7 Oct 2021 — 6 Nov 2021

 Gunwoo Shin's page
Gunwoo Shin
Sik 蝕

Sik, the title of Gunwoo Shin's solo exhibition comes from the Sino-Korean character 蝕, meaning "to eat into, erode, encroach upon, or eclipse." It is a compound character of the radicals 食 and 蟲, meaning to eat and insect, respectively. The visual metaphor of Sik overlaps with the Latin root rodere, meaning to gnaw, to take away; subtract. What then, is to exist as people, as things, as matter? Perhaps it is the opposite of subtraction; addition. Shin explains that the world is a coexistence of opposites: addition and subtraction, real and ideal, conscious and unconscious, materiality and immateriality, presence and absence, birth and death. Through his works presented in this exhibition, he sought to express existence that is not tangible to the eye. Things that exist without form. Sik encompasses the concept adequately.

The artist's ongoing exploration of themes such as gods, religion, mythologies, and the human unconscious all tie into the trajectory of Sik. The artist looked to Monstera, a species of evergreen tropical vine cultivated as houseplants, as the motif embodying this abstract and comprehensive concept in physical form. Monstera is also called the "Swiss cheese plant" as its gorgeous leaves are fenestrated - developed holes in its leaves - as an evolutionary adaptation to monsoons in tropical climate. Shin's interest was not in its natural biome, but the perforations. The natural shape of the leaf was perforated with what may be seen as "gnawed in" holes, a permutation of our invisible realities.

Gunwoo Shin's previous works were mainly relief-based, but this exhibition features sculptures. He shares that the intention was to express Sik in a more concise manner, without the convoluted relief-process which required a screen narrative and a laborious production process. The first artwork Shin created for this theme was the bronze-cast 'Hole in Palm Leaves', in the form of a branch from a palm tree. There is a noticeable section missing in the cast, as if a large machine or animal clipped it. Deciding the shape of this Sik was a difficult task, one which he ultimately chose to be circular. The branch-leaf is sculpturally pleasing, but it is the missing circular portion of the branch-leaf that holds symbolic significance. The artist traces back the significance of the circle as being a form considered sacred since ancient times. The most accessible example in the East would be the curly hair of Buddha (legend states it became that way upon enlightenment) and his radiant mandorla. Halos above or behind angelic figures and saints' heads is a common example in the West. The sun and the moon and the heavens - inaccessible to mortals - is also represented in this circular form.

'Sik-Blue Pagoda' and 'Sik-Black Pagoda' are the artist's sculptural recreation of the Seosang-ri Three-story Stone Pagoda in Chuncheon and the Circular stone Pagoda in Unjusa Temple in Hwasun. These sculptures also appear to have been eclipsed upon. The artist encountered these historical pagodas as motifs for artwork while traveling. It wasn't that the towers themselves had a historical significance; it was simply the shape of the tower that caught his attention while traveling through. There is little to unpack behind the names and the historicity of these pagodas; other than their means of expressing the presence of the unseeable in this reality. It could be people, plants and creatures, or just things.

The artist’s relief works were also informed by his increasing awareness and exploration of Sik. Shin’s previous works often featured a giant narrative that served as an undercurrent carrying his presented works, but he takes a carousel slide show-esque approach to present simple scenes that convey of something beyond what is tangible. As the frame was simplified, the focal characters were depicted with finer detail. 'Thousand Hands' is a figure in a chair making circular gestures. It appears to be a side-view of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (千手千眼觀世音菩薩), the female-form (Guanyin) who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas, a perspective less common to the usual forward-facing posture. The Bodhisattva with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes that will bring salvation to the people couldn't be more ideal and at the same time, a human concept. 'Blue Candle Boy' depicts a character sprouting a cactus out of his body in a lotus pond. His crouched body partially submerged, the character is suffering and persevering through pain to grow a cactus necessarily does not require so much water - much less a pond. Characters within Gunwoo Shin's works evoke notions of catechumen, ascetic seekers of enlightenment, and saints. Their pursuit of religious beliefs or ideals have been expressed as eclipses or Sik, in Shin's sculptures.

This solo exhibition marks Gunwoo Shin's 15th year of work. Upon looking back on his works, Shin shares that through periods of interest and inquisition on topics of gods, religion, mythologies, and society, the themes appeared different, but the answers he was seeking were found in all his artworks. Through such discoveries, he became aware of a permeating flow, and as his senses could not justify this awareness through words, chose instead to call it Sik. He expects his works to continue evolving and exploring, but never be far from this ongoing theme. Sik exists as a presence, and that too, will never change.
Installation view