoing), Min focuses on the past and future lives of the objects that lend form to his practice. The series title derives from Dasiraegi gut, a traditional Korean funeral folk ritual performed in Jindo County in South Jeolla Province, the southernmost province of mainland Korea. In a series of sculptures on wheels, Min incorporates brightly coloured paper flowers and decorative paper cut-outs associated with such funerals. There is something hopeful and generous in his use of decommissioned objects, intermingling their old, disparate memories to forge new beginnings.
Whether composed of birds, antennas, or funeral ritual objects, Min's works converge in a concern with the interrelationships between humans and objects, and communication. It should come as no surprise, then, that his latest 'Skin_Layer' series (2021–ongoing) focuses on the body as a site that perceives, communicates, feels, remembers, and forgets.
Min began working on 'Skin_Layer' in 2021, presenting them for the first time in his solo show, Seeming of Seeming (2022) at Gallery Chosun in Seoul. There, 18 'Skin_Layer' sculptures were made with objects salvaged from various sites around the artist's studio in Ansan. Furniture legs, bells, marbles, rugs, and antennas were collected and reassembled, adorned with stringed beads, garlands of fine tassels, and thin layers of lace and fabric.
The artist has described this adorning drapery as representing 'the sensitive layer that conceals or blurs bodily structures and denotes the boundary between our experiences of ideals and reality.' Presented in close proximity to each other on the floor, leaning against the wall, or suspended from the ceiling, Min's sculptures indeed radiate the presence of bodies in deep thought.
Compared to Min's earlier 'Skin_Layer' works, the sculptures in his solo exhibition Receiver and Transmitter at Gallery Bundo, Daegu (10 November–8 December 2023) appear airier. More are suspended from the ceiling, with the silhouettes of the sculptures appearing thinner having shed some of their drapery. Instead, Min emphasises concrete shapes through the abundant use of beads, metal rings and discs, and metal rods arranged at angles to form bursting, star-like structures as opposed to the soft, malleable textile skins of past 'Skin_Layer' works.
Min said these changes reflect a reconsideration of his methodology, leading to 'a focus on creating receivers in the form of antenna-like structures, which allow external variables inside, and transmitters that reflect and project shapes onto the outside.' As a result, vertical lines and clean symmetries emerge as dominant rules in the sculptures, establishing a sense of order and purpose.
But Min's works are not as rigid or mechanical as the terms 'receiver' and 'transmitter' might suggest. Scattered across the exhibition space, the configuration of sculptures reflects his intention for viewers to 'continually move, see, and create bodily movements around them' as they engage in voluntary play with the works.
Projected onto the walls of a small recess in the gallery is Min's black-and-white video Circulator (2023), in which three suspended 'Skin_Layer' works echo the circular movements of the viewers around them, turning in and out of themselves. The sculptures were filmed by putting a mirror against their centres to create seamless symmetries, resulting in a constant deconstruction of the sculpture's image that ultimately leads to its perpetual renewal.
For Min, the body is both a receiver and transmitter, and reciprocity exists between an individual and their surroundings, both living and animate. A more personal turn may be found in Min's next project, for which the artist will use ceramic fibre paper to portray the 'boundaries of my usual place of residence in between myself and others, community, and society'. —[O]