South Korean artist Young-Deok Seo uses the unlikely material of bicycle chains as a way to craft realistic sculptures of the human body. For years, we’ve marveled over his figurative artwork, some of it life-sized and others larger than life, that features intricate details you wouldn’t expect from something as clunky as chains. Seo, however, wields it like string to create a combination that’s delicate yet substantial.
Fragmentation is an emphasis in Seo’s chain link sculptures. The very nature of chain, with its limited-mobility metal links, means that each figure will be somewhat incomplete with small holes that allow light to pass through. This is evident even in Seo’s towering, hollow masks, but it’s made even more apparent in his pieces that obscure portions of the face or entire portions of the body. The decisions are intended to question the industrialization of labor, which has become synonymous with the modern world.
“We are interlocked and running like parts of a giant machine,” Seo writes on his website. “Just as components are, we hang in there the day after day. And we are not allowed to be a protagonist of even our own life. The chains in my work mean fetters. The fetters are all about our contemporaries’ complicated, forced relationships and cravings for materials.” Although Deok sees industrialization as a way to dampen our spirits and “suppress our feelings,” he hopes that his work can console those who need comfort from it.
At first glance, when someone takes a look at his work, one cannot help but notice that the artist draws strong references from the work of the renowned British sculptor Anthony Gormley. Gormley is known for using the human figure at the core of his work who on numerous occasions used his own figure to create metal casts making his body the artwork itself.
What Deok’s sculptures capture is the anxieties of the modern human and especially the anxieties of the younger generation. Through his work, he exposes today’s reality with all its problems and pitfalls. Thus, his body of work has a strong sociological meaning that reflects upon the fragmented world we live in. Some of his pieces lie on the ground and some of their parts are fragmented as if they have been broken. The artist, in that sense, tries to capture the struggle of his subjects. The body is the form of a temple where the artist draws spiritual inspiration. Therefore, by breaking it down into pieces and sewing it back in circumstances of stress, this clearly indicates his position on the man of today and his state of mind. That, in combination with the industrial materials (plain and bicycle chains) implies a statement in terms of this distress evident in the human forms as a comment on today’s industrial and the manufactured world.
One might also go as far as to say that the fact that he is using chain and therefore a form of linkage is an attempt to present the natural form as one with the manmade and the mechanized. In other words, technology and the industrial are life today.
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