Swimming, an emancipation from desire and a will to obtain freedom

Written by Tae Man Choi/Art critic

Seeing the photo of stainless steel wire sharks composed by Chang Hwan Kim hanging in the air, it suddenly occurs to me that these sharks are rather streamlined flying object than the ones swimming in the ocean. Any shapes that consist of lines might better follow the "flying image" because of its minimized volume. In addition, the assembly of metal sharks in the dark sky is beautiful and elegant rather than threatening. Furthermore, the image of shark that is intended to represent the real one seems to be a virtual reality restored by digital technology. Most of the sharks gathering I have witnessed in his workroom were dangling on the ceiling. Not having light effects, they seemed to be frames for reproduction or a picture drawn in space.

Then, the producer is required to articulate particularly why he tried to reproduce sharks with lines. Sharks are stereotyped to be a predator in the sea. Especially, the movie "Jaws", directed by Steven Spielberg in 1975, is well known for giving him a global reputation and augmenting our fear on cannibal sharks as well. A documentary that features sharks chasing after the targeted preys with their sharp teeth doubles our fear on them. However, Chang Hwan Kim omitted those horrifying teeth in his reproduction which indicates that he doesn't intend to repeat the real feature, but to impose symbolic meanings. His focus on sharks is closely relevant to his social experiences. Not being educated until late in his age, he began his career as a sculptor by paying tuition with his own efforts. While attending an art college, he afforded his tuition in various ways including fixing furnaces and building rebars at construction sites.

It caused him great pain to major in sculpting and to finish his graduate school. In spite of all of this, his life remained tough. As he discovered obstacles in his career, he had no choice but to ponder social structure and the power that controls it. His interest in power caused him to divulge the emptiness of strong ones through sharks that are truculent predator in the sea. For him, sharks symbolized desire of power possession regardless of time and space. Since reproducing real sharks could mean nothing but to make an educational material that can be displayed in the nature museum, he needed a method to present the symbolic meaning in metaphor.

Like shimmering between lines in installing rebar structure, 3D simulation was applied for reproduction to further develop potential linear formation. However Chang Hwan Kim produced the shark's external frame with synthetic resins and added consolidated stainless steel wire on top of it. Most of the sharks are longer than 3 meter so that rough wires make the sharks look real. The argyle pattern is repetitive of a diamond, cross or fylfot symbolize buddhism and was applied to form the skin layer. It occurs to me that the pattern's symbol might have religious connotation. Interestingly, this repetitive pattern was derived from a diamond structure that can be found in female mesh stockings.

He considered the diamond pattern in mesh stockings as a structure set up by capital and a revelation of commerciality. That's how a sarcastic shark was created to criticize coalition of power and commercialism by applying the diamond pattern for the shark's appearance. On the other hand, the argyle pattern that has consistent module reminds me of a grid structure which has formated modern cities after an industrial society. A grid structure that also symbolize functionalism artificially modified ecosystem and can be referred to as an invisible net that is only for a human being. We are surrounded by grid and it is the desire of capitalism that operates it.

Whether it is diamond or cross, every line that constitute this pattern converges on the shark's mouth in the end. That is, the original line extends from the mouth and ends where it started. The mouth is for capturing and consumption that symbolize predation. However at the same time, it is what enables lingual communication among people, while being the origin of mistakes. Because of its capacity of gobbling up everything, a mouth implies merciless power, while symbolizing lethargic self-destruction by verbal mistake or not keeping one's promise.

A shark, the symbol of power, could not only be a predator in the ocean but also the authority that emerges everywhere or in a grand organization. Sharks that are swimming after a certain place in congregation can be a metaphor for vanity of power that blindly pursue a catastrophic finale. In addition, a shark without sensing organs such as eyes and nose can be recognized as evanescence of power that tends to disappear with no definite objective. Like a natural principle that goes through emergence and extinction, Chang Hwan Kim expressed his belief through aggressive and dull-looking sharks - though it might seems to last eternally, the power will eventually submerge.

However, these sharks not only symbolize uncertain power but also might reflect his desire of obtaining it by boosting his social status. Since social success, accumulation of wealth, obtaining political influence are human's desire, these sharks can be interpreted as our desire in broad perspective. Its lightness in bulkiness might be analogous to our transient desire. However, being composed of slender line glowing in the air, these sharks make us imagine another desire to be free from the pressure that comes with desire. In that perspective, Chang Hwan Kim's sharks are predators swimming in the ocean and violent rulers with great power. At the same time they represent their determination to acquire freedom that would emancipate them from desire by flying in the blue sky.