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Lim Ok-Sang’s solo exhibition, The Wind Rises

23 Aug 2017 - 17 Sep 2017

Venue: Gana Art Center

Lim Ok-Sang Talks About Earth With Earth

Kim Hong-hee (Former Director of Seoul Museum of Art/Art Critic)

Lim Ok-Sang is a progressive contemporary artist, who made his debut as a first-generation artist of the Minjung art movement, and continues to work vigorously even today. Like any other representative Minjung artist, he has earned a reputation for making works that criticize civilization, expose political malice, and participate in society. He is also a multi-media and multi-genre artist, who uses diverse materials such as paper, metal and earth in addition to oil paints, and freely crosses the borders of painting, sculpture and installation, as he builds his unique formative world. His broad scope of activities also include public art, aiming to change people’s living environment by introducing art into the very foundations of life, and cultural activism, which seeks collective participation and mass communication while questioning the social roles and functions of art.

Lim Ok-Sang’s solo exhibition The Wind Rises, which is to be held at Gana Art Center, will consist mainly of two-dimensional works, reminding us of the Minjung art scene of the 80s, when painting was the representative art genre. The political contents of the individual works, and their realist style also seem to historically succeed Minjung art. But in this exhibition, where numerous new works will be presented, we can sense a certain nowness and freshness enabling us to look straight at the Lim Ok-Sang here and now, which is different from what he used to be, different from the former Minjung art. Such feeling seems to come from his awareness of subject in dealing with timely and contemporary topics, and new formative will executed through experimentation of materials and methodology. As shown in the entries, his full-fledged earth works, which demonstrate contemplation and reflection on soil as material, draw particular attention. Though he has also produced numerous works based on the theme of land using dirt as a medium, his recent earth works seem different, particularly in terms of the artist’s epistemological attitude of seeing earth as not only a physical material, but a conceptual medium. As to evoke Marshal McLuhan’s epigram, “The medium is the message,” Lim presents soil works in the dimension of media art, which convey the message of the earth through the medium of earth.

Though earth is a physical element composing the land, it contains cosmic symbolism and critical connotations of civilization that transcend materiality. As all things are born from dirt and return to it, dirt can be seen as a metaphor of the flesh and bones of the Earth, suggesting the principle of circulation of the universe. Meanwhile, since earth has been used as a symbol of rural culture in contrast with modern urban civilization, and as national resistance and power of the people, it has also been one of the prima subject matter that most inspired not only artists of Minjung art and other schools of realism, but also writers of enlightenment and nationalist literature who emphasized on the romantic love and idea of life. For example, Lee Kwang-Soo’s Earth, Park Kyoung-Ni’s Toji (Land) and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth all portray the attachment to and love for the soil and land, narrating the resilient lives of farmers and ordinary people rooted in the land, and the destiny of individuals thrown into the situation of structural change in society, and the uncontrollable ordeals of history.

In the exhibition The Wind Rises, the artist will use earth as his main medium to make and present mainly figure painting and landscape painting, which are the two pivotal genres in the history of painting, particularly realist painting. His figure paintings are rather portraits as they represent actual historical figures, and his landscape paintings are real-scene paintings as they deal with historical facts, political events and actual scenes. Wind Rises begins with portraits and ends with real-landscape painting. While the aforementioned earth portrait series is the prologue that opens the exhibition, the earth real-landscape painting series is the epilogue completing the exhibition.

As a Minjung artist, who tirelessly inquires on the earth, land, nature and history, Lim Ok-Sang paints portraits and landscapes with earth. For him earth is used as a signifier of political-social awareness and resistance of the people, but at the same time it also functions as a fantastic matrix that traverses the worlds of the real and ideal, the worlds of real and imaginary. The earth and land as a matrix that is defensive and accepting rather than aggressive—as suggested by the word’s composition of mater(Latin for mother) and ix(womb)—is the lifeline of life and the maternal placenta enabling the state, nation, society and individual be born, grow and develop. In respect for earth, the artist intends to return to the matrix and take root there. Hence, while yearning to be an artist awake with the self-purifying ability of soil and a man of action, Lim Ok-Sang tries to change himself and innovate the world through the discipline and painstaking practice of transporting soil.



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