Can the sublime be recreated?
You are looking at Mount Geumgang: its summit is over five thousand feet high, and its rocks emit energy that brings life to the world. At least, the real mountain in North Korea does. This is a replica, made of Styrofoam and decorated with rocks and plants, and it rises up from an exclusive apartment complex in the South Korean city of Seoul.
Seunggu Kim has been photographing this “mountain,” and others like it, for years, devoting to it the same time and respect he would to the actual mountain. We see this formation in different seasons and lighting conditions. Here the flowers are bountiful, and the flowing waters are pictured as a blur of tranquility, thanks to the healing powers of a slow shutter speed. In other images, the distinctive peaks are covered with snow or pictured during the magic hour. This feature is part of an urban landscaping trend in South Korea known as Jingyeong Sansu, which is intended to provide the nature-starved residents of Seoul with the spiritual payoffs of actual nature, including the sacred mountain on which this one is based, which happens to lie in a country they cannot visit.
In Kim’s images, we see how the sublime has been commodified, replicated, and miniaturized, but we also see how this capitalistic interpretation of natural splendor is not entirely inauthentic. While this mountain presumably does not emit any “energy,” it still casts some kind of spell on people, and seeing it respectfully pictured over time imbues it with significance, with its own life and history. In many ways, it is no different from other places of worship—churches and temples designed to provide spiritual nourishment, demanding only a brief commute to communion. This may not be the real mountain, but Kim’s photographs suggest that in the age of the Anthropocene, we no longer acknowledge the difference between what is natural and artificial. If a sacred mountain is too inconvenient, too inaccessible, we’ll just re-create it. And if we want it to be significant, if we require it to be special, then it will be.
- Henry Carroll