Beauty and the Grotesque: Soyoon Cha explores the dark side of human nature

Delirium. TV/video installation with performance, 2016.

Soyoon Cha’s art is a study in contradiction. Her photographs of models in the forest wearing diaphanous gowns seems something from a fairy tale. But some of her sculptures, installations and video projects feel fueled by nightmare. “With my artwork, I’ve always fixed on the shadow of the self through Jungian theory about how you have to embrace the darker parts of yourself to know your whole self. Being in an enlightened community, I always like to show the alternative, polar opposite in a sense.” 

The enlightened community she speaks of is The Reliquarium, a live/work artist space located in Lincoln, that Soyoon has been involved with since 2013. She’s currently working with them on a huge build — TimeZone, which is a 25-room game space that leads players through space and time, so they can win points by facing physical and mental challenges. Soyoon helped design the alien spaceship room. “I like tubes and metal and industrial things,” she says. “I drew from that to bring a lot of different elements into the room. It involved a lot of welding.” 

Illusion of Torture. Sculpture with video and performance, 2017.

Her personal sculpture projects also involve a lot of welding. “I like to put metal trash together and try to make something as uncomfortable as possible,” she says. Hospital gurneys, wheelchairs, metal teeth and custom torture devices artfully displayed in a kill room certainly can be uncomfortable — even terrifying — to view. But this discomfort is the point because, she says, that’s a feeling people need to embrace. 

Her video projects are either projected or shown on old TVs configured in a variety of ways. One project, called “Delirium,” takes place in a forest and includes a model who seems to be plugged into the television sets. Many of the models she works with are Reliquarium members. “When I work with models,” she says, “even when it’s delicate, I try to show something grotesque with the beauty. I like to submerge them in viscous materials — mud, clay, milk, honey — and have them express raw visceral emotions.”  

Gurney Modification. Sculpture, 2018; Soyomyoyo x Quackinsaw performance, 2019

She recently finished a seven-video project that focuses on the seven deadly sins. “I immersed people in viscous materials, but kept them in their sin,” she explains. Gluttony is smeared with cake. Greed is streaked with gold and glitter. The project has yet to be shown, but she’s using the forced downtime the pandemic has given her to find ways to put her project on view. “It’s a year-long project that has yet to see the light of day,” she says. But fans who lust for more need not wait. She’s just released a preview of her project in book form, that includes “manic musings,” poetry and her description of the process. 

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