The Artist and her Works
Kimsooja was born in 1957 in Taegu (Korea) and presently lives and works in New York.
A Nomad Artist Tradition
Like many artists from these past decades, Kimsooja is a nomad artist who makes exile and travelling the focus of her work. The figure of the nomad and surveyor artist comes from a long tradition, voyaging towards cities where art appeared inspiring or guided by art patrons to where her production could develop. Today this perpetual movement, in both a physical and figurative manner become intertwined with globalization and shorter travel distances. It’s almost considered as a genre in itself like when we speak of movie genre. Many artists are “voluntary” exiles driven by personal reasons or even curiosity, but the most part are political refugees. The departure, the arrival, the crossing, mentally and physically leaving, possible escape-means are produced by artists such as with Vespas en Marbre by Gabriel Orozco, Bateaux by Claudio Parmiggiani, Cailloux Disséminés by Richard Long, Cartes by Mona Hatoum or Les Marches by Francis Alÿs.
Kimsooja’s work therefore belongs to a vast family of geographical artists whose personal background is accentuated by comings and goings. Very early, in 1985, upon finishing her painting studies at the Hong-IK University in Seoul and National Lithography School of Fine Arts in Paris, Kimsooja began to exhibit internationally. Among her recent personal exhibits there are, in particular, To Breathe–A Mirror Woman at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid in 2006 and Lotus: Zone of Zero, a monumental grouping of lotus lanterns with Gregorian, Islamic and Tibetan chants diffused in the background and staged in the Rotunda of the Ravenstein Gallery in Brussels, 2008.
Being and Acting in Stillness: a balance
Kimsooja savours contemplation and stillness, where consequences of movement are the preferred times and postures. This attention emphasizes even more the forces of opposition, the reciprocal energies of stopping and mobility, the cycle of rest and activity, of life and death.
The video A homeless woman (2001) where the artist is filmed in Cairo or Delhi sprawled out on the ground is intensely powerful with the looks from men walking past.
The video series A Needle Woman (1999-2001 and 2005) is considered as an emblematic work and reference of all her action-performances. In a dozen cities around the world (London, Shanghaï, Lagos, Mexico, Jerusalem…), Kimsooja adopts the same posture – straight and immobile in a crowd, her hair shaped in a long braid along her black dress. Each scene is filmed with a telescopic lens, with a set focus, revealing a fairly distressing and violent contrast between the artist’s pose, back to the camera and this crowd which gathers around her, some side-stepping and ignoring her … individuals who avoid, forget or observe her.
A needle woman, neologism for an activity she enjoys staging, embroidering her way through the fabrics of streets and people, she finds her place by stitching it all together and patching things up.
Invited in residence in 2007 at the MAC/VAL, she produced the Bottari Truck-Migrateurs performance between Vitry and Paris. First off the artist had to find sheets and clothes which she found at Emmaüs and which were then used to form large separate “packages” representing the different range of populations present in France. Loaded with these clothes bags stacked high, tied up in separate colourful packages full of past memories, the artist brings them by the Saint-Bernard Church, today a place known for a small resistance movement by “illegal immigrants” who chained themselves up to its gates. From Place de la Bastille to Place de la République, the pick-up rolls past these historic Paris monuments, all filmed on camera, a permanent memory.
Travelling without moving, becoming one with the crowd, acting through immobility or transporting unwanted and anonymous fabric, buffeted from here to there, full of contradictory and daily human conditions and present-day states of being, unremittingly shown by Kimsooja, a veritable tight-rope walker between mind and body.