London and Seoul-based Korean artist Meekyoung Shin (b.1967) is internationally renowned for her sculptures that probe the mis- and re-translations that often emerge when cultural objects are uprooted from their original context. Made from soap, her works replicate artefacts and canonical works of art, from Asian porcelain vases to Greek and Roman sculptures, translating between continents, cultures and centuries in the process.
In this new monograph on the artist, Jonathan Watkins sets the scene for Shin’s solo exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre UK in London in late autumn 2013, a stone’s throw from Nelson’s Column and the ‘Fourth Plinth’ commission of Trafalgar Square. Watkins eloquently introduces Shin’s major bodies of work whilst capturing the cultural complexity, exquisite craftsmanship, conceptual elegance and natural wit embodied within them.
An essay by Ben Tufnell explores the cultural and historical references in Shin’s work over the past fifteen years. Taking Shin’s solo exhibition at Haunch of Venison in London in 2011 as his point of departure, he opens up questions of what is exhibited where and when, by and for whom. His incisive analysis of Crouching Aphrodite (2002) – a life-size sculpture of the artist’s own body in the pose of the classical Venus of Vienne from the Louvre – raises issues of Eastern and Western culture, of originality and copying: ‘Being neither fully Asian nor fully Roman it inhabits a cultural limbo space.’ Tufnell explains, ‘Shin’s works are not simply replicas or reproductions but strange twins, uncanny avatars of their precursors.’
Curator and art historian Kyung An’s text offers an illuminating account of Shin’s Written in Soap: A Plinth Project (2012-ongoing), which takes the form of a public art project in which the artist recreates – out of soap – a large equestrian military statue of Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, that once stood in Cavendish Square, London. Having exhibited her work on its empty London plinth, Shin then created subsequent versions for display in Seoul and Taipei. As An asks, ‘what becomes of the monument when it is transplanted to a national museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art five thousand miles away?’
Jade Keunhye Lim’s essay unpicks the various strands of Shin’s Translation Series, from the classical Greek sculptures through to Toilet Project (2004-ongoing) – in which portrait busts made of soap are placed in the washrooms of galleries and museums for visitors to use when washing their hands. Via cultural imperialism and the tastes of the affluent classes of the West, Keunhye Lim questions the value systems of objects and the logic of their accession into museums. How is beauty, cultural significance and value constructed, and how does this translate across cultures and time?
The book has been published on the occasion of ‘Unfixed: A solo exhibition by Meekyoung Shin’, held at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London, from 12 November 2013 to 18 January 2014, curated by Jonathan Watkins.
Texts by Jonathan Watkins, Ben Tufnell, Kyung An, and Jade Keunhye Lim
108pp + 4pp covers, Softback, 280 × 220 mm, c. 50 colour and b/w images
RRP: £18 / €22 / $30
Released: 5 December 2013
Designed by Matt Watkins
Edited by Anne Blood, Co-ordinated by Kyung An
Published by Anomie Publishing, UK, in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Centre, UK, London