Young-Deok Seo is a South Korean artist who creates what he calls “iron men”: nude sculptures made completely out of welded chain fragments. Demonstrating his deep fascination and concern for the human body, Seo builds standing figures, heads, busts, and torsos by carefully melting and linking chain fragments together piece by piece. The result is a series of elaborate assemblages, the links seeming to undulate like living cells. Each work entails a huge commitment of Seo’s time, patience, and concentration, making his artwork a form of spiritual practice.
What is most remarkable about these re-imaginations of the body is the way each piece tells a story—both intimate and universal—about the pangs of existence. On his website, Seo’s write-up describes his figures as embodying intense suffering, and conversely, an ascetic emptiness; they are at once “haggard like a seeker,” “infected by something unknown,” and devoid of all “earthly desires and passions” (Source). Despite their complex “skins,” each figure is ominously hollow. Some of them are incomplete, with their faces and limbs appearing to dissolve into the surrounding space. This suggests a chain reaction of the body to the outside world, a fusion of pain and hope that resembles destruction as much as it does liberation.