Deodorant Type, the new exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery makes interesting viewing. Korean artist Gwon Osang, in his first major UK show, fills the space with imposing realist sculptures that carry the power to confuse and challenge the viewer’s perception.
"These layered photographic surfaces give Osang’s sculptures a fragmented and therefore surreal appearance. The expressions and features of each individual model are occasionally skewed and unnatural, their proportions wrong."
In an attempt to move away from traditional sculpting materials and methods, which he finds, ‘suffocating’ and restrictive, Gwon Osang formed his current and signature technique, in which he uses photographs to create a composite image of his models on life size sculpted bodies.
These layered photographic surfaces give Osang’s sculptures a fragmented and therefore surreal appearance. The expressions and features of each individual model are occasionally skewed and unnatural, their proportions wrong. As a result the sculptures found in Deodorant Type are at times eerie, unnerving and intimidating. One such sculpture is an impressive horse mounted police officer, striking, proud and reminiscent of monumental equestrian sculptures of monarchs and princes. Another is that of Graham Massey, Manc muso, best known for his work as part of 808 State and pictured here.
Osang commented that he enjoys the 'contemporary visuality' photography achieves. It also brings an unavoidable realist stance to his work. These sculptures are real people who exist simultaneously and separately to the exhibition space, in the same clothes, making the same face. Osang cannot change them; the camera does not lie. Most of the sculptures featured in the exhibition were created from Osang’s month long residency in Manchester in 2007.
The poses of Osang’s sculptures are all those readily available in society, ads, and media. Osang describes his body formations as ‘very close to me and easily available…found around me or in any civilised city life on earth, through magazines or the internet’. They are positions that we are so used to seeing around us, we become almost unaware of them.
Though Osang states that he does not ‘really want audiences to understand or find something special by looking at my work’, this writer finds Osang’s photographic sculptural portraits an intriguing comment on identity.
In our contemporary society, photographs are the medium by which we assert, read and reproduce our identities. When individuals upload their carefully selected images on to websites and post photos on their Internet profiles, they create a public life and personality for themselves, be it true or false. Through these photos people are placed within stereotypes, judged, targeted by ad companies and others.
Osang in his use of photography for sculptural portraiture uses a medium which has become an expression of our social worth, our status. Osang’s work confronts this - he provides a photographic person, real in size, stance, style and looks: yet we will never understand them. All we create of each sculpture's identity will be a fabrication, a projection of our own experiences and prejudices.
You may think this understanding of Osang’s work utter rubbish. But that's all right as according to Osang, contemporary art means: 'a variety of misunderstandings', that become a 'way of communication'.
Indeed the exhibition’s title Deodorant Type is a pun on a cultural misunderstanding in itself: the failure of multi-national advertising agencies to sell deodorant in Korea due to, as Osang tells us, the majority of Asians not suffering from body odour. So go and become misunderstood and confused by Osang. If nothing else that life size horse is impressive.
Deoderant Type is on until 21 September 2008 at Manchester Art Gallery and is free of charge.
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