Korean artist uses fungus to create 'Impermanence' eerie portraits

Korean artist uses fungus to create 'Impermanence' eerie portraits

It turns out that film can be easily destroyed by fungus and South Korean artist Seung-Hwan Oh implemented that natural chaos on his photos. He started letting mold grow on his film and rather than worrying about fungus, he embraced it.

Seung-Hwan Oh's work focuses on implementing microbial growth on film as a means to explore the impermanence of matter as well as the material limitations of photography.

A few years ago Seung-Hwan read a BBC article about this fungus problem affecting film archives, then he got inspired:

“I noticed that mold on badly stored film can eat away and destroy its contents,” he says. “And then I realized that I may deliver the idea of impermanence of matter applying this natural disaster into my work.” - Seung-Hwan Oh

When Oh talks about ‘impermanence’ he’s talking about the “idea that all the matter, including all the life forms, collapse in the spatial-temporal dimension we belong to.” It’s his inspiration in this series, and it’s based on the second law of thermodynamics, which states that as usable energy in the universe gets used—to power life, and grow organisms—unusable energy increases and creates a state of growing randomness and chaos.

To do that Oh had to set up a micro-fungus farm in his studio. Film gets stashed away in a warm, wet environment where fungus can grow. Oh will sometimes take mold that grows naturally on bread and rice and paste it into the prints, but that’s about as much control as he can exercise over the outcome.

"Even if he doesn’t control the action of the fungus, he is still fully conscious of its chaos. They are cultivated with such a unique precision that he is able to achieve certain vulnerability in his portraits." - Haily Grenet

The results of the destroyed film is a colorful disturbing series of portraits that catches the eye, and you end up looking at still figures transgressed by an entity and you'll be trying to figure out what it was and assimilate what it has become.

It requires perseverance and quite an investment of time and money to work with fungus and film - only one out of 500 frames of medium format color reversal film comes out properly and Oh only has 15 of them so far since he started the project in 2010, so it ain't an easy task.

Check out more of Seung-Hwan Oh's 'destroyed' photos in the gallery below and be sure to visit his website.

Published on: May 2016