Ha Gye-hoon (Art critic)


Representation is one of important virtues of an artist. Representation also refers to the method of portraying the subject in particular ways. Humans use their senses to detect external stimuli, which are then processed through various organs to express (represent) the emotions generated by the stimuli. Some people create sounds, while others draw or sculpt forms, express themselves through bodily movements or preserve the experience in writing.

Noh Jun does not neglect the stimuli that occur around him in everyday life. In particular, he pays keen attention to the pets he encounters in life. Based on such exchange and connection between humans and animals he experiences through his encounters, Noh focuses on the relationship between human and nature, and between human beings. During his graduate studies in art school, Noh happened to start his career in creating advertisements using clay animation. He was later featured in a clay animation walkthrough segment on a children’s show on television. It was this experience that led Noh to become certain of the appeal of relationships and communication based on love and happiness. Soon thereafter, in 2004, Noh boldly shuttered his clay animation character business and began his Ph.D. program in sculpture, rekindling and spurring on his inner desire for creativity.

As Noh set foot in the field of fine arts again, he promised himself that he would not create works that “everyone else does.” Instead, Noh turned his eyes to motifs towards his anthropomorphic and symbolic animal characters such as Clo, Hayami, Kiki, and Odie, whose energetic (animated) behaviors previously garnered the affection of a public audience. These clay animals were thus reborn into sculptures fashioned out of a diverse range of materials, including plastic, stainless steel, wood, stone, and bronze. Through such initial steps he took as a sculptor, Noh identified and built upon what he can do best, already completing the direction of his work and selection of his subjects to a degree. As such, Noh was able to continue his works with unimpeded initiative.

In addition to participating in various exhibitions and winning competitions in Korea, Noh expanded his reach internationally in regions including Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Middle East. Throughout the entire time, the anthropomorphic animals became the subject of his work. Conventionally, adding a touch of mythic imagination to realistic representation has been the virtue of the sculpture genre. As such, sculptors have focused their energy on honing their skills to the utmost degree, while maintaining the consistency of either realistic or naturalist expression and materials such as stone, bronze, and wood. In Noh’s work, however, the longstanding conventions of sculptures were never applied from the onset. Rather, Noh’s work had resulted as an extension of animation, which entailed deliberate deformation and emphasis in attempts to bring about formatively surprising results. Notwithstanding this, however, Noh’s works do not convey elements of kitsch due to the artist’s rigorous technical training on sculpture and cautiously prudent selection of materials.

Instead of remaining as individual objectified works of art history trapped within the framework of sculptural conventions, the animal characters in Noh’s works are injected with human traits and thereby often serve to reflect the projections of the artist or the viewers. As can be seen, it is somewhat impossible to distinctly separate Noh’s work from the artist himself. The facial expressions or the motion of the animals bear the unrealistic appearance and properties often found in children’s toys; yet at the same time, such behavior can be seen as synonymous to the conventional sentiments and activities of human beings. Furthermore, the expressions and behaviors of the animals can even be interpreted as bearing the artist’s intent, leading the works to be referred by some as animal forms that represent humans.

Although in such context Noh’s works have increasingly garnered interest and affection over the years, some may grow concerned about the limitations of the material and regressive qualities of the characters. However, Noh already appears to be aware of such concerns, as demonstrated by the changes given to his recent works. The relief-style expression of the characters and wrapping on the surface of sculptures appear to be Noh’s attempts to expand his expression from the subject of the work to its formal language. The giraffe with its head propped up above the clouds also indicates this expansion into the realm of literary narrative and philosophical thought.

Noh says the “restoration of relationship” is a common theme that runs throughout his life-long oeuvre. Noh emphasizes on the relationship between humans and animals in particular, and it’s through such communication that Noh dreams of genuine bonding and hopes. Although it would be difficult to make a direct comparison to Noh, the internationally renowned forerunner of American Neo-Pop art Jeff Koons once remarked that one of the main reasons in creating such toy-like, childish works is “to remove the anxiety.” A single work of art might not easily change the world just as Noh said. However, we would all be remiss to not place our dreams and hopes in such creative endeavors, if they can get rid of the hostility and anxiety of everyday life between human beings and between humans and animals, and generate and maintain happy relationships between them.