At the recent Art Basel and Art Central exhibitions in Hong Kong, the hyperrealistic sculptures of Sam Jinks. Patricia Piccinini, Choi Xooang and Ting-Tong Chang captured a lot of attention. The artists share a fascination with the human form and with the ability to mimic and distort that form. At first sight, the sculptures tend to be unsettling (or even creepy!), as they are all operating deep within the uncanny valley; however, what does each artist’s work reveal about the human condition?
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1. Kneeling Woman & Babies and Frogs by Sam Jinks
Of the artwork featured this page, the sculptures of Australian artist Sam Jinks are the most faithful to the human form. Viewing his sculptures is like looking at living people suspended in time, with all their imperfections— wrinkles and folds of flesh, ribs pressing out against the skin, the line of bumps tracing the path of vertebrae, age spots and other skin discolorations, the webs of lines on the palms and soles—laid bare. His works celebrate the beauty of the human form despite, or perhaps because of its vulnerability, imperfection and transience.
Sometimes he adds additional elements to his sculptures, like the frogs in Babies and Frogs. Why frogs? Perhaps they call to mind the temporary “amphibious” nature of new born babies. Before birth, humans live in a liquid environment drawing nutrition and oxygen from the amniotic fluid that envelops them in the womb.
Sam Jinks worked as a creature designer in the film industry before devoting his energies full-time to his own art.
More on Sam Jinks
Artist’s Website: www.samjinks.com
Sam Jinks / Sculptor by Long Walk Films
2. The Rookie by Patricia Piccinini
Like many of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini’s lifelike sculptures, the Rookie, explores the possibilities and perils of bio-technology and the capabilities of human love and acceptance.
Bio-technology offers the tools to manipulate, mutate and mold the human form, but how will we, as a society and as individuals, view the new humans? The title of the work, the Rookie, not only implies something new—perhaps a prototype—but it also implies the beginning. If this is the creature in its rookie form, what has it been designed to do?
The infant creature, looking like hybrid of a human, hedgehog and tortoise, is at once grotesque and adorable. Lying vulnerable and immobile on its back and staring up with moist, pleading eyes, he/she/it is seemingly searching for acceptance and love. Could you truly love such a ‘thing’ and could you take the responsibility to raise it? What kind of life would it live?
More on Patricia Piccinini
Artist’s Website: www.patriciapiccinini.net
In The Flesh | Patricia Piccinini (video by the National Gallery)
3. Dreamers (Green) by Choi Xooang (최수앙)
Dreamers (Green) is part of a series of sculptures by Korean artist Choi Xooang (최수앙) that feature hyperrealistic human figures with towering outgrowths resembling forests or coral sprouting from their heads.
My first impression of this sculpture was of a kind of tranquil sadness. Therefore, when doing research for this article, I was surprised to find that the artist’s sculptures tend to be nightmarish, surrealistic visions of the human form: disembodied hands; disembodied heads; armless humanoid creatures with rough white skin who are missing mouths, eyes or heads; a human-goose hybrid; a baby body with an adult head. Describing Choi Xooang’s’s work, Caro writes:
“To Choi, the body is a vessel through which we perceive and express ourselves, and one that provides him with an ideal medium to explore the possibilities of the human condition. What might seem brutal at first glance is actually Choi’s method of dealing with life’s wounds and scars, and even in his most grotesque work, his figures seem to evoke our awe and sympathy.” (Caro, Xooang Choi’s New Hyperrealistic Figures Are Dreamy and Unsettling)
Other sculptures in this Dreamers series feature lone subjects; they bear expressions of despair and sit slumped over. As the people are labelled as dreamers, does this mean the outgrowths represents their dreams? Do our beautiful hopes and aspirations sometimes become a kind of burden? In Dreamers (Green), the figures support and comfort each other. They don’t look happy, but they don’t look despairing either. Perhaps the burden of dreams is easier to handle if people can support one another.
I wonder whether the two figures are trapped by the dream they share. If so, what will happen if they pull themselves away from each other?
More on Choi Xooang
Artist’s Instagram: www.instagram.com/xooang
Article by Yoewool Kang: An Interview with Xooang Choi
Article by Nastia Voynovskaya: Recent, Nightmarishly Hyperreal Sculptures by Choi Xooang
Silent Video slideshow by Hayata Dair
4. Robinson by Ting-Tong Chang
In his work, Ting-Tong Chang, a Taiwanese London-based artist, frequently explores ideas related to machines—what their uses may be, how they function and how they may malfunction—and identity. This animatronic sculpture, Robinson, deals with both themes. Although the creature is human-like in appearance and is capable of a wide range of expressions, it is still just a machine—an assemblage of circuitry and gears, latex and aluminum.
The creation of Robinson was inspired by humanoid automata, the mechanical devices that wowed nobility during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. These were clockwork machines that looked like humans (or in some instances animals) and were constructed to perform a specific task, such as perform music, write or draw (see the video at the end of this section for an example of a musical automaton). Automata, which have existed since ancient times; are byproducts of our fascination with blurring the boundaries between life and machine.
Robinson does have an audio narration that describes his life and thoughts; however, that was not playing at the Art Basel exhibit. You can hear it in the Vimeo video at the end of this section.
Unlike the other artists introduced in this article, Ting-Tong Chang does not specialize in hyperrealistic sculpture. His work is wide-ranging and also includes drawings, paintings and multimedia installations.
More on Ting-Tong Chang
Artist’s Website: www.tingtongchang.co.uk
robinson (video by Ting-Tong Chang)
Joueuse de Tympanon: Example of an 18th Century Automaton
One challenge of creating hyper-realistic sculpture is having something to say besides “Isn’t it amazing how real this looks?” Can we say that these pieces have more artistic value than a well-constructed Hollywood prop or animatronic creature? What do you think? Can the pieces presented here move you and inspire you to think? Share your opinion with us by leaving a comment.
To see lifelike sculptures by other artists, check out this article: The 8 world’s most prominent hyper-realist sculptors (Besides featuring Patricia Piccinini, the article also introduces the work of Ron Mueck, Evan Penny, Marc Sijan, Jamie Salmon, Maurizio Cattelan, Carole Feuerman, and Adam Beane)
~by Stephen Richards (longzijun)
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