Artist creates figurative sculptures using bicycle chains

Young-Deok Seo grew up in Seoul, Korea, and dreamt of becoming an artist from a very young age. Fulfilling his aspiration, he graduated from the Department of Environmental Sculpture at the University of Seoul in 2011 and then started a little underground workshop. There his artistic career quickly began growing; he presented nine solo and countless group exhibitions highlighting his realistic human sculptures around the world, from Milan and Paris to Istanbul and New York.

What makes Young-Deok’s work unique is that instead of carving statues from one material, he creates sculptures by fusing hundreds of tiny components together. Bicycle chains are used to construct his striking figurative artwork. Using this unorthodox material, he renders each subject head-to-toe in the metal links.

“The chains in my work mean [restraints],” he says. “The fetters are all about our contemporaries’ complicated, forced relationships and cravings for materials.”

Figurative sculpture using bicycle chains

Amazingly, the bicycle chains don’t hinder Young-Deok’s ability to create lifelike figures, but rather enhance the shape of the bodies. The metal shimmers in the light, bringing to life the three-dimensionality of the forms. It also highlights the realistic anatomy. While the bicycle chains create a puzzle-like effect from afar, a closer look reveals the many individual parts that go into producing each figure. In this way, they are completely bound, both literally and figuratively, by a type of chain that typically represents choice and freedom (of travel, of movement).

The Thinker 300 by Young-Deok Seo
The thinker 300 (above) is a faceless male figure sitting with his chin resting on his hand and slumped on his knees perhaps contemplating the world’s problems. Made of iron bicycle chain, each link positioned ever so carefully shapes muscles and appears like the skin of a human body. This pondering sculpture, weighing 60 kg and measuring 122 cm tall, is the largest sculpture in the collection.

“One day, I came across a pile of metal chain dumped on the street,” Young-Deok describes the inspiration for his medium of choice, “It seemed a machine-like thing wriggling as if it had life. I felt like I was looking at a jerking human being lying on the street. At that moment, I thought I might make a human body with this chain, which might be the best material to describe entangled lives of contemporaries. So I started to learn welding techniques and tried to apply them to my artistic work.”

Depending on the size of the work, one bicyle chain sculpture can take up to three months. The disassembling and reassembling of the chain and welding consume the most time. This process requires perseverance, but Young-Deok enjoys this process, taking pleasure in the difficulty.

Meditation 110 by Young-Deok Seo
Meditation 130 focuses on peacefulness. The face with eyes gently closed and the lips at rest. The stainless steel bike chain is intricately positioned, creating a 110 cm high by 75 cm wide wall-mounted sculpture.

For updates on upcoming exhibitions and sneak-peaks into his process, you can follow Young-Deok Seo on Instagram.

Meditation 285 by Young-Deok Seo
The human figure in Meditation 285 is crafted with iron bicyle chains rusted to evoke an aged feeling. This visually powerful art piece measures 164 cm in length and 85 cm tall. Creating a strong human figure using a chain is not easy and Young-Deok masterfully executes his artistic vision.