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Hyeyoung Shin's Installation at UB's Anderson Gallery

Hyeyoung Shin's "Weight of Being," 2013.


Writing about the artist Hyeyoung Shin’s show, Books and Rituals, at Western New York Book Arts Center in 2011, I mused upon the idea of her artwork: highly idiosyncratic images and forms of feet. It brought to my mind the torturous Asian “art” of “ foot-binding” practiced until fairly recently on young girls in the upper classes, correspondingly the “natural foot” being the unbound symbol of a peasant work force, bare of foot striding into a well grounded future under post-revolutionary Chairman Mao. Shin wrote back, disabusing me of the notion her work had anything to do with foot-binding.

Shin’s current installation at UB’s Anderson Gallery, Weight of Being, places the viewer solely in the perspective of pedal appendages. Three walls of the gallery are given over to digital print images of various paired feet as one might view them from the refrigerator drawer of the county morgue…but the sense of bodily pressure, the standing weight, on the flattened flesh of the feet indicate living subjects having been portrayed from underneath, clothed and in robust health.

In a separate room, a carefully paired arrangement of three-dimensional cast feet in hollow gauze-like sculptural shells made of Japanese Gampi paper is displayed, along with an extended video recording of more than 30 individual foot-casting sessions. As the video shows, men, women, and children in succession sat elevated in chairs, feet first swabbed with a powdered solution to keep the translucent wrapping from adhering to the flesh of the foot, while below the artist meticulously molds the material to the feet, carrying on an extensive conversation with each model, setting them at ease and exchanging life stories over each two-hour session, while her assistant taped the proceedings.

Previously real-time performances have centered on exhibitions where the artist washed the feet of willing art patrons in a manner to suggest a cleansing meditative ritual. The 1960s witnessed a broader movement towards body and performative art, including Fluxus, Yves Klein, and Gutai, while in the 1970s Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley extended event-art into dually perverse and philosophical arenas. However, over the last 40 years audience participatory art has remained, like interactive theater, mainly out of the mainstream. When in 2010, Marina Abramovic sat in a chair during the entire length of her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, encouraging people one at a time to sit across a table from her while she unmovingly, silently stared at them for as long as they wished to silently sit there as well, she raised the bar for artists who wish to transcend the ineffably gossamer realm of human connection through witness—though for every monastic meditation intended to pause a life for intimate, cathartic and emotional reflection, there is often a curious sideshow, such as Tilda Swinton’s sleep-in at the New Museum.

Hyeyoung Shin’s work conveys a hands-on human presence through an extraordinary reciprocity between object and viewer a kind of spiritual balance: simple elements and elegant organic processes.

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