Seoul and London-based artist Meekyoung Shin grew up in South Korea and was initially trained there in the classical tradition of European sculpture. Back then, she studied Western art in books, where marble sculptures seemed very familiar as images, but not as real objects.
Later in her life, she moved to London, where she became fascinated by the removal of many objects from their places of origin to be displayed as representatives of other cultures in museums. She remembers seeing classical sculptures before her eyes for the first time in the ‘90s in the British Museum and the V&A. “It’s a very different type of stone with Korean sculpture. I felt the quality of its material looked like soap.” It is precisely these encounters that lit up a radiant spark in her head to set out on a venture to create sculptures using this saponaceous substance commonly used as a cleaning agent.
Since there was no technique to carve and cast big sculpture with soap, she has to learn and master it herself. “Soap is fragile and time-consuming,” explains Meekyoung. “It’s a similar density or texture to stone, but soap’s nature is opposite – ephemeral not permanent. And soap has a fragrance, which is an important aspect of my work. You have to be there to experience the smell, like travelling to new places.”
Using this seemingly soft and vulnerable material, Meekyoung has sculpted precious objects of value from classical Western busts and sculptures to 18th and 19th Century Chinese porcelain vases. These saponaceous contemporary sculptures interpret the notion of sculptures through a foreigner’s alien viewpoint. Ridding the perceived solidity of sculptures through disintegration, dislocation, and transient transformation, a conversing view of this authoritative tradition is exhibited examining its dominance and originality.