Artist Spotlight: Sungsil Ryu

Q: Can you provide a short introduction about yourself and your work?

A: My work focuses on the mechanics of materialistic desire in modern-day Korea, which is influenced by the complex intertwining of traditional Korean Confucian values and the US-led neoliberal global order. I use a variety of mediums, such as video, installation, and performance, to reinterpret cultural phenomena.

Q: How is your experience in Hong Kong? Any interesting findings?

A: The paper offerings I saw in funeral shops in Sham Shui Po and Hung Hom were impressive. While Korea also has similar tradition of burning paper money for the deceased, the paper structures resembling luxury bags and sports cars are entirely new to me.

I think the concept of burning items to send them to ancestors in heaven is straightforward, and intuitive. It reminds me of the Amazon delivery system too. However, being from a culture of ancestor worship, I have questions about what happens if items aren't delivered properly or if the same items are sent repeatedly, leaving the deceased with nowhere to store them. Additionally, seeing the "hell money" make me concern about hyper-inflation in the afterlife.

Q:  Your work The Burning Love Song had commentary on death rituals. What do such rituals reveal about relationships with money in different societies?

A: Death rituals tend to be commercialized and industrialized in modern society because they utilize strong human emotions related to the understanding of death. The profound grief over losing a loved one is incomprehensible and solemn. However, these emotions tend to become secularized by being quantified into categories that can be understood in the real world, and it may take on a more complex form depending on cultural specificity.

Sungsil Ryu, The Burning Love Song, 2022, film still.

There may be many examples here, but personally, I would like to mention the flower wreath culture that is familiar in East Asian countries. Wreaths are not simply a means of decorating an event. It also has the function of showing off the social prestige and wealth of the event organizer by writing down the name and position of the sender.

In particular, in the case of Korea, there is a tendency to regard a child's social success as equivalent to filial piety toward his or her parents. In this context, the funeral of a dead parent is seen as a display of the power of the living child (through endless row of wreaths). People generally tend to interpret this wreath culture as secular and insincere, but I personally think it is still sincere, it is just a way for them to express their sadness and respect for their parents, and it cannot be said to be insincere.

Q: Your work comments on topics like capitalism and consumerism in Korean society through humor and irony. What insights do you hope international audiences in Hong Kong to understand about Korean society from your art?

A: Hong Kong and Korea share similarities as both are highly competitive societies with limited resources. They also share religious beliefs stemming from Confucianism, emphasizing the present over the afterlife. However, due to geopolitical and historical factors, Korea tends to be relatively closed and exclusive to other cultures. Koreans are taught from a young age the importance of a homogeneous nation. Personally, I see Korean society as having a divisive tendency, with extreme complexes and pride coexisting, fueled by this exclusivity. I want to amplify and express this aspect of Korean society through my work.

Sungsil Ryu, BJ Cherry Jang, 2018, film still.


03 May 2024


03 May 2024