Artist Don Sun-pil tries to decode the subculture of miniature figurines

In the contemporary art scene where everything – installations and gallery spaces for example – tends to get bigger and bigger to achieve “show” status, artist Don Sun-pil has brought miniature figurines of figures of cartoons, animations, games and other subcultures. productions in the gallery space.

Don is curating a solo exhibition in the underground gallery of the Arario Museum at Space, an iconic architectural gem by Kim Soo-geun in central Seoul.

“Next Back Door” by artist Don Sun-pil (Arario Gallery)

An installation view of the exhibition

An installation view of artist Don Sun-pil’s “Kitsutaiten” exhibition at Arario Gallery in Space, Seoul (Arario Gallery)

Don’s latest exhibition features some 400 figurines, part of the artist’s collection which ranges from the very first miniature he bought as a high school student – from the “Spawn” series, made by the American company McFarlane Toys – to his own sculpture collages.

The “Kitsuiten” exhibition appears at first sight as a collection representing the artist’s personal taste. But it’s more about the artist’s critical statement about the figurines and the subculture they created.

“I think I came to curate such an exhibition as I was trying to examine the intersections between fine art and the miniature figurine subculture,” Don said at a Tuesday press conference at the Arario. Museum in Space.

As a collector and figurine lover, Don wanted to learn more about the subculture, as well as the cultural critique unique to his beloved little objects. But his hopes and expectations proved unfulfilled soon after.

“I was surprised that people don’t care to do cultural criticism regarding miniature figures, even though there are so many that have already been made and are still being made” , said Don. “I have found reviews and talk surrounding miniature action figures to be very hard to find not only here but also overseas,” he added.

Discussions of figurines are generally limited to their transactional and financial value, according to the artist.

“In online communities, for example, many people ask about places they can find but minifigures or ways to get them cheaper. But they don’t say why they like them for example,” Don said.

Don said there’s a lot more to say about the action figures and the culture that supports them, beyond their prices.

“People who collect these miniature figurines have their own taste. Their reasons for collecting them must also all be different. A person’s preference is based on the person’s histories and backgrounds. But few are ready to talk about it perhaps because it is difficult to put it into words. I think it’s a shame,” Don said.

The artist said figurines appeal to him more than sculptures because they better represent the way people actually live.

“A miniature figurine cannot be made by the efforts of a single individual. Many parties come into play when making figurines, such as customers, sculptors, the company that owns an original figure, etc. A final product is the result of combining the opinions and needs of these different parties,” Don said.

“Creating your own artistic universe has no limit and I admire those artists who do it. But I’m interested in areas that have limits — like life is full of limits. What makes miniature figures interesting is that they have limitations,” Don continued.

Figures also have limitations in that they usually don’t last long. But the artist finds attractions within these limits.

“Miniature figures break easily and you have to deal with it. The thing is, I still love them even if their parts are broken. They don’t have to be in perfect condition. You might wish they remained intact forever, but they can’t,” Don said.

“What is important is the shape of your memory. As my first miniature figure reminds me of days in high school, these items can bring back memory that might have otherwise been forgotten,” Don said.

The artist’s more detailed take on figures and the corresponding subculture can be found in his recently released book, “Figure Text: A Report on the Wonder Festival”.

“Kitsuiten” runs until June 20.

By Shim Woo-hyun ([email protected])


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