BY Liz Kim in Profiles | 02 MAY 23

Dew Kim Plays Sub and Dom With the Korean Church

The performance artist mines his personal history to present a new body of work that draws parallels between religious worship and BDSM cultures

BY Liz Kim in Profiles | 02 MAY 23

Dew Kim leads me down the steps into his banjiha (semi-basement) studio in a hilly neighbourhood adjacent to Seoul’s gay district, Itaewon. He is in the midst of preparing for his solo show, ‘I Surrender’, at Various Small Fires. We are surrounded by works at different stages of completion, including clay moulds for an anal dildo and wooden window frames with gothic tracery backed by a colourful lenticular print depicting crowns of thorns. Encompassing installation, sculpture, performance and moving image, Kim’s work is largely autobiographical, traversing high and low cultures to examine queerness and spirituality through creative manifestations of BDSM and K-Pop.

Dew Kim Total Praise (2023)
Dew Kim, Total Praise, 2023, 90 × 99 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Various Small Fires, Seoul

'Many of my performances deal with desire,’ he tells me. ‘For instance, I emulate K-Pop idols and their performative eroticism. This will be expressed in “I Surrender” through a central installation symbolizing latex play.’ He points to a pair of Styrofoam torsos with raised buttocks. Titled O Come to the Altar (2023), the work is covered by a latex sheet that is pulled taut then slackened by the alternating rhythm of a vacuum, mimicking erotic asphyxiation. ‘I Surrender’ pivots away from Kim’s more typical performance-based work to explore the parallels between religious devotion and sadomasochism by combining objects emblematic of each practice.

Dew Kim O Come to the Altar (2023)
Dew Kim, O Come to the Altar, 2023, mixed media with latex, CNC styrofoam, vacuum machine, and stainless steel, 1.9 × 1.4 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Various Small Fires, Seoul

I first encountered the artist through the words of Andrew Cummings, whose contribution for the book Imagining the Apocalypse: Art and the End Times (2022) describes how Dew’s work ‘invite[s] us to take pleasure in porosity’ – a sentiment made evident when one considers the various artistic practices he has embraced over the years. Originally trained in metalsmithing and jewellery in Korea, Kim then moved to London and completed an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 2016. During the course, seeing his frustration with metalwork, his tutor Denise de Cordova suggested that he also explore performance. This motivated Kim to participate in ‘Death and Romance’, an intensive summer workshop led by Franko B, whose radical approach to performance art encouraged Kim to draw inspiration from the masochistic body as a medium of expression.

Dew Kim Shackles (2023)
Dew Kim, Shackles, 2023, mixed media with metal and silicone, 40 × 54 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Various Small Fires, Seoul

I ask him about his approach to performance in the upcoming show: ‘I want to express the human body without using the body in the flesh but, instead, through materiality and objects. In this way, the creation of objects becomes more performative and, in a sense, the entirety of the work represents the body in one form or another – whether as steel bars or stone-like structures, especially like those used in religious buildings.’ On a workbench across from us lies Got the Whole World in the Hands (2023). Resembling a wrought-iron window grille, the work has a central curved aperture through which emerges a pair of silicone hands clasped tightly around green rosary beads. Kim is letting the objects – their forms and surfaces – speak to notions of power and subversion.

Dew Kim Got the Whole World (2023)
Dew Kim, Got the Whole World in the Hands (detail), 2023, mixed media with wood, metal and silicone casting. Courtesy: the artist and Various Small Fires, Seoul

Upon returning to Korea in 2018, Kim took on two artistic personas: one based on his English name, Dew Kim, and the other as performance artist HornyHoneyDew (or, on occasion, the phonetic and internet search-resistant Huh Need-you). As Kim, he engages with more familiar forms of Korean culture – K-Pop and shamanism. As HornyHoneyDew, he makes more risk-taking work that draws parallels – fear, control, ecstasy – between religious worship and queer and BDSM cultures. This separation was less an artistic choice than a necessity, since Kim was concerned about defying social norms in conservative Korea and the ramifications this might carry for his father, a Christian minister.


In 2020, Kim was outed to his father’s congregation after taking part in the group show ‘Looking for Another Family’ at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. His father eventually had to abandon his profession. Despite this catastrophic fallout, Kim’s conviction to continue his work only grew stronger. ‘The essence of religion is to expand, to be flexible,’ he explained. ‘To achieve that, the religious body must break free from some of its fixtures. That concept is very queer and this interchangeable aspect between religion and queerness may provide the answer as to how both could grow respectively within the mainstream in Korea.’

Dew Kim Let the Church Say Amen (2023)
Dew Kim, Let the Church Say Amen, 2023, mixed media with Jesmonite, steel, MDF, beads, metal, silicone casting, 170 × 80 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Various Small Fires, Seoul

‘I Surrender’ combines the artist’s two identities. It also encapsulates the BDSM concept whereby the masochist, in surrendering control to the sadist, flips the power dynamic: all actions of the sadist become labour in the service of the masochist. Similarly, the exhibition summons the religious phenomenon of ecstasy, whereby those who relinquish bodily control gain a type of transcendence. As Kim explains: ‘For me, making work is like BDSM play. When I’m performing, I tend to be dominated but, when I’m making objects, I tend to dominate. Particularly when I’m metalsmithing, I am more forceful. When I do an installation, it’s an act of expanding my body. Overall, making work is like role play for me, a double play.’

Throughout the exhibition, such dualities prevail. In Let the Church Say Amen (2023), for instance, heavy ornamental metalwork ensnares soft, fleshy body parts. By embracing the binary, Kim creates a third space that disrupts hierarchies and frees visitors from socially conditioned forms of (non-consensual) control.

Main image: Dew Kim, Let the Church Say Amen (detail), 2023, mixed media with Jesmonite, steel, MDF, beads, metal, silicone casting, 170 × 80 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Various Small Fires, Seoul

Dew Kim’s ‘I Surrender’ is on view at Various Small Fires, Seoul until 10 June

Liz Kim is a PhD lecturer of art history at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, USA.