Sunghui Lee majored in Industrial Design and Art Theory, and is working for HITE Foundation as a curator since 2012. She’s the winner of the second Art Sonje Opencall with Our Hesitant Dialogues (Art Sonje Center, 2013). Recently she curated I, ETCETERA (HITE Collection, 2020), Live Forever (HITE Collection, 2019), Allover (HITE Collection, 2018), Obsession (ARKO Art Center, 2018) and etc.

Through the forms of video, performance art, drawing, and installation art, Ifie Sin seeks to microscopically inspect the modern-society individual's relationships with their community or natural ecology, and the relationships' surrounding narratives. Her main visualization method has been concluding as performance, installation, and video art; and it demonstrates fragmentary, non-expository and nonlinear narratives. The artist draws the science lab into her artistic and representational forms, and Sin's perspective on science is that science has indulged in observation and experimentation under the words of rational, objective, and average, and she takes the scientist's third person omnipresent point of view as the motif for her work. This essay seeks to discuss the artist's social subject matter, representation methods affirming a laboratory, and the visual storytelling of her microscopic narratives.

Ifie Sin's early work focuses on the individual's alienation or the relationship between the community and the individual in contemporary society, i.e., the social aspect. In her Flag (2011) appears a woman waving a white flag, symbolizing surrender, on a Montmartre hill overlooking Paris. The sky and clouds occupy most of the screen in this video, and the appearance of the woman waving a white flat in the air while standing to the side of the screen is the most central scene. The sound coming from the actual video is the sound of someone's somewhat heavy breathing. The artist keenly felt that the sense of alienation or the breaking down of communication modern-day people experience in the community is inevitable, and she represented the weak individual's surrender through the audiovisual contrast between the fluttering flag and breathing. Also, the artist quotes Erich Kahler's words, "The history of man could very well be written as a history of the alienation of man,"1 and it appears she began considering, from a microscopic narrative side, the individual's narrative that could easily be buried due to contemporary society's tendency toward collectivization. She continued work contrasting the nation and the individual, and urban development and the individual's dreams in performance video pieces such as Flagpole (2014) and Salt City (2014).

Later, while keeping her interest in the relationship between grand society and the individual, the artist began using tools demonstrating a stereotype of laboratories in her art-making process and visual representation methods while affirming a kind of science lab for her creative process or forms, through her art-making forms and attitude methodology. Cell Culture Dish (2014) is a video installation piece projecting black-and-white video on a clear culture dish. This video, which gives off the mistaken impression of observing microscopic cells through a microscope, is, upon close inspection, the nude of a plus-size model. The artist maximized the contrast between society and the individual by substituting the cell unit, which is only visible through scientific devices like the microscope, for the individual, who is judged and censored by great society. Bruno Latour once said that the existence of certain tools enables the recording of microscopic facts in science, and scientific reality is formed by these devices;2 and the culture dish and pincette, tools Sin uses while affirming the laboratory, perfectly transposes the individual into an entity of the microscopic world. The artist compared the individual to laboratory experiment subjects that are collected and analyzed in later work such as XY-SA 0900 (2015), XY-BR (2016), XR-BR Slide Box (2016), and XY-BR Specimen Box (2016), too. Here the artist establishes that science obtains absolute authority by putting forward the concepts of reason, objectivity, and average values, and that the laboratory scientist indulges in observation and experiments from an omnipresent perspective. Also, she reveals that this scientist's perspective is the artist's artistic motif and makes it clear that she seeks to set her gender, appearance, and job aside to maintain an external perspective as the laboratory's owner and observer.3 However, the subject of Ifie Sin's microscopic narrative gradually expands from the individual person to the relationship between humans and nature. The artist, who owns the laboratory, finds herself in an ambiguous position in which she is unable to be completely objective between people and nature here, but it seems she seeks to view the effects homocentric policies and behavior have had on nature through a rational perspective.

When we say Sin deals with the individual's microscopic narratives, the subject is often an unspecified individual. Another Death (2016), Autopsia (2017), The Hidden Dimension (2017), A Sleep in Whiteness (2017) are works that were created in a certain city or region, but the artist does not reveal specific incidents or people. By arranging the motivation or resources of her work as fragmentarily as possible, she avoids specifically stating the overall narrative or theme. Triangle Scape (2016), which is about carping gossip picked up in Jeju Island's Gimnyeong area, is about the only piece where some plot can be gathered, and even that is just someone growing nervous for no reason after hearing people whispering about a certain she. The artist reveals that she is borrowing speech from the Hideo Okuda novel Rumored Woman to show that the object of the gossip is an object of observation and not the speaker.4 In A Sleep in Whiteness, a poetic script is juxtaposed over a black-and-white video taken at an Oslo cemetery. The artist produced video quietly yet ceaselessly restoring a sense of anxiety about an individual's isolation and death in a Scandinavian snow field. Although the identity of the subtitles' narrator, "I," cannot be specified, words such as borderline, change, organism, selection, echo, and threatening majority are as cold and abstract as the black-and-white, inverted screen. Also, words like breath, phlegm, rotting thing, bodily smell, tongue, and whiteness inspire a sense of anxiety. The artist once said regarding the relationship between images and text she realizes in her work, "I seek to erase a line in a dense piece of writing and replace it with video imagery, and again erase a few more lines and tell it differently with different images." She said that here "Text naturally looks like segmented poetry with front and back parts in misalignment, and video imagery looks like it could belong to either the front or back part and is also edited in a disorderly way."5 Such editing methods cause the viewers to keep a psychological distance rather than become immersed in the narrative.

Meanwhile, the artist had a chance to see various animal specimens mounted using high technology at the Naturmuseum Senckenberg in Frankfurt, and she observed human beings' ironic desire for preserving and recording life forms through the method of death in the name of collecting and preserving nature's species. So the artist dealt with the desensitizing of people regarding life through crudely bundling together nature's individual organisms or human individuals, such as Nazi concentration camp victims as well as the plants and animals at the natural history museum, in Emotion of Leg (2018). Several specific objects, including pinned honeybees, taxidermy animals, animal samples in formaldehyde, and victim memorial facilities appear in the video. The connection of the images is fragmentary. Meanwhile, the subtitles slowly send out a narrative. The viewer becomes conscious of the subtitles' narrator because the video's overall speed is adjusted to the speed of the subtitles, and it is hard to establish this speaker as being either human or nature. This is because the artist individualized the speaker instead of making the textually developing narrative be for the whole of either human beings or nature.

Her recent work comprises video researched and produced in Korea about the city and ecologies. The two works A Cold Bird on the Dead Mountain #01 (2019) and A Cold Bird on the Dead Mountain #02 were begun from the term dead mountain style, which signifies the taxidermy form of representing animals as they were in their dead state. First A Cold Bird on the Dead Mountain #01 is about the development of the Gimpo Han-gang River New Town and avian ecology, and A Cold Bird on the Dead Mountain #02 sought to demonstrate the irony of modern science and administration blocking the spread of diseases such as the foot-and-mouth disease, based on research into preliminary culling guidelines for pigs culled by an administrative order and the present conditions at the some 4,000 burial sites. The sentence "The two are each other's environment" appears in the video. Although several animals appear on screen in pairs when this sentence is shown, perhaps the two the text refers to alludes not to the animals on screen but to the two wholes of nature and human beings? The artist had said regarding this piece that she included a narrative about limited and tender organisms by abstractly comparing the irony of preemptively responding to infectious diseases through slaughter, burial, and disinfection to human emotions and psychiatry.6 What might be the abstract comparing she speaks of? "Two men appeared," "Couldn’t be classified into Christianity, Catholicism. Lesft wing, The Labor Party. side, lavor side nor Arab ." The artist ceaselessly divided and expanded her thoughts in search of metaphors for the conceptual number of two in the video's text, and this is her abstractly comparing method. This method once again prevents the work's viewer from being biased toward either natural or human individuals. On the contrary, the text "Distance was significant" approaches profoundly.

The writer had viewed the artist's concept of the microscopic as compensation for the macroscopic and distinguished between the two by their scales. However, in light of Ifie Sin's work we have examined above, it appears more appropriate to understand her microscopy to signify an individual person or individual organism as one. It is because the standard of scales can also lump together individual people or individual organisms into small heaps. For this reason, the artist's concept of the microscopic is understood to be close to individuality, and the microscopic narratives she pursues can be called individualized narratives. Of course, distance is important to both individual organisms and individual people.

  1. Erich Kahler, The Tower and the Abyss: An Inquiry into the Transformation of the Individual, New York: G. Braziller, 1957, p. 43. 

  2. Bruno Latour, Steve Woolgar, trans. Lee Sangwon, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, Seoul: Hanul, 2019. 

  3. Artist's statement (2019). 

  4. Artwork explanation in the artist's portfolio (2020). 

  5. Chung Sera, Kim Jin, "An Observation of Individual Narratives: Interview with Ifie Sin," The Stream, Jan. 21, 2020, (Oct. 2020).  

  6. Artwork explanation in the artist's portfolio (2020).