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Jeonghoon Shin - Vivarium

Jeonghoon Shin - Vivarium

Location: EMDE GALLERY - Mainz

Jeonghoon Shin - Vivarium


Emde Gallery is very pleased to present a solo exhibition by South Korean artist Jeonghoon Shin. On display is a selection of both existing works and new productions.
In his room-filling – or smaller – installations and sculptural objects, Jeonghoon Shin has long been concerned with the world of furnishings, people, and their imagination. This includes above all pieces of furniture because they are part of our everyday use, a life without them is inconceivable, says the artist, thus addressing one of the focal points of the exhibition, in which numerous references to furniture and lighting can be found. His sculptures often have not only an aesthetic but also a functional character and play with the boundaries between art and design products or pieces of furniture. Another focus is on heterogeneous mixed creatures, in which human and non-human elements are combined to create something new.

Jeonghoon Shin was born in 1998 in Ahnseong-Si (South Korea), he lives and works in Mainz. He began his art studies at the Kunsthochschule Mainz in 2018 in the sculpture class with Prof. Sabine Groß.

In his exhibition at the Emde Gallery, the artist has developed an expansive installation of more than twenty sculptural works, combining them with moss and branches, thus transforming the exhibition space into a vivarium. A "vivarium" is a container or glass box, in which living animals are kept. Jeonghoon Shin's protagonists are figures modelled in clay, which, arranged individually or in groups, are loosely distributed in the room. Some of the objects placed on the floor appear familiar, but many are alien, ranging from abstract to figurative via representations of animals and humans – including individual body parts such as heads, feet and paws or bizarre-looking, surreal mixed creatures of humans and animals – to furniture-like objects such as lamp installations, tables or vases.
The grey, shiny surface of the glazed clay sculptures, through which cracks run, is characteristic. They are also striking for their unusual combinations of materials. Clay, one of the classic sculptural materials par excellence, is combined in them with rather cheap bric-a-brac that the artist orders on the internet, such as artificial moss cushions, glass eyes, artificial fur and wigs, or sometimes with second-hand articles to create ambiguous sculptures. An ambivalence that also includes the design, when the works are abstract and representational at the same time, or when they mix human and animal, and thus nature and culture. Futuristic, fantastic and a little eerie, they lead the viewer into another possible or impossible, surreal, alien fantasy world.

The three exhibition rooms of the gallery are roughly thematically conceived, corresponding to the different impressions and effects expressed in Jeonghoon Shin's sculptures: Some appear fairytale-like and surreal, seeming to have sprung from another world, others appear more drastic and grotesque, still others more classical and atmospheric. The result is mostly humorous, playful, and technically sophisticated.

The front, large room is dominated by two groups of figures inspired by the form language of nature, such as the work "Teetisch" (Tea Table), which is an oversized, upright paw with paw pads and claws, in front of which stands a comparatively small, roughly life-size raven. The bird appears very lifelike, even though the characteristic animal form has been reduced to its essential features. Influenced by the animal world, the work "Pflanzenablage" (Plant Deposit) is also reminiscent of a stylised (predatory) cat in terms of its posture and the rounded shape with the spikes. As with the raven, the formal language is reduced here, which leaves room for associations. The titles, on the other hand, refer directly to the – at least potential – use as pieces of furniture.
The two groupings are each complemented by two lamps: two egg-shaped sculptures entitled "Himmel- und Höllenlampe“ (Heaven and Hell Lamp), which enclose a hollow space, in which an incandescent lamp that makes the sculpture glow is embedded in each case, as well as two column-like or totem-like lamp sculptures modelled on South Korean village guards – the so-called Jangseungs – whose "face" is formed by an oval, curved, diffusely illuminated glass.
In contrast, the sculpture "Gelenkige Blume“ (Lissome Flower) refers to organically grown forms. With its long stem and large, bell-shaped head, it is reminiscent of a flower on the one hand, while on the other hand the stem simultaneously evokes associations with a human leg with joints bent in several directions.
The flower and animal sculptures, together with the branches and fresh moss taken from the forest floor, transform the room into a fairytale or jungle-like scenario, to which the indirect lighting of the lamp sculptures and the incandescent lamps also contribute, hanging from the ceiling on black cables like fluorescent lianas and lying on the floor rolled up into moss nests.

The back room, on the other hand, propagates a completely different mood. In this part of the exhibition, there are objects that sometimes seem bizarre at first glance, such as the life-size sculpture "Tigermensch" (Tiger-Man), one of the central works in the exhibition. As the title suggests, it is a human-animal hybrid that combines both human and animal body parts, much like Egyptian deities or Greek centaurs or Asian mythology. The tiger-man is an upright, naked, male figure with a very aesthetic body, which – apart from the two hands and feet, which are broad, claw-like paws, the tail, and the erect ears – is of human shape. His face, on the other hand, framed by a kind of mane, is half tiger, half human. While the left half of the face is covered with a striped artificial fur – only the cat's eye is visible – the right half, with the exception of the tiger striped eyebrow, shows human features instead. The tiger-man is positioned with his back to the window and looks vigilantly forward, giving the impression that he is actually overlooking the exhibition rooms. His posture is static and firm, he appears determined, almost heroic. With his hybrid character and alert gaze, the tiger-man seems to enter into an active dialogue with the other sculptures scattered around the room, which have parallels to him in terms of form or content and are also reminiscent of cross-species hybrid beings.
This is also the case with the work "Bunny", a futuristic-looking hybrid subject, in which organism and machine are intermingled. In contrast to the other sculptures, here the artist has combined an old bicycle frame with parts of a shopping trolley and fixed a human head with rabbit ears modelled in clay on the head tube at the front, and two buttocks on the seat tube at the back – a humorous reference to our increasingly technologically permeated world.
The life-size heads placed on pedestals or lying on the floor, two with human, a third with cat-like physiognomy, also appear funny and playful. The cat has yellow eyes, two upwardly protruding ears that rather resemble a mixture of cat and rabbit ears, and a snub nose with whiskers on each side. The heads are adorned with wigs or headscarves and absurd accessories, the cat, for example, with a cigarette whose smoke is formed from feathers.
Things are a little more drastic with the sculpture "Sementa", a female torso with voluptuous breasts and buttocks, complemented by a head on which sits a pink long-hair wig. She has strangely twisted eyes and a tongue sticking out. It is the "ahegao" facial expression. This refers to the exaggerated facial expression, especially of female manga or anime characters during sex. Here, the artist uses references from high and contemporary pop culture, everyday life, and art history by bringing together a torso that is considered serious with an internet phenomenon that has gone viral.

Jeonghoon Shin's sculptural work between abstraction and figuration, between traditional meaning and imaginative hybrid beings, between the familiar and the absurd, springs from the artist's imagination and at the same time bears references to the real world. Encountering his installations and sculptures is as if we were immersed in an alien world whose meaning at times seems wondrous and enigmatic to us, but creates a reverberation and thus, against the backdrop of the intensification of ecological crises, simultaneously makes us question and reflect on connections in the real world, such as the assumption of a solely man-made history. Furthermore, Jeonghoon Shin's sculptures always raise questions about the status of sculpture as a contemporary medium or about the general status of artworks.


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