About Written in Soap: A Plinth Project

Written in Soap: A Plinth Project (2012- ongoing) is an international public art project by the London-based Korean artist, Meekyoung Shin. The artwork re-creates in soap the original equestrian statue of the Duke of Cumberland that sat on a plinth in the square from 1770 and removed in 1868 for politically motivated reasons. Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, was the third and favourite son of King George II, and the Duke became a war hero at the young age of twenty-five when he prevented Bonnie Prince Charles’s and the Jacobites’ attempt to depose the House of Hanover at the historic Battle of Culloden on 16th April 1746. The victory was met with jubilant celebrations in England but the military hero soon earned the nickname, the ‘Butcher’, for his unscrupulous orders of executions and plunder. Borrowing from Sanford Levinson’s study on the tradition of public monument building in changing societies, ‘Written in Stone’ (1998), Written in Soap: A Plinth Project reconsiders the monument as a site of historical and cultural negotiations, and the mutable meanings we attach to them. The project had made use of the Cavendish Square plinth for the first time in 144 years. During the course of its installation spanning across a year, the sculpture has eroded, affected by rain and snow, challenging notions of permanence we attach to monuments and to history.

The global expansion of the project to Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art (Taipei MOCA) in November 2013 followed by a successful opening at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in July 2013 adds a new and exciting dimension to the project. It expresses Meekyoung Shin’s ongoing concern with translation, a process that questions the understanding of objects of historical and cultural specificity when they are re- or dislocated temporally and geographically. As the new audience in Taiwan and beyond participate in the translation of this sculpture, we can ask: what does it mean when a statue that was originally erected to celebrate a one-time war hero over a hundred years ago as a personal tribute by an individual, brought down a century later, now resurrected as a work of art by an emigrant artist in the twenty-first century in a museum dedicated to contemporary art five thousand miles away? The project has also to expanded onto the Internet, enabling each leg of the project can be accessed live by the public through the project’s website. The appropriation of Written in Soap: A Plinth Project by each new territory – on- and offline, present and future – confronts the prevailing assumption that monuments are, by nature, static in both place and time and reminds us of the cultural lens through which we perceive and engage with historical monuments.

London and Seoul-based Korean artist Meekyoung Shin (b.1967) is internationally renowned for her sculptures that probe the mis- and re-translations that often emerge when objects of distinct cultural and historical specificity are dislocated. Made from soap, her work replicate artefacts and canonical works of art, from Asian porcelain vases to Greek and Roman sculptures, translating between continents, cultures and centuries in the process. Shin is recognised for her iconic Translation Series (2004-onging) and Toilet Series, installations of soap sculptures in public bathrooms for use, which are subsequently exhibited in the gallery context in their eroded form.

Meekyoung Shin was born in South Korea and completed her BFA and MFA at Seoul National University. In 1995, she moved to London to obtain her MFA at the Slade School of Art, University College London, and has since held solo exhibitions internationally including Haunch of Venison, London (2010) and the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London (2013). She has participated in numerous group shows including the Museum of Art and Design, New York, and the 2013 Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan. Her works are found in collections all over the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the National Museum Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. Shin was nominated for the Korean Artist Prize 2013.

Written in Soap: A Plinth Project in London is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and Arts Council Korea, with additional support from the Korean Culture Centre UK, and Haunch of Venison.

Soap for Written in Soap: A Plinth Project in London is donated by LUSH FRESH HANDMADE COSMETICS.

Written in Soap: A Plinth Project → Meekyoung Shin ©2014