Jihyun Jung

Sculpture Gone Far, Further Away _ Hanbum Lee

Hanbum LEE (Art Critic)


I revisited the Gouge exhibition in the morning of the day it was taken down because I wanted to verify the lightness of JUNG Jihyun’s sculptures. Granted, the lightness of Jung’s sculptures was no secret as evident in Swept (2022), a work comprised of a pair of objects with one 3D-printed with light polylactide filament and the other cast from relatively heavier aluminum. Perhaps I was being a “doubting Thomas” because I could not shake the urge to confirm the lightness myself, even though I had witnessed the visible proof thereof. I thought the apparent hardness of the object was surely an illusion. Although there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to underpin my theory, there was no viable way to truly corroborate my suspicion. That is why I chose to revisit the exhibition the day the works were being taken down, as I expected that their inevitable removal and displacement would expose their hidden vulnerabilities in the process. The reason I decided to witness the lightness of the works by watching the crew dismantle and carry them instead of trying to lift them myself is because I thought their lightness were not solely associated with their physical weight but also related to the overall vignettes that momentarily appear in certain societal relationships. In other words, the “lightness” I was hoping to verify was not the physical property of the sculptures’ mass but rather a certain reality demonstrated through the indifferent crew’s handling of the objects and the special sense of existence the sculptures take on as they pass from one hand to another. If the sculptures have already traveled far from their very specific point of origin and are again in transit, what purpose would my revisit serve? Thus, the only way to resolve this urge to draw near was to drift apart. I believe this is the way contemporary sculpture sets itself apart from modern sculpture, and the way it invites us to truly appreciate it.


I felt startled and shocked when I first stepped into Gouge because the ostensibly weighty sculptures nonchalantly sitting in their respective spots flaunted how light and empty they actually are. That is not to say those objects were autonomously aestheticizing their vacuous lightness with nothing left but the husk (as many artworks often do as they succumb to anxiety or flounder through desire), nor that they self-consciously desired to flaunt such emptiness (as is also often the case with artworks). In short, they simply existed; but that does not mean one can then jump to the discussion of “non-things” or today’s ontological theories. Therefore, it is at this juncture that we begin to face challenges in interpretation. However, if we begin to think about the place of these objects instead of questioning what their existence is, we may open the door to a slightly different interpretation. To me, these sculptures appeared to be moving from point A to point B, i.e., in motion through a certain space. It is such spatial journey that the artist’s sculpture conveys. By exchanging 3D scan data with an anonymous person online, Jung took the dimensions of La Rivière (1938) by Astride Maillo (1861 – 1944) and recreated a 3D-printed resin piece titled Torso from Afar (2022). The process behind this work is perhaps one of the easier to understand, demonstrating how the artist generates the sculpture in his fictional space. A heavy substance that once remained affixed on the opposite side of the planet has become lighter, disassembled, and reassembled upon its arrival here. The geographically distant concept of space defined as “the opposite side of the planet,” the contrasting materiality between “bronze and data,” and the transformations of “disassembly and reassembly” serve as metaphors of the temporality of sculpture, which is unique as an artistic practice in that growing distant leads to proximity. The important thing is not to determine the answer to the chicken-or-egg question, but rather that the object has departed from some point of origin, i.e., movement. Torso from Afar appeared as the result of a specific subject of reality momentarily gaining visibility while journeying through Jung’s sculptural domain of fiction.


Jung’s works are full of clarity. Landfill (2021-2022), Foreshore (2022), and Park (2022) show where he has been and walked. Hatchi (2021), The Last Worldee (2022), Double Decker (2018), and Peggy (2021-2022) demonstrate which objects drew his attention. Fireplace and a Pillar (2022) and My Neighbor (2021) unveil his techniques and methods. There is rarely anything ambiguous or secretive about Jung’s works. However, one cannot help but wonder if discussing the locality of the places he visited, the objecthood of the things he observed, and the nature of his techniques and tools can reveal the truth of his works. This certainly seems to have been the case to a degree up until Gouge. In retrospect, Jung has ceaselessly explored the seemingly simple questions of what sculpture is and what it does ever since his solo exhibition Gomyeomsom (Doosan Gallery, 2016), wherein the artist declared that he would no longer allow the narrative to permeate into his works, or rather, that he would ensure his works not drift toward a narrative. Throughout such process, Jung sought to understand what meaning various places, objects, and methods would have in his work and examined how such elements can enable his endeavors in sculpture. I walked behind Jung to examine how he understands each location and object and formulates methods based on the locality, objecthood, and concept of the respective location, object, and media that draw his interest. Although that process felt like a fierce battle from up close, from the distance it was slow, frustrating, and arduous. Despite all this, there still lingered a sense of insufficiency to declare that his work formed the interior of sculpture. In other words, his sculpture had not gone far enough yet. That is why I too continued to hover around the exterior of sculpture it rummaged about, collecting something from its surroundings.


When I realized the clarity of Jung’s works do not actually reveal their time, or to be more precise, that there came into being a space that cannot be explained by the clarity, I finally began to think about the interior of the sculpture that Jung’s work created. By “interior,” I mean the free and ephemeral space wherein the sculpture can build itself, like a stratum of accumulated memory of such self-formation. Such “interior” space exists not only in art but also in every object. With some objects, the interior is so infinitesimal that it can hardly be said to exist, while other objects have such immense and complicated spaces that fill the beholder with wonder. Traversing such spaces (as opposed to objects) is the job of sculpture. In today’s world, capitalism most eagerly embraces this ominous space. For example, in a “rags to riches” story, everyone knows that the person’s wealth went through some kind of space to undergo such transformation, but no one knows what space that is and what happened there. Instead, we devise acceptable devices of fiction such as a magic wand or analytical charts to stabilize such stories. In contrast, critics seek to endure that ominousness instead of sealing that space shut.


The title of Marshall Berman’s book All That is Solid Melts into Air not only resonates throughout the concept of modernity but also serves as an apt forecast on what may be taking place in the interior space of Jung’s sculptures. In the interest of avoiding any misconception, it is worth noting that what Jung dismantles and regenerates does not come in visible form. He does not resort to creating illusions that trick the eye into thinking the knowable is unknowable, as if there is something new created every time. Rather, he focuses on the arduous process of detaching the surface of objects to preserve its form. Thus, while the form remains, the substance that once comprised everything beneath that shell vanishes. In turn, what remains becomes something completely different, despite its resemblance to its former existence. It is solely in such process that Jung intervenes every now and then. For example, for Last Worldee and Haechi, Jung created molds of local government mascot sculptures using an aluminum net, then filled the molds with urethane foam. The resulting works are light and cute yet somehow creepy. Some of them retain clear facial features while others are missing chunks of their heads. Fried Flower (2022) is actually the result of a botched 3D-printed flower. While printing the 3D-scanned flower, the printed material steered off the base to create an unrecognizable abomination. Jung took this disfigured result and exhibited it as is, as if nothing happened. Each work has its own sculptural event, which Jung undoubtedly watched unfolding, verifying whether the sculpture went as far as possible and checking if such distance also increased in proximity to something else at the same time. In that regard, Gouge can be described as an exhibition that explores the interior of sculpture. If so, what do the things that transited through such interior testify? What was that startling lightness I encountered? What about the paradoxical claim that these sculptures are definitely not what they resemble?


When I spent a month and a half in Iceland this summer, one of the things I learned there that I would have otherwise never known is how many sculptures there are across that giant island. In Reykjavik, I came across massive sculptures at every alley, plaza, and even every few steps sometimes. I found sculptures even in the wilderness where there was otherwise nothing but rocks, wind, and the sky. The sculptures were in the deepest fjords and remote, seemingly unfrequented shores. Based on my understanding of art history, most of the sculptures seemed to be in post-classical and late modern styles. They were all sturdy and heavy, as if nothing could uproot them from their place. Most importantly, I felt as though the sculptures stood as such truthful testimonies on the world of Iceland. Part of that was due to the fact that the materials composing the sculptures resembled their environment. But it was only then that I realized I had to go to them myself to engage with these immobile sculptures. In other words, the Icelandic sculptures taught me that art must be understood in the context of the specific worlds they engage with. In contemporary art, however, it is often understood that the object (i.e., artwork) has no relation with its surroundings, although to be fair the “place of placelessness” may count as a type of location for some objects. Without my experience of encountering the sculptures in Iceland, I would not have been able to understand Jung’s sculpture or the sculptural space it forms, as his sculpture goes against the sculpture of the world brimming with solid living materials. Jung’s sculpture grows ever lighter, always seeking to flee as far as possible from something. That lightness does not seek to find its own place but instead replicates itself to keep wandering off elsewhere, fulfilling this era’s myth of the age of technical reproduction. Although I am still not sure if this reflects the interior of the world Jung perceives, it is clear that Jung opened a space for sculpture in this world, and has begun visiting it.



Hanbum Lee

Art Critic, founder and worker of Rasun Press