Choong-sup Lim: the unreal as real art

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Choong-sup Lim: the unreal as real art


One of the pleasures of viewing “Habitual Habitat” by the Korean-American artist Choong-sup Lim is observing how the artist’s visions of reality are materialized.
Perhaps one of the best examples that encapsulates his style is in a display at his recent show of a small photograph at the entrance of Kukje Gallery.
The image shows a fuzzy close-up of a large concrete block painted in red and blue with simple patterns across the ground. The picture was taken at a children’s playground at a New York elementary school near Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center.
The narrative about the event and the site is quite subtle in the photograph. The reference to 9/11 is vaguely hinted at through patterns in the children’s drawings on the block, which resembles the shape of an American flag.
Despite their disjointed nature, the photographs are compelling, because the works seem to convey memories and experiences of space and time that are highly personal to the artist. This allows the audience to look beyond what they see and create a narrative that draws on their own memories of places and times.
Lim implicitly turns abstract shapes into sculptures that have cultural connotations. His titles are a good example of this.
In “Piggy,” for instance, he shows a pole painted in red and blue and decorated with silk, making references to a rural landscape and to costumes used in shamanist rituals. In “Ear,” he presents a long, curvy object made out of cast rubber, reminiscent of a Buddhist statue’s ear.
In “Ssal (a grain of rice toward blue sky),” he presents a large installation made of stone powder, deliberately contradicting the texture, size and essence of a rice grain.
In many of his works, the artist adds fragments of his personal reflections on nature to his cultural inventions.
In “Scape-fossil,” for example, he creates an installation composed of different artifacts he collected during his weekend trips. He gathered pieces of wood, a pear, a branch of a tree and fossils of bugs, each contained in separate boxes that resemble the shape of a typewriter. The work exudes a certain sense of humor and irony because of the way the materials are presented in the rough fixtures of cardboard typewriters, which are supposed to refer to the prime invention of human civilization ― writing.
In some works, he makes the connection of the materials and ideas deliberately vague and personal, almost to the point that it becomes a “visual diary.”
Other artists in the past have attempted to question the complexity of how we perceive what we do and what we can discern from it.
Marcel Duchamp introduced the idea of ready-made objects consisting simply of everyday objects, such as a urinal and a bottle rack, to cast doubt on whether a pure visual experience exists in the modern age.
What’s unique about Lim’s works is that the artist extrapolates subtle impressions or personal feelings from an event in life or a place to define their uniqueness. Often the artist’s observation explores dichotomies such as east and west, or nature and culture, rendered through a variety of mixed media that incorporates both organic and man-made objects.
That also partly has to do with the artist’s personal history. Lim was born and raised in the rural village of Jincheon, a small farming town in North Chungcheong province, and left the countryside during its industrial development. He moved to New York.
There is also a sense of nostalgia in the poetic nature of his works, inevitably because the audiences are reminded of the fact that Lim is Korean by his implicit references to Korean subjectivity, whether through his titles or archaic imagery.
But the visual metaphors in the artist’s works, which refuse to completely articulate what they mean, also leave a sense of distance, like the thing lacking from a great work of literature that has been mistranslated.

by Park Soo-mee

“Habitual Habitat,” an exhibition by Lim Choong-sup, runs at Kukje Gallery through Feb. 19. To get to Kukje, get off at Anguk Station (No. 3 line) and walk 10 to 15 minutes toward the Blue House. The gallery is right across from Gyeongbuk Palace. For more information, call (02) 735-8449.
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