Gimhongsok’s Canine Construction

Gimhongsok, South Korea b.1964 | Canine Construction 2009 | Resin, ed. 1/2 | Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Recently acquired for the Collection, Canine Construction 2009 by South Korean artist Gimhongsok is both likeable and enigmatic. The sculpture features in ‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT7) which closes Sunday 14 April.

Gimhongsok’s work is characterised by a deadpan humour. His references to art history and contemporary culture collide with political and ethical questions, visual gags, and sophisticated ruminations on artistic materials, all are carried out in a striking, compressed aesthetic. Canine Construction 2009 — a play on value, materials and authorship in this sculpture of a dog, assembled from black garbage bags and carefully cast in resin — is one of Gimhongsok’s most outstanding works of recent years.

This work is one of a series of sculptures typically composed of garbage bags, cardboard boxes and balloons and cast in expensive materials such as bronze or resin. The series stems from the artist’s long-held fascination with the foibles of public art and the difficulty of achieving consensus about objects placed in a public space. Cultural translation and the accidental creativity of mistranslation also interest Gimhongsok; he often refers to major works by prominent international artists in his own creations, dramatising the disjunctures that have accompanied Korea’s accession to the global art world.

Canine Construction mimics the sleek, colourful balloon-dog sculptures of Jeff Koons. However, the peppy stance, aerodynamic curves and anodised hues of the latter are replaced here with doughy, slumping garbage bags, their unwieldy mass a flat, uninspiring black. Haphazard binding compresses the rearmost bag into a tail, while an easy-carry tie atop the head furnishes the dog with a quirky pair of ears. The work has an endearing clumsiness and amiability to it, making it arguably more dog-like in emotional effect than the Koons.

That Canine Construction might be read as a poor man’s Koons suggests that questions of artistic originality have been subsumed under the broader category of value, of what provides a work of art with its venerated status. On the other hand, this resin cast of a garbage bag remains a copy, and it is in this that new notions of authorship, creativity and value may be found. For Gimhongsok, garbage offers the key to consensus precisely because it has been cast aside: freed from aesthetic proscription, he proposes that garbage is ‘a kind of collaborative project by the public’; producing a ‘rich allegory’ and embracing spontaneity and chance, its ever-evolving form is a measure of ‘true social agreement’.

Typically for Gimhongsok, these comments carry an air of the sardonic, and a strict reading of Canine Construction remains elusive. That, however, is part of the sculpture’s broader appeal: it is at once visually striking, instantly likeable and interpretatively open-ended.