A Needle Woman - Cairo, 2001, 6:33 video loop, Silent.


Flaminia Generi Santori, 2003

FG: In your work you have been using very consistently two media: fabrics and video. The most immediate connection one makes comes out from the title of one of your video works: the series Needle woman. Who is the needle woman? Is she a metaphor? Does she represents a condition of humanity, as the title of your show in Lyon would suggest? And what is the relationship between the needle woman and the fabrics use have been using?

KSJ: The fabrics I've been using for my sewn work, Object, and installation were used Korean traditional costumes, bedcovers and used clothes which I found from anonymous people. These fabrics represent presence of body whose smell, memory and time is still there. On the other hand, a series of my video pieces represent and wrap the actual human body in immaterial way, while the fabric installations are materialistic way of representing and wrapping human body — yet it represents the invisible body.

In my recent video performance A Needle Woman (1999-2001), my body stands as a medium between the viewers of the video and the people in the street where my performance is taking place, as if it functions as a barometer while weaving/woven (by) different nation, races, culture, society and economy by standing still in the middle of the busy streets in 8 different metropolitans in the world.

Apart from A Needle Woman video, I've been also examining the conditions of human being by putting myself in one of the lowest state of human being as A Homeless Woman, A Beggar Woman, A Laundry Woman and as a refugee by making Bottari installations — refugee as a persona, as a woman, and as a collective group of people in a broad sense of refugee in existential, social, cultural, and political context.

FG: The needle woman might take different positions, like in Needle Woman - Kitayashu, in which she lies on a rock facing the sky perfectly still. Or she might take different names, like in Laundry Woman, where, in the same position, she faces the Yamuna river in Delhi...

KSJ: As I mentioned earlier, the Needle Woman signifies a medium which connects different parts of the fabrics of society, culture and landscape — in that sense, A Needle Woman - Kitakyshu divides and links four different element of the world which are the earth and the sky, the human side and that of the nature. As long as my body functions as a mediator, A Laundry Woman is not different from the other performances although the position is different depending on the structure of the landscape and cityscapes. But I could say my work has also a parallel relationship to the structure of the painting in formalistic reading.

FG: In these works you stand perfectly still, in crowded cities in different parts of the world, or in the landscape. Watching them one cannot but think about how you managed to reach such an immobility and concentration. And also they made me think about the goal of so many meditation practices: the ability to live the present moment to its ultimate intensity, or the notion of impermanence. However you said that zen theory has not been important in your work...

KSJ: Immobility comes out of mobility. I could reach to the immobility only by practicing mobility in my life. I was always thinking every moment is a meditation and the moment when a perception and an artistic decision comes up to my mind was Zen, but I'd never practiced Zen meditation.

FG: In all of your video installations the viewer is faced with your back, so that he shares your point of view. In Needle Woman the viewer is immersed in a 8 channels installation in which he witnesses you standing still in the middle of the most crowded streets of the world. Do you imagine the viewers standing on your back when you do your video performances? What kind of visual and emotional experience you project on your viewers?

KSJ: It would have been very interesting if someone on the street stood right behind me posing exactly the same way I do. I would say the person who is standing behind me is the camera which is eyes of myself. This idea can be compared to my video I made in a crowed street in Istanbul in 1997 which takes people coming and going in Istiklal street by setting a fixed frame for an hour wrapping people into the camera lens which can be juxtaposed to my body.

FG: Time, it seems to me, is a crucial element in your work. Not only because of the duration of the videos but also because in all of them you watch transient elements: people in the streets, clouds in the sky or flowers in the river. Time and past experiences seem to be crucial also in your work with fabrics in which you use tissues which have been used already and carry with them the sign of past experiences.

KSJ: The idea of impermanency of existences gives me a deep compassion for human being and has been embedded in my work since the beginning of my sewing practice till now — the fabrics I first sewn together were the remained fragments from my grandmother's clothes when she passed away — memorizing her presence. I've been living such mobile life from my childhood wrapping and unwrapping household and luggage and the strong memory I have from my childhood were the huge mountain in front which I was looking in the dark from our house yard and the passing by landscapes I used to see on our way to somewhere else from a bus or a train. Leaving people behind us from where I live and meeting new people in a strange city was part of my family life.

FG: You have been using the fabrics in a variety of contexts and often in public places, like in a old post office in Trieste (am I right?) and in the open air cafè in Central Park New York. You also took them, as Bottari, to different parts of the world in a work eventually dedicated to the Kosovo refugees. What is the relation, if there is, between private memory and public place, function and aesthetics?

KSJ: Presenting private materials in public spaces sometimes provokes intimate questions such as table cloths and laundry installation I made with newly married couple's bedcover cloth from Korea. Eating in the bed, or Wrapping bundle/Bottari ( especially when it's refered to a woman) are Taboo in Korea. I am questioning this site of birth, sleep, love, suffer, and death considering as our frame of life and its reality in sexuality, morality, conflicts in humanity as well as its impermanency. On the contrary, the color and embroideries of those fabrics are brilliant and beautiful, while showing contradiction in reality of life which is not always same as these symbols signify and the esthetic structures I present in situ.

FG: Lately you have been working with lights and sound, like in Charleston or like in a lighted mandala you showed in Lyon. Is this a new direction in your work?

A permanent question and desire I have has a lot to do with possession and its void in Yin and Yang relationship in our world. The whole process of my work has to do with process of void in life and art and its extinguishment at the end.

— From the interview in 'Il Manifesto', Rome, 2003.

Flaminia Gennari Santori is research coordinator at the Fondazione Adriano Olivetti in Rome and adjunct professor of Italian Art History at New Hampshire University Italian Program. She holds a PhD from the European University Institute, in Fiesole and she was a Fullbright Scholar at the University of Chicago. She published 'The Melancholy of Masterpieces'. Old Master Paintings in America 1900-1914, Milan, 5continents editions 2003 and articles in Italian and British journals and books. With Annie Claustres and Anne Pontegnie she coordinates the research "Une Nouvelle Scène de l'Art", to be published by Les Presses du Réel in 2005. She contributes book and exhibitions reviews to the Italian daily newspaper il Manifesto.