What’s the meaning of “I”? How should one define the essence of the self? Two South Korean artists are trying to answer these fundamental questions at the The Essence of I exhibition at LWH Gallery.
Both Wang Ziwon and Shin Hoyoon foresee a future that is a state of harmony and balance. They aim to explore what it means to be human and how humans can break free from their physical limitations.
Wang creates electrically powered futuristic sculptures of cyborgs that appear to be lost in meditation, encircled by mechanically moving components resembling halos or lotus flowers in full bloom.
The artist challenges the common perception that standards of morality are dropping with the advancement of artificial intelligence. He believes it is important for man to break free from his physical constraints in an effort to evolve and achieve harmony with advanced technology, rather than passively accept the future.
“Technology is changing our lives to the core, and I believe the integration of man and technology is inevitable. For instance, we wear glasses as our eyesight gets worse, and use cars or airplanes when we travel a long distance. I don’t find that right or wrong. I just hope to prompt people to consider these changes,” Wang said.
The inspiration behind Wang’s works stems from his interest in the versatility of robots when he was a child.
At the age of 20, he became fascinated with replaceable bodies after a car accident left him partly paralyzed for a period of time. Examples he cites include robotic replacements for an amputated hand, artificial eyes for the blind, and electrodes planted in the brains of Parkinson’s diease patient to help quell the symptoms of the disease.
“Technology is changing our lives little by little, even without our awareness,” Wang said.
He began to examine the impact of science on cyber-connected human relations, the increasingly integrated relationship between man and technology, and the possibilities of breaking free from the limitations of the human body through robotics.
The calm and meditative faces constantly found in Wang’s pieces are, in fact, portraits of the artist himself. His works start from the birth of Z, a mechanical man named after his first name’s English initial.
Taking the famous statement “I think, therefore I am” from French philosopher René Descartes as his starting point, Wang asks what it means to be human, whether a person can still be considered himself when his spirit is taken away from his body, and at what stage man’s integration with technology wipes out his identity as a moral subject.
Shin Hoyoon deliberates upon similar issues through intricate Buddha statutes built using a fine paper-cutting technique.
There is No Essence is a series of sculptures made entirely of fiber paper, each crafted meticulously by hand (pictured top). Shin cuts each layer of the sculpture and coats them with urethane to preserve the paper. They are then piled along with coated paper joints that lend strength and stability to the light delicate structure. Each work weighs no more than 200 grams, despite some of them being as tall as 35cm.
To Shin, paper is the most preferential and versatile material with which to portray the structures of society. “I appreciate the history of paper – its ability to pass down knowledge through documentation,” he said. “Using paper is a reflection of the self-inflicting act of a society which tends to advance by injuring itself.”
Shin likes to elevate the plainness of paper into multi-dimensional pieces of art so as to reflect the fundamental social and political conditions in South Korea and the world beyond.
“The present Korea is mired in chaos as it is driven by greed and money,” Shin said.
He suggests Buddhist philosophy as a means of tackling these issues. “The essence of ‘I’ is the mind. When the mind is set right, you can see right. It is vital that people cultivate their minds, so as to be free from the anxiety and agony,” he said.