South Korean artist Don Sunpil attempts to decode the subculture of miniature figures
IN THE CONTEMPORARY art scene where installations and gallery spaces alike tend to become bigger and bigger to achieve “spectacle” status, artist Don Sun-pil produces miniature figurines of characters from cartoons, animations, games and other subculture productions.
Don has an exhibition continuing into June at the Arario Museum’s underground gallery at Space, an architectural gem by Kim Soo-geun in central Seoul.
The show features 400 figurines from the artist’s own collection, ranging from the first miniature he bought when he was still in high school – from the “Spawn” series, made by US company McFarlane Toys – to his own sculptural collages.
An installation view of Don Sunpil exhibition “Kitsutaiten” at Seoul’s Arario Gallery in Space. /Courtesy of Arario Gallery
The exhibition, “Kitsutaiten”, at first glance appears to be a survey of the artist’s personal tastes.
But it is best seen as the artist’s critical statement on the figurines and the subculture they have created.
“I’ve tried to look into the intersections between fine art and the subculture of miniature figures,” he says.
As a collector, Don wanted to learn more about the subculture, as well as criticism specific to his beloved small objects, but his expectations went unfulfilled.
“I was surprised that people weren’t bothered to make any kind of cultural criticisms regarding miniature figures, even though there are so many of them,” he says. “I found the criticisms and discourses very difficult to come by – not just here but also abroad.”
Discussions about figurines are typically limited to their transactional and financial value, he says.
“In online communities, for instance, people ask where they can buy miniature figures or how to get them cheaper, but not about why they like them.
“People who collect the figures have their own tastes and the reasons they collect them should vary too. A person’s preference is based on his own stories and contexts. But few people are willing to talk about them, perhaps because it is difficult to put it in words. I think that’s a shame,” Don says.
Figurines appeal to him more than sculptures because they better represent the ways in which people actually live.
“Next Back Door” /Courtesy of Arario Gallery
“Many parties come into play when making figurines, such as customers, sculptors, the company that owns the an original character and so on. The final product is a result of combining opinions and needs of those different parties.
“Creating one’s own artistic world has no limits and I admire the artists who do that. But I’m interested in the areas that have limits, like life, which is full of limits. What makes the miniature figures interesting is that they have limits.”
Figurines also have limits in that they typically don’t last long, but the artist finds attraction in those limits.
“Miniature figures easily break and you have to deal with it. The thing is that I still like them, even though their parts are broken. They don’t have to be in perfect shape. You might wish them to stay intact forever, but they cannot,” Don says.
“What’s important is the shape of your memory. My first miniature figure reminds me of high school. The objects can bring back memories that could have been forgotten otherwise.”
The artist delves deeper into the subculture in his new book “Figure Text: A Report on the Wonder Festival”.
The exhibition “Kitsutaiten” continues through June 20.
For details, visit www.ArarioMuseum.org.