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Korean artist Kimsooja at South Biennial 2021 | His work can be seen at Muntref-Hotel de Inmigrantes, the MNBA and the Korean Cultural Center

Just as there was a young man with scissor hands capable of erecting magnificent ice sculptures and, at the same time, creating snow in utter solitude —immortalized by Johnny Depp in Edward scissorhands, directed by Tim Burton—, Kimsooja (Daegu, South Korea, 1957), renowned Korean conceptual artist, is capable of transforming into a powerful needle woman —as she herself recognizes by the combination of her artistic practice and the sewing device— .

His photographs in light boxes, audiovisual records of performances and site-specific installations are exhibited in three chapters: The meeting with the other in Muntref headquarters Hotel de Inmigrantes; Nomadic at the National Museum of Fine Arts and An inner experience at the Korean Cultural Center. The three exhibitions make up the monumental Bienalsur 2021, which this year is titled Biennial of resistance and resilience, and which takes place simultaneously in 124 venues in 50 cities in 23 countries, with the participation of 400 artists.

Due to the twelve-hour difference between Argentina and Korea, the meetings between Diana Wechsler, Bienalsur’s academic-artistic director, and Kimsooja, who due to the pandemic was unable to travel to our country as planned, ended on several occasions at unexpected hours before the early morning. Fabric tests were sent to Korea for the artist to check textures and tones. To adjust details of the assembly of the car with colorful bottari in the MNBA, where the focus is on the metaphorical seams of the artist in the territory, there was a videoconference of more than three hours.

Encounter -Looking into Sewing, one of Kimsooja’s performative photos exhibited at the Korean Cultural Center.

Kimsooja, who lives and works between Seoul and New York, exhibited at MoMA PS1, the Reina Sofía Museum, the Pompidou Metz Center and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, among many other places. She has considered herself a “cultural exile” since 1999, and has always been interested in borders, migration and the problem of refugees.

Sewing, in her work, alludes to female activities in Korea, migration and displacement. “I started practicing sewing – points out the artist – in the early eighties, neither as a female artist, nor as a woman specifically interested in sewing. I discovered the experimental artistic value of women’s domestic work, especially in Korea, where female and male work were clearly separated until the late 1990s. “

In the photographs, the video A Needle Woman (1999) and an installation exhibited in Room 33 on the first floor of the MNBA occupying a key place are bottari, bundles of cloth that contain endearing objects and that constitute an important part of a person’s identity. “It is what Korean women always carry with them when they travel, marry or separate: they are their treasures,” Wechsler points out about the bottari that Kimsooja began creating thirty years ago and that constitute minimal sculptures.

“The Bottari represent our body and our skin, their suffering and their memory,” says the artist. They are the simplest way to carry objects or belongings that embody different meanings and time dimensions. They can be made for a simple trip, a transfer, or a couple separation in feminist terms (in which only the most essential belongings are wrapped). Also in an emergency: migration, exile or our final journey, death ”.

Bottaris in the corridors of the Muntref headquarters Hotel de Inmigrantes

Cities on the Move-2727 Kilometers Bottari Truck (1997-2001) is a magnificent lightbox photograph that documents a performance in which the artist traveled 2,727 kilometers through Korean cities and towns for 11 days, sitting on top of clusters of bottari in a truck. It was an odyssey through routes and paths that symbolizes a seam, a union, a symbolic repair between places and people. The artist, who defines herself as a cultural nomad and puts it into practice, with her tours intends to sew the territory, to link the social fabric in some way.

In the performance A Needle Woman (Needle Woman, 1999), Kimsooja becomes a kind of allegorical needle that weaves through different cultures. Wearing her usual austere dress (tunic pants and jacket with a mandarin collar), with her back to the viewer, her hair tied back with her characteristic ponytail, she stands motionless in the midst of the people passing through the streets of different cities. Comparing her body to a needle that traverses space and time, her conceptual system is rooted in the practice of sewing. “My desire and my will are abandoned. With this lasting performance, I experience a certain transcendence of myself, and I hope that the public will also do so ”, says the artist. With this action, Kimsooja seeks to “feel empathy for humanity and capture the essence of the ephemerality of human reality.” As she stands, motionless among people, she experiences “a lot of mobility in her body and mind” – a powerful ride that she clings to.

He considers his work a singular self-portrait, against the grain of anyone we know: “I do not wish to show my personal identity in my work —especially in video performances, when my back is to the viewer— but the position I take does show certain identity type. I think that a person’s back can be one of the most evocative parts of the human body: it is not dynamic, but it is a deep and abstract representation of a person ”.

Bottari Truck – Migrateurs, one of Kimsooja’s photographs that can be seen in the Fine Arts

The video record of the action A Needle Woman, which the artist made in different places, can be seen at the MNBA (filmed in Paris) and at the Hotel de Inmigrantes (filmed in Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Cairo, Delhi, Shanghai and Lagos). You have to pay attention to the reaction of pedestrians to this oriental woman in different cities.

“His body / needle sews spaces and senses, travels territories with the serene parsimony of the observer in search of the encounter with the other, moving away from the western performative tradition”, writes in the curatorial text Wechsler about the paradoxical principle of “not doing” that guides the artist’s actions. She assumes a passive position not only as a needlewoman, but in other performances, as a homeless woman begging, which differ substantially from Western performances. “While Western performance seeks, activating something, to provoke and challenge the other with a strong impact, Kimsooja activates by default: she is standing still and things happen”, says Wechsler.

It is impossible not to stop before the deductive objects, which are exhibited in the three venues (Hotel de Inmigrantes, MNBA and in the Korean Cultural Center) that are influenced by Buddhism, Zen and Confucianism, and whose purpose is to question the viewer, unleash new questions.

With his actions, Kinsooja explores the social fabric and the interaction with the different actors. The needle woman she embodies is capable of looking at the world and being a witness without acting: inert, she is there, like a latent, disturbing question. There is a devastating poetry and sensitivity in his works.

At Korean Cultural Center until October 21. Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., by appointment, by writing to [email protected] Free

National museum of fine arts until November 21, Thursday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., for free by completing this form:

Immigrant Hotel until December 23, Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with reservation by prior reservation through the Museum View Muntref application or by mail to [email protected]

Arjun Sethi
Passionate guitarist, gamer and writer. Lives for the perfect review, and scrapes texts until they are razor-sharp.


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