Kim Sunwoo captures the attributes of human desires in the most comprehensible and concise language. Although humans have free will, most pursue a stable life like ‘a bird that has lost its’ wings’. In his early works, Kim sunwoo used the expression of ‘a person with a bird’s head’ to describe the attributes of a modern man that settles rather than leaving in search of true freedom. This is when he was fatefully met with the episode of the dodo bird. As the inhabitant of the small island country Mauritius, located in south-eastern region of Africa, the name dodo bird has the meaning of ‘fool’ in Portuguese.
As the dodo birds adapted to the environment abundant with food, their wings atrophied. And these flightless dodo birds were driven to extinction when the Spanish ships began to visit. This was due to the fact that they were no longer birds but rather a lazy prey with lots of meat. Kim Sunwoo discovered the lives of modern men that were oblivious to new challenges, in the behavior patterns of dodo birds. He even went on a month long trip to the island of Mauritius to look for any traces of the dodo bird. This is when he realized that the complex jungles of Mauritius resemble the structures of urban society in modern times and begins to put together the motif for the direction of work.
“I tend to gain new and diverse inspirations from travel. An important turning point for the work also began during the month long trip to Mauritius. The attributes held by the act of traveling(escape from familiarity, viewing things with unfamiliarity, nomadisme, etc) are also important elements that constitute the message conveyed through the work. Furthermore, I could not leave out the concerns regarding ‘the significance conveyed by the lives we were given’. I wanted to express the ‘hopes and dreams of the unknown’ in my own formative language. And the main character of that is the dodo bird.”
The nomadisme among the attributes of travel that Kim Sunwoo speaks of becomes a very important clue to understand his work. French philosopher Deleuze’s nomadisme is known as ‘the way of thinking that is not bound to particular values or ways of life and continues to search for a new self’. And in line with that, Kim Sunwoo imposes the keyword of ‘wander’. To him, wander is not deviation but includes the concept of ‘facing infinite possibilities’ by straying from the given path. The dodo bird’s journey of constantly moving without rest is the newly reinvented setting as ‘icon of wander with reason’ through that dodo bird.
The jungle that frequently appears as the background in Kim Sunwoo’s paintings imply the modern society that is lived in by most of the modern men. And the group of dodo birds that hang around the complex jungle city, that is easy to get lost in, are insinuates that modern men are the main characters. He conveys the ‘contemporary emotions and stories of the present moment’ through the narrative of the dodo bird, which became extinct in the distant past. The helping to rediscover their one’s own special narrative through the individual experience of viewing the dodo bird can be described as one of the charms of Kim Sunwoo’s paintings. And the works that have used familiar masterpieces as motif are also his own form of metaphor that conveys the idea that scenes of the past could soon be ‘another present and future’.
There are many who recognize regression as the antonym of evolution. This could make sense since evolution is creating something new and regression is the process of getting rid of something that exists. However, the process of eliminating something that is useless can also be viewed as the evolution of ‘developmental choice’. This is because there is no need to continue holding onto things that are no longer needed. And this is why there are ‘vestigial organs’ that were left in attenuated conditions. In humans, the musculi auriculares that moves the ears, Jacobson’s organ that processed the smell of pheromones, tailbone and the wisdom tooth are considered as vestigial organs. Just like tactical retreat or retrogression, regression can be considered as one of ‘developmental evolution processes’.
There is also room for new interpretation of the dodo bird that has been known to have gone extinct from atrophied wings. It could be viewed as an example of a successful case where the species abandoned wings through ‘selective evolution’ and lived well by adapting most ideally to the surrounding environment. The fault belongs to the human invasion that artificially broke their peacefulness and not the choice of dodo birds that gave into the laws of nature. This is also a reason for the extensive and unique interpretation on the life of dodo birds that appear in Kim Sunwoo’s paintings. It seems as though Kim’s dreams display a longing for the utopian scenery of Mauritius before the 16th century.
“Ultimately, I would like to speak on the subject of Homo Viator. It can be defined as ‘wandering human’ and that humans grow and return after their time of wandering. In the modern settlement society, wandering is considered to be virtueless but I believe that strong opportunities that expand spectrum of tolerance and diversity of the world are provided when the Homo Viator mentality is broadened. Moreover, this is the reason and purpose for my work.”
To Kim Sunwoo, the image of ‘a traveler’ is the subject of compassion and communion. Generally, the dodo bird characters that appear in the paintings are in couples or groups. Even when they’re alone, they look to be longing and waiting for someone. This is considered to be the artist’s consideration to allow the audience to freely use their imagination based on their experiences, rather than conclude the story. It is also a part that shows how much the artist contemplated about the broadened communication and communion. The common sense of ‘sticking to the basics’ is the easiest, yet a difficult task. And the primary lure of Kim Sunwoo’s paintings is that he took subject consciousness of life to express it in a truly familiar way so that anyone can comfortably sympathize with the topic.
Kim Sunwoo wants to be remembered as ‘an artist who is always prepared to move and always on the move’. And he is in fact living by practicing the ‘moving life’. He effectively utilizes his working hours that occupy most of his daily life. This is through his own method of reading. He enjoys ‘listening to books’ using the audio book apps while working on his art. And he prefers books of the history, humanities and mystery genres. These are great genres to let one’s imagination run wild. As the work gradually progresses, he is able to fully enjoy the imaginary trip to the unknown with his own dodo bird, just like the little prince and his fox.
Life is only an instantaneous moment in the time of the universe. And the entirety of life is blended into that fleetingly short moment. Kim Sunwoo unravels the clues to the stories of all living things repeating the circulation of life and continuing their infinite and fantastic travels. The reason for feeling a deep and long impression even in the small movements of a dodo bird may be because it displays the artist’s autobiographical confession. Just like the flowers holding their heads high, Kim Sunwoo’s paintings are filled with the energy of good will.
Kim Sunwoo’s Dodo Bird, a companion for an imaginary trip into the unknown
Kim Yoon-seob(CEO of AIF Art Management, Ph.D. in Art History)