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Frieze Seoul 2022

Heji Shin's Animal Kingdom

The artist's recent works exploring beasts, with a specially paired text by art historian John Berger

BY John Berger AND Heji Shin in Frieze Week Magazine , Opinion | 24 AUG 22

What were the secrets of the animal’s likeness with, and unlikeness from man? The secrets whose existence man recognized as soon as he intercepted an animal’s look.

In one sense the whole of anthropology, concerned with the passage from nature to culture, is an answer to that question. But there is also a general answer. All the secrets were about animals as an intercession between man and his origin. Darwin’s evolutionary theory, indelibly stamped as it is with the marks of the European nineteenth century, nevertheless belongs to a tradition, almost as old as man himself.

Animals interceded between man and their origin because they were both like and unlike man. Animals came from over the horizon. They belonged there and here. Likewise they were mortal and immortal. An animal’s blood flowed like human blood, but its species was undying and each lion was Lion and each ox was Ox. This — maybe the first existential dualism — was reflected in the treatment of animals. They were subjected and worshipped, bred and sacrificed.


Big Cock 7, 2020

Big Cock Basel, 2020

Mail Chimp, 2016

Petting 2, 2018

Self-portrait Holding Chihauhau, 2018

Self-portrait Holding Pitbull, 2018

Today the vestiges of this dualism remain among those who live intimately with, and depend upon, animals. A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements in that sentence are connected by an and and not a but.

The parallelism of their similar/dissimilar lives allowed animals to provoke some of the first questions and offer answers. The first subject matter for painting was animal. Probably the first paint was animal blood.

– Excerpt from John Berger, ‘Why Look at Animals?’, 1977, reprinted in 2009 by Penguin

 This article first appeared in Frieze Week, September 2022 under the headline “Beast Mode”.

Main image: Heji Shin, Big Cock 2, 2020. All images courtesy: the artist


This article first appeared in Frieze Week Seoul

Heji Shin is an artist. Her recent solo exhibitions include KAT_A, Bad Honnef, Germany (2022), Le Consortium, Dijon, France (2021), and Reena Spaulings, New York, USA (2020). She lives in Berlin, Germany, and New York, USA.