Exploration of Life Operation Principles

It was a dreary day. The sky was gray and it rained on and off. As I was near the sea, the chilly wind uncharacteristic of the season was able to easily penetrate my clothes. The OCI Museum of Art’s residency building located across from a busy road abundant with speeding automobiles looked bleak as if it were some place in an illusion. I was able to reach the room where Yun Sung-feel was working after passing an extensive parking lot and ascending a staircase on the corner of the building.


The space allotted to Yun looked absurdly small for a sculptor who has to cut, grind, and weld. Even so his previous and newly produced pieces did not conceal their presence even in such a small space. The room was filled with the age-old laws of sculpture such as size, weight, and the artist’s labor, all captured at a glance. A vortex-shaped small sculpture made by slicing steel plates into regular size increments and fixing them together with bolts was placed on a pedestal. A similarly shaped massive sculpture made by slicing stainless steel and held together with bolts was hung on the wall. Drawings made by applying iron powder to a canvas and works in which tiny insect-like objects seemed to be flowing ceaselessly down made this small room seem like an unrealistic space.


Moving is evidence of being alive: all living things are moving. Yun experienced an extreme fear of death and pain due to suffering from asthma as a child. His works display his interest in how to exist in this world while collecting evidence of living things. Yun’s works allude to humanity’s sensibility in an age of mechanical reproduction in the most humanistic manner possible.




The Energy and Structure of the World


Yun’s Energy series was made by slicing steel plates into the same size and at the same angle to create layers which he then bolted together. It is the result of his 10-year exploration of an infinitely expanding structure. Creating a form by cutting steel plates into the exact same dimensions resembles his childhood activity of making a lampshade by cutting color paper with scissors as his steel plates can similarly be cut and bent with ease. The orderly flow of lines harks back to a feeling of mechanical repetition. He lends the principle of operation to the regularity of the steel plate which has been sliced into regular size increments. Some of the curved lines remind viewers of periodic repetition, the movement of planets, and the act of stars pulling and pushing one another. Its orderly structure is a projection of strength and energy as it visualizes movements.


A linear structure resembling an organic form is embodied through repetition. For Heidegger, repetition entails handing down some possibility of existence to oneself in a palpable manner. It is not a mere repetition of something but rather is a selection that was made using one’s solid will, holding back all accidental and potential possibilities. According to Derrida, repetition is a condition for signification as well as a condition for the “impossibility of pure, underlying signification.” Yun’s structures made through repetitions of lines more closely resemble Derrida’s than Heidegger’s in that their arrangement is similar to a pattern to deconstruct the center rather than seeking the center. His recurring lines proliferate and come to have life through accumulation.


Sliced planes chosen in a way that unfolds the structure of one sheet of steel are brought to existence through lines and then structuralized as a three-dimensional structure by linking them together with bolts. Viewers of his work cannot help but recollect the forms of Oriental inner energy like yin and yang through spaces among the lines. This form can be said to be a projection of infinite repetition and accumulation. “Slicing” can be used to refer to the way that lines expand a structure. Lines that appear after slicing a plane display a spread out structure and an accumulated pattern. His Energy series showing the principle of a lost center represents the characteristics of life through a visualization of the principle of an incessantly altering and flowing universe.



An Oscillatory World


The serial sculpture Stillness in Movement that Yun began working on in 2006 can be understood as an extension of the energy mentioned above. With this series he began his inquiry into oscillating force, trying to grasp the structure of the world through the string theory.


“My inquiries have been expanded from myself to the reality I stand on and the universe beyond this reality, and moreover to modern and contemporary science. While studying these subjects, I thought about how Oriental philosophy and religion have a lot of similarities with modern and contemporary science. For instance, contemporary scientific theories such as quantum mechanics and string theory bear a lot of similarities with the theory of yin and yang of the East. The genius scientist Albert Einstein asserted that Buddhism is the most scientific religion, quoting that “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future.”


Judging from his statement, his Stillness in Movement series presents the frame of Oriental thought and the framework needed to interpret it in the name of Western science. While his previous Energy series was made with the intention of unveiling cosmic order through the three-dimensionalization of planes by making them into lines, the Stillness in Movement series was created to show that relieving something from planes does not result in removal or elimination but oscillatory force. Two plates cross in space due to cut round parts that in some works look as light as a mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture that constantly moves in the air. Despite being a heavy, solid material, the steel plate appears light in this work. This alchemistic alteration of material is possible thanks to the accurate, refined technique of cutting. Two plates that may fuse into one are two opposite planks where yin and yang and a filled post and an empty post coexist. When the two intersect at right angles, a different world is created. This world is completely different from the initial world but they are two of the same body.


The work of cutting a two-dimensional steel plate into two oval shapes with repetitive lines appears optical. This piece displays a world with vibrating strings, not dots or lines. The flexible flow of lines arouses an optical illusion, making viewers hesitate to define this work’s meaning. When this form appears in space, it lies in a context different from that when it is hung on a wall or placed on the floor. Made up of lines that are unlikely to intersect, this form approaches its own nature through accumulation, demonstrating that it can be reduced to one matter or a steel plate. Intimately and diversely altered appearances can be made using various widths and depths.


The Stillness in Movement series appears quite sensuous and seems to be a visualization of sound waves. The repetitive lines of ovals are interpreted in the form of sounds, bringing its presence into relief as a sculpture that occupies space. His intent of harnessing a steel plate as a solid form without allowing any room for other possibilities lies in a visualization of such material property. A repetition of sounds existing as waves and ovals in this type of form leads viewers to concentrate on energy and the way of its existence as a projection of the meaning of oscillation. This seemingly dull visual simplification is a perfect choice for illustrating such a concept in that it conveys a strong message like the artist intended.



Equilibrium, Creative Order


Iron powder placed on a canvas is nothing but matter that has been tossed onto a surface. These minute particles form a new shape when they are bristled up, aggregated, and scattered by magnetism. Just like the universe during the Big Bang, the iron powder moves to form a world on a canvas. The scattered iron powder explodes with excessive power and demonstrates the uncontrollable flow of energy that occurs in chaos. When magnetism becomes involved in this as certain energy, iron powder is arrayed and displays a repetitive form. This creates a world, floating and reacting to energy like a cosmic birth.


Similar to a painting series, Chaos, Cosmos and Circulation is a visualization of cosmic creation and circulation. This series can be largely divided into two categories: scattered iron dust that shapes an indeterminate form and that which forms an infinite circle. No matter how much the artist sought to produce an unconscious state, the iron powder was probably shaped in some way by the artist’s hand when it was first sprinkled. When a magnet moves along its back, powder scattered on a piece of linen follows the flow of the energy, departing from the artist’s intent. The powder takes the form of dots when scattered on the cloth and spaces between them are formed only in an energy field. The scenes escaped from the artist’s hand are found in circles or appear in the patterns of repetitive dots. These dots and circles appear round and three-dimensional like planets including the earth in the universe. The iron powder floating inside reminds viewers of a solar spot or a black hole alluding to gravity, the underlying force of the universe.


The iron dust takes the form of an infinite circle due to the machine working behind the horizontal canvas. Its rough particles create forms when they become gathered or scattered in an infinite movement. The artist fixes the result of this endless repetition. What we find in this canvas are concentric circles, waves, and a target image. They hark back to a topological map composed of mountains, rivers, and roads when seen close-up or as figures and ink brush lines rendered by a hand’s skilled movement from far away.


This is the result of the drawing relief’s temporality in this series: the relief looks like a sculpture when seen close-up but like a painting when seen at a distance. The embossed dots located at the center of each line hint at the spots where iron powder starts to gather. If a line is one cosmos, these similar lines would be worlds formed in the same operation way of energy. Thus, a line derives from a dot and the dot gives form to vibrating, erupting energy. The particles of corroding iron powder vary in color depending on their exposure to the air and shape a new relation in his works. When applied with green or red pigments, they reveal such a relationship more palpably. The repetitive lines come across in an unexpected situation and form another world. The work of spinning iron beads probably reminds most viewers of the lineup of planets in the solar system that they saw in their elementary school days. This simple work demonstrates the process in which his interest in life is expanded to his interest in the creation of the universe and returns to his philosophical agony of what life is.




The World of Truth As It Is


A critic of Art Critiqued who viewed the curved surface of stainless steel protruded from the wall recollected Anish Kapoor’s. This translation may be correct in that this work displays an extension of space however what the artist views from a broad viewpoint is not only physical space. He has brought energy to the focus of his attention. He “installs” space inside or outside the wall in the serial work Looking at the Real World from within the Real World. The purpose of this series was to create a place to demonstrate energy operation, not to arouse a mirror effect of space or induce an unexpected experience. Iron powder scattered on the protruded image oscillates continuously due to magnetism. The powder moves slightly, swiftly, or becomes detached and piles up on the floor. When colored iron dust is placed on a cone-shaped image, it looks like a stain. Its subtle movement arouses a visual stimulus.


Any matter flows downward even when a coordinate is set on the infinitely repetitive lines that form a circle. There is nothing on earth that works against gravity. However these array and move under magnetism. They retain movement, one of the distinct features of all living things. They react to each other thanks to the sensor working when one approaches them. The series presents the moment man and machine and mechanical movement and human emotion meet together. That’s’ why moving iron powder is thought of as an insect. These tiny particles shifted by magnetism are considered an insect, which is no different from Wonhyo’s experience of drinking water from a human skull.


Everything is the result of the mind’s movement. Even the world of ultimate reality is revealed by it. Clouds in the sky may look like a tiger or a flock of sheep but they are just clouds. The artist very simply discloses that this is the operation principle of all things in the universe as a cloud is not a substance. This simplicity can be the most effective way of revealing the truth. A tiny magnet is floating on black liquid that is gradually flowing downwards. The scene of this black, sloppy liquid coursing down stirs up fear. What are we afraid of? The little magnet rotates by magnetism and the black liquid flows down by gravity. The space woven by magnetism’s horizontal energy and gravity’s vertical energy is shaped by the mind’s operation. Any change cannot escape the influence of time. The artist has stated that he will employ a photographic exposure technique for the work of time. In this sense the artist resembles a scientist who checks even the simplest of principles through extracted results.


By Cho Eun-jung, Art Critic