top of page
A Space of Joining for the Sacred and Sexual
Lee Sun-Young (Art Critic) 2014


Under the subtitle of ‘Private Temple(私院) or Holy Temple(寺院)’ which are homophones of different Chinese characters, Cho Hyun Ik’s exhibition places the religious up on the front by decorating the space like a temple. But instead of the blessedness that are fundamental to a religion, he looks to the alternate ‘internal and absolute realm of being’ (Bataille) that arise from the infringement of the taboos between sacred and secular. It is a religion that relies not on the traditional or the institutional and definitely not on the doctrine. Instead it relies on what is likely regarded as heretical, for instance on personal level of faith that is unmediated by mysticism or institution, and on intense emotions that are almost indiscernible from bodily pleasure. In truth, only the latter has any innate relevance to art. The inseparability of men and religion has been universal since the finite mind of humans could contemplate on the infinite. In the temple of Cho Hyun Ik, the image of commerciality is as explicit as its sexuality. The objects that have been offered to, or are filling the temple make no effort to hide that they are cheap souvenirs from tourist attractions.


Kitsch has mimicked art and religion from its very beginning. The faker it was, the greater was the need to fabricate its authenticity. Just as art inherited from religion, tourism of today substitutes the aesthetic experience of art. In the icons that have been selected true to his instinct are compressed the history of aesthetic experience that stretches from religion to art and into tourism. His mysterious temple is in reality nothing mystery but a scene of explicit montage. It is a belief that sanctity is to be found not in the holy but can be and should be found among the earthly. What attracts the artist’s eyes are not the shrines themselves but the keepsakes in their stalls, from ballpoint pens in the shape of Christ to pornography books. Cho’s work show that the replicas are what empowers the original, that the worldly is what enables the divine, and that the others are what enables an identity.


While there has always been an emphasis on the former while the latter was considered a mere simulacra, there is now an indication that the center is empty and that it is a multicentered ubiquity. If that was the case, this private temple that imitates the Tibetan shrine in New York can definitely be an alternate center. The exhibition seems to have become less weighty with the introduction of more products. He sees light in the deepest of black. It is apparent that the key medium that connects the sacred and the secular in Cho’s work is sex. The reality or illusion of two different entities becoming one reveals the link between sex and religion as in the statue of male and female intercourse at the center of the temple. The statue of male and female intercourse known as ‘Parent Buddha’ is the origin of all creation, and the entities thus conceived repeat their biological union that perpetuates the gene beyond the mortal being. The experience of the infinite transcending through the finite entity derives from the physical ecstasy of the intercourse, a spiritual experience akin to becoming one with the ocean-like entirety.


In addition, this union for the entity’s continuation will paradoxically have to pass through the demise of the entity. Thus Cho’s temple of sex and sacred is also infused with the scent of death. The pleasure of the body is not a mere pleasure, but pure ecstasy that holds even death within it. After all, a temple is a place of rite between the dead and the living. The provocative impulse to pull down the dikes of taboo is set on the ambiguous turf of art that is neither public nor private from communal ceremonies or private intercourses. There are various levels of boundaries and disintegrations in Cho’s temple. The main boundary of his work is that between sacred and secular, with eroticism as its chief force of defiance. But through sear excessiveness, the sacred and the sexual blocks out any covert enticement. With the distancing method of art at work, we are allowed to be attentive of the message it conveys rather than just be enticed by it.

bottom of page