Artist Sungsil Ryu (b. 1993) was selected as the youngest recipient of the Misulsang, an art award by the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès in 2021. Her solo exhibition, The Burning Love Song, will be held through October 2, 2022, at Atelier Hermès in Seoul.
Sungsil Ryu, a relatively recent graduate of BFA, has only recently started her career as a professional artist. But she has been widely recognized for her works giving a stinging satire of the contemporary world through her unique perspective.
Since 2018, Ryu has been working on creating and sharing kitschy videos on video-sharing platforms such as Afreeca TV and YouTube that have attracted great attention inside and outside the art world.
The artist wearing flashy clothes and makeup sending out misleading information with gaudy images and text cramming the screen reminds us of pseudo-religious leaders or micro-celebrities on today’s video-streaming channels. Through her video and installation works, Ryu presents a bizarre yet humorously addictive portrayal of today’s media environment and Korean society’s obsession with money.
Ryu self-made a certain fictional universe in her works. The artist sometimes appears as BJ Cherry Jang, the co-founder of Big King Travel company, who promotes how to become a first-class citizen to her subscribers. She also shows up as Natasha, a foreigner of unknown nationality who works as a tour guide at the travel agency, and Dae Wang Lee, who co-founded Big King Travel with Cherry Jang.
In this exhibition, Dae Wang Lee, who has never appeared directly in Ryu’s previous works, shows up in the project’s foreground. Lee is Cherry Jang’s business partner, whom she calls ‘big brother’ as well as Natasha’s ‘boss.’
In Ryu’s universe, Dae Wang Lee was planning to make big money by running a travel agency with illegal sightseeing packages for the elderly. But as the tourism business was frustrated due to the pandemic, Lee set up a funeral service company for pets. Funeral services for dogs need much less investment and have high customer turnover compared with services for people, making it easier to maximize profits.
The Atelier Hermès’s exhibition space is transformed into a funeral where visitors can mourn the death of a dog. The standing wreaths are folded as if they are greeting the visitors. The crematorium is decorated as a shoddy monument with images heroizing Dae Wang Lee, and on the other side of the crematorium is a mural in full color that promotes Lee’s achievements and business.
On one side of the monument, a video plays the funeral service led by Lee. As the cremation begins, the dog travels to heaven on a rainbow, and Natasha, who once worked as a guide for Lee’s travel agency, is now an animal communicator who pretends to be possessed by the dog, saying goodbye to its owner. Leaving her loved one, the dog’s owner is undoubtedly in a vulnerable state, and Lee and Natasha exploit the owner’s situation to gain their ends.
Near the entrance is a screen showing the waiting list for the ceremony with an interview of Dae Wang Lee. In the interview, Lee acts as if he had started this funeral business for a cause. But the floating QR code on the mural, which leads you to a YouTube video clip, reveals that he is only a swindler who does anything for money.
The award winner Sungsil Ryu has held a solo exhibition Big King Travel Ching-Chen Tour at Post Territory Ujeongguk in Seoul and has taken part in numerous group exhibitions at important art institutions in Korea, including Song Eun, the Busan Museum of Contemporary Art, the Daelim Museum, the Arko Art Museum, the Can Foundation, Hapjungjigu, Art Space Boan, Platform L, and the Ilmin Museum of Art. One of Ryu’s artworks is currently in the collection of the Nam June Paik Art Center.
The Fondation d’entreprise Hermès is the first foreign company to establish an art award program, Misulsang, in Korea. The program began in 2000 to promote the Korean contemporary art world. The award has recognized a number of artists who are now leading the contemporary art scene in Korea, including conceptual artist Bahc Yiso, who once ran an alternative space, Minor Injury in Brooklyn, New York; Do Ho Suh, who is widely recognized for his sculptures and installations that explore the concept of space and home; Geumhyung Jeong, who is participating in the main exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2022; and Koo Jeong A, who has held solo exhibitions at leading international art museums, such as the Center Pompidou in Paris and Dia Beacon in New York.