Cities on the Move - 2727 KM Bottari Truck, 1997, single channle video, 7:33 min. loop, silent, Commissioned by Korean Arts and Cultural Foundation

Homeland Exists Only in Our Memory in This Era

Bernard Fibicher, 2002

The work "2727 kilometers Bottari Truck" (1997) by the Korean artist Kimsooja has prompted many commentaries – on the Internet too – that are full of inaccurate quotes and half-truths, but that also include some quite imaginative interpretations. For example, there is talk of the "video loop of her sojourn throughout Seoul and the surrounding countryside" (I am deliberately excluding source references here.) In the film itself, however, there is nothing to be seen of the metropolis of Seoul. In another commentary: "In 1997, Kimsooja toured Korea for eleven days in a truck containing a large number of 'bottari' made from clothing she had gathered from all over the world." This universalistic interpretation is contradicted by the following reduction to local history in another text: "The mountain of colorful, knotted cloths in the truck alludes to the troubled episodes of Korean history, in which city dwellers and the inhabitants of the countryside alike were forced to flee their homes, carrying their valuables in similar large 'bottari'." However, it is impossible to examine the content of the bundles in the film, and inconceivable – at least for the lay person – to deduce the forced nomadism of the Korean people from the truck journey performance. What I am attempting here, therefore, is to allow the images to speak for themselves and at the same time take account of the written information which the artist has provided in her film.

A woman is sitting on a truck loaded with bundles. The bundles are tightly secured with thick ropes; they also serve as a seat for the woman. Throughout the whole film this female figure is shown only from behind. Occasionally, at a bend in the road, her concealed profile appears momentarily. She is wearing a neutral black dress that defies classification, either chronologically or geographically, and her hair is bound up. The camera following her tries to vary as little as possible the distance it keeps from her and to always keep her at the centre of the frame. Accordingly, in the lower half of the frame we see the heap of colorful bundles (only once does the rear of the truck sways briefly into the image), and in the upper half, we see the woman and the passing scenery [2]. The truck first travels upwards along a mountain road, then, having crossed a pass, down again into the valley. The road winds, with fairly sharp bends, through a landscape which during the ascent looks quite barren, but on the descent turns out to be wooded. Traces of snow can be seen at the road-side and around several groups of buildings. The landscape is geographically unidentifiable. There could be places like this in almost any continent of the world. The script on one of the passing road-signs, however, indicates the Asian region.

The information directly available from the images is complemented by some written data. The almost seven-minute video begins with a fade-in followed by the title "Cities on the Move". This refers to the context in which the work originated – namely, the exhibition "Cities on the Move", which was created by Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich Obrist and, in keeping with the theme, was shown in different formats in different cities and continents [3].

Right from the beginning, this fade-in also provides a pointer to the general problem of how cities are developing. What is specifically "on the move" is the truck fully loaded with bundles. The truck must, therefore, be associated with "cities." And yet only a mountain road is visible in the frames. Do the bundles come from cities? Are they being transported to cities? Throughout the whole film, the word "cities" lodges in our mind like a foreign body, forming the conceptual counterpart to the landscape, which is visible all the time in the background. The general title "Cities on the Move" implies that the journey passes through city and country. Shortly before the end of the film, its actual title appears: "2727 kilometers Bottari Truck". Only now do we realize that the seven-minute sequence is no more than an extract from a much longer journey. The final credits contain information on the director (Kimsooja), the year the film was made (1997) and the location. Thus the point in time (the present) and the place where the action occurs (Korea) become clear. Yet we still feel confused. As image and text mutually influence each other, there is a tense interplay at several levels: between city and country, part and whole, now and (almost) any time, here and (almost) everywhere – or, in contemporary terms: the local and the global. Furthermore, the linear structure of the film and the journey is weakened by its repetition (the video runs in a loop). Although the journey is the central theme of this work by Kimsooja, stasis proves to be just as vital.

"2727 kilometers Bottari Truck" can be seen as a minimalist road movie. The classical road movie simultaneously depicts a physical and a spiritual journey: a person, but mostly two people, travel the country in a car or on a motorcycle in order to find both the true America and themselves [4]. Though the road movie refers to the past and suggests a future, it concentrates on the in-between, the road, the distance between past and future, city and country, civilization and nature, immobility and movement. In an e-mail interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kimsooja writes: " 'Bottari Truck' is…a loaded in –between"[5]. The road promises not only release from the bonds of the past but also the adventure of a new beginning. The reasons that drive someone onto the road have a lasting effect on the plot of the road movie. In Kimsooja's film there is neither action nor motivation. The woman dressed in black is traveling alone. She remains seated, while still moving forward. Deleuze and Guattari refer to the progress in repose of the nomad in their Nomadology: "The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle. It is therefore false to define the nomad by movement. Toynbee is profoundly right to suggest that the nomad is on the contrary he who does not move. …Of course, the nomad moves, but while seated, and he is only seated while moving (the Bedouin galloping, knees on the saddle, sitting on the soles of his upturned feet, 'a feat of balance')." [6] We do not know where the dark female figure comes from or where she is going to. We are not informed about her reasons for making the journey, why she has tied up her bundles. She exists only in this in-between space constituted by the road. Deleuze and Guattari emphasize this in-between space as a further characteristic of nomadism: "The nomad has a territory; he follows customary paths, he goes from one point to another, he is not ignorant of points (water points, dwelling points, assembly points, etc). …A path is always between two points, but the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own. The life of the nomads is the intermezzo." [7] The classical road movie operates with the opposition between space and place. Space – abstract space, wide open space –symbolizes inestimable freedom, while place – the precisely localized place – means civilization, the norm, the rule, i.e., restriction. In Kimsooja's film the two terms coincide in the concept of the bundle. This temporary place, the bundle, on which the woman is sitting, is simultaneously space and movement. It thus integrates the opposites of stasis and displacement, bondage and freedom. In the interview with Obrist, the artist puts this paradox as follows: " 'Bottari truck' is a development-object through space and time, an object that brings us to and from the place from which we came and to which we will return." [8] Kimsooja uses the elementary bundle – literally a "transitory object" – as a complex, contradictory symbol of location and placeless-ness.

At first sight, everything in "2727 kilometers Bottari Truck" seems to be in motion, flowing: the truck with the bundles roped onto it, the woman swaying slightly on the bends and at times shaken because of the bumpy road, the passing landscape. Meanwhile, the woman is taken as a fixed point (the heaped bundles function as a mere "plinth"); she is the referential object, although almost all we see of her is a cloth covering. The woman cannot be identified and is thus as anonymous as the bundles, whose contents remain concealed. This makes her a genuine identification figure. She can be anyone. Her body is a bundle, a container of many things, a corpus. In the interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kimsooja remarks: " 'Bottari Truck' is a laden self, a laden other." [9] The body as bundle enables the transfer between "me" and "the other in me", between "me" and "the other". [10] The travelling woman seated on the bundles is not least a symbol both of primitive and of modern man, of nomadism and of the mobility and flexibility that have been raised to the new ideal and are often linked with values such as non-identity, placeless-ness, migration, cultural hybridism, etc. Yet this woman radiated an immense loneliness – melancholy? Marc Auge analyses the loneliness of modern cartography and in so doing, he investigates both those "places" which are characterized by identity, relation and history, and those "non-places" which have no anthropological identity. His conclusion is: "Movement adds a special experience, a form of loneliness, to the juxtaposition of the worlds and the experience of the anthropological place." As the images pass by, loneliness manifests itself in them "as a going beyond individuality, in short, the flickering of the hypothesis of a past and the possibility of a future." [11] Is loneliness perhaps the unexpected price to be paid for being open to the world?

Translated from the German by Pauline Cumbers

[1] "Gerald Matt interviewing Kimsooja", p. 12, in: exhibition catalogue: Kim Sooja. A Laundry Woman, Kunsthalle Wien, 2002, p. 7-33.

[2] å pendant to Kimsooja's women in black seeen only from behind in Michelangelo Pistoletto's "La Venere degli stracci" (Rag Venus, 1967). In it, a replica of a classical female nude with her white back turned to the viewer snuggles up to a heap of clothing and pieces of fabric that towers above her. There is a clashhere between the ideal form and the attraction of the informal. Thirty years later, Kimsooja no longer needs this shock effect: the woman and the cloth bundles belong in one and the same universe.

[3] Cities on the Move, exhibition catalogue Secession, Vienna, Musée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux, ed.: Hatje Verlag, Ostfildern, 1997/98.

[4] Several interesting essays on the theme are contained in the reader The Road Movie Book, ed.: Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, London, New York: Routledge, 1997.

[5] Reprint and German translation of the interview in: Kim Sooja. A Needle Woman, exhibition catalogue Kunsthalle Bern, 2001, no page numbers.

[6] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi, London: The Athlone Press, 1987, p. 381, chapter 12, A Threatise on Nomadology: The War Machine.

[7] Ibid., p.380

[8] Kimsooja, 2001.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Little wonder that of all things a female body assumes this mediating role.

[11] Marc Augé, Orte und Nicht-Orte. Vorüberlegungen zu einer Phänomenologie der Einsamkeit, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, p. 103.