Han Seok Hyun’s creative practice sits at the intersection between art, social science and ecological engineering.

Art Radar takes a closer look at Han Seok Hyun’s exploration of man-made nature in his latest solo exhibition at NON Berlin in Berlin, Germany.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo by Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of “Origins”. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

The exhibition “Origins” by Han Seok Hyun, running from 20 October to 3 November 2016 at Berlin’s Asia Contemporary Art Platform NON Berlin, focuses on the manipulation of agriculture, investigating the limits between nature and human interference.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of “Origins”. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun 
studied fine art at Korea National University of Arts and he has exhibited internationally, including in Germany, Scotland, the United States and South Korea. His work has been shown in museums such as The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Buk Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul), Total Museum of Art (Seoul), SPACEMOM Museum of Art (Cheongju), Pohang Museum of Art (Pohang),The Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art (Gyunggido) and the Ilmin Museum of Art (Seoul).

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo by Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of “Origins”. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

In an artist statement for a 2016 artist residency at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Han explains his practice by stating:

With critical awareness of Mother Nature and the environment, I pursue fusion between creative construction and ecological practice through my art. My exploration between social science, art, and ecological engineering result in artworks. My interest lies in expanding the concept of “artificial nature” as it manifests itself in such forms as urban gardens and backyards and developing fully-fledged art-making projects.

Seeking the origins of artificial produce

The installation at NON Berlin consists of second-generation plants grown by Han from seeds purchased at Berlin supermarkets. He displays these plants next to cement casts of their “mother”. Han also includes photos documenting this process, from him buying the food at supermarkets, to planting the seeds and making the cement casts.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, work-in-progress of “Origins”, 2016. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

In the introduction by curator Julie Walsh, Han explains his creative process:

The plants on display are a second generation created from modern-day produce that was an improved agricultural product. I call this a kind of reverse-engineering process.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, work-in-progress of “Origins”, 2016. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han grew mango, apple, avocado, honeydew melon, starfruit and paprika. He wanted to see if the produce would keep its perfect form, or whether they would return to the memory of their more natural nature.

Global themes of man-made nature

This project arose out of Han’s fascination with the artificially perfect produce he found in Berlin supermarkets. It was in contrast to the fruit and vegetables he had grown up with in 1970s Korea, which was far from perfect in appearance. This exhibition explores what happened to that imperfect produce.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, work-in-progress of “Origins”, 2016. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Although the project grew out of the differences he found in Berlin, Han’s work is not tied to specific places. Rather the themes found in his work are of global concern, as Han explains:

Although I am interested in issues of urban landscape in both Berlin and Seoul, I feel my work up until now transcends boarders in that I am mostly concerned with the global issues of standardisation in produce and the creation of types of artifice in nature.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, work-in-progress of “Origins”, 2016. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

In a video for the Museum of Fine Arts Boston at the occasion of his inclusion in the exhibition “Megacities Asia”, Han Seok Hyun explained what drew him to work with concepts of nature:

I’m mainly interested in things that look like nature made by human beings, and industrial products made to make people feel close to nature. There are so many mountains in Seoul. After the Korean War, they transplanted fully grown trees to newly man-made parks in the city and parks between apartment buildings. This really inspired me. I came to realise that most of the things we refer to as “nature” have actually been made by humans over the past 50 years or so.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of “Origins”. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han has explored this interest in man-made nature in a number of his works. For example, his project Super-Natural (2011-2016) used green-coloured recyclable plastic packaging to reference the lack of natural green spaces in many megacities. Another example where Han has explored the nature of the things we eat was Simply Fresh!, which featured plasticised cabbage and lettuce leaves in a variety of media.

Han Seok Hyun, installation view of "Origins". Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han Seok Hyun, ‘Ox Heart Tomato (Ochsen Herzen Tomate)’, 2016. Image courtesy NON Berlin and Han Seok Hyun. Photo © Han Seok Hyun.

Han describes to Art Radar a particular time in Korea that influenced his investigation into the artificial nature of some products:

In 2000 in South Korea, there was an actual “eco green” movement. The government encouraged people to live healthier and during that time there was a shift in product design and produce to make things greener. It was during this time that I became amused by this “artificial nature”. Especially as there were products that were clearly not healthy for you and were trying to be very “green”.

“Origins” is another example of Han playfully investigating the artificial nature of things in our everyday lives, things that are so embedded we don’t even notice their strangeness.

Claire Wilson

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Related topics: Korean artists, gallery show, sculpture, mixed media, installation, consumerism, feature

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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