HAVE YOU ever dreamed of reaching out to the world? If so, how? Yoo Young-ho, a passionate and open-minded sculptor, dreams to transcend the barriers between different cultures, religions, and perspectives to connect the world through modern art. “I want people to realize how easy and simple it is to reach out to each other,” he says. Together with his firm goal and enduring commitment, he is currently searching for meaningful locations around the world in order to locate his 6 meter sculpture of a greeting man made of stainless steel. The process is not easy, but he is enthusiastic to spread the message behind his work, Greetingman. The Yonsei Annals conducted an interview with Yoo to find out what this message is.
Annals: Since when did you dream of becoming a sculptor? What has inspired you to pursue your dream?
Yoo: Living in the countryside as a child, I did not know much about art, but I did love to doodle. My textbook was always full of doodles. One day, during my high school years, I came across my art teacher’s sculptures by chance. That was the moment I “fell in love at first sight” with sculpture. When I told my art teacher about my new passion, he told me to concentrate on my other studies. So I went to one of my senior alumni who was learning sculpture and asked him to teach me in secret. But I got caught by my teacher later on, and he asked me if I was serious about pursuing my dream in this area. I told him that I was, and this was how I started mastering sculpture.
Annals: One of your most famous artworks is called the Greetingman. What led you to create such a beautiful sculpture and what meaning does it convey?
Yoo: While I was studying in Germany, I taped myself bowing in a video film and displayed it in an arts exhibition. It was a way of thanking the visitors. Then, a renowned guest from Poland saw my work and shared his thoughts on how greeting is very important since it represents the beginning of any kind of relationship. His words gave me a lasting impact; I had never thought deeply about the meaning of greeting before. I realized how so many problems in the world, whether social or political, start from our blocked mindsets or our inability to lower ourselves before others. Greeting means lowering oneself and opening up one’s heart. Therefore, Greetingman is a sign of respect. Also, greeting can change how two people perceive each other. When one greets a stranger, for example, he or she is basically opening up the possibility for a lasting, mutual relationship with that person. Greeting is a very important symbol of communication.
Annals: I heard that you are currently traveling around the world and pursuing the ‘Greetingman Global Project.’ What is the project about and what led you to start this project?
Yoo: The project is about building Greetingman in many places around the world. It is also about spreading Greetingman’s message. I started the project not only because people showed interest in the Korean way of bowing by bending one’s waist, but also because I wanted to show how people from different places can communicate through a simple, universal means, which is modern art. Greetingman bears the shape of an ordinary man, colored in pastel blue. Because of its familiar figure, it is easy to approach. When people around the world look at this sculpture, they won’t feel that it’s completely unfamiliar to them.
I often talk about my goal of placing the Greetingman in 1,000 different places around the globe. If you actually think about it, it is impossible, but it is my lifelong desire. This is a project I’ll continue throughout the rest of my life.
Annals: Is there a particular place that you really wish to visit while you carry out the project?
Yoo: I have, in fact, many places that I want to visit to build the Greetingman. One of them is Gibraltar, the connection point between Europe and Africa. Since the European colonial rule in Africa, the two civilizations have not been able to reconcile, just like present-day South Korea and Japan that are still disputing over past historical issues. I wish to build the Greetingman both in Europe and Africa, with the two sculptures facing each other as a sign of reconciliation. Kiribati, an island in the Pacific region, is another place where I wish to build the Greetingman. This is a place that is currently sinking into the sea due to global warming. The island is only six feet above the sea, and inhabitants are trying to build platforms to save the island from sinking. Greetingman will serve as a symbolic reminder to the world of the dangers of global warming.
Annals: What are your future plans or hopes in carrying out your project?
Yoo: Building one Greetingman comes with many hardships. Not only does it take much time, but it also requires a lot of help from diplomats and locals. It took three years each to build the Greetingman in Uruguay and Panama. Also, when carrying out this project, there are a lot of doubts that arise. For instance, what if people there don’t like it? However, the project is completed only after overcoming these hardships. In the future, when Greetingman is constructed in numerous places, I’m hoping that people will understand the message behind Greetingman - the Greetingman spirit, as I call it. I want people to understand by themselves why greeting is important and voluntarily construct their own version of Greetingman at their own special places.
Annals: Besides Greetingman, your other famous art work is Square-M, Communication located in Sang-am-dong. What does it represent?
Yoo: I actually wanted to name it World Mirror. If you look at the sculpture, two people are pointing their fingers toward each other through a frame. Actually, the two men represent the same person. It is as if a person is looking at oneself through a mirror. I wanted to show how one sees and understands oneself through the other person.
Consider the socio-economic divide between the North and South. Many people these days distinguish between the Northern Hemisphere (the “First World”) and the Southern Hemisphere (the “Third World”). The world is unbalanced. However, when you stand on the equator that divides the North and South, you are actually looking at yourself through the other. Who you are is shown through the other, like looking at yourself in the mirror. It’s called self-reflection. People from the North and South are all part of one civilization. I believe understanding this is the key to an effective communication.
Annals: Are there any last words you would like to give to Yonseians or to those who wish to reach out to the world as you do?
Yoo: I want to say that whenever you go out to the world, it is important to lower yourself before others. It is perfectly fine even if you are in a disadvantaged position; it is okay to be in loss. You should work for the people. Also, try not to be confined to a particular place or mindset. Try to reach beyond your comfort zone. Do not be stereotyped or greedy. My wish is that many of you would bear in mind that, whenever you try to reach out to the world, nobody is in a greater or lower position than you are.
As a senior sculptor, I just want to say that anyone can approach the world with one simple, flexible idea. It is not hard at all; we can all do it.