Deductive Object, installation

Deductive Object, 1993, used Korean Clothes, Installation view at PS.1, New York, Dimensions variable

The pilgrimage of our own existence

An art where nomadism and the relation with the other reveals the importance of mankind and the contemplation of the reality that we live in.

Laeticia Mello, 2012

Kim Soo-Ja is her full name, but she introduces herself in her web page as Kimsooja (Korea, 1957) with her own manifesto: In "A One-Word Name Is An Anarchist's Name" (2003), Kimsooja refuses gender identity, marital status, socio-political or cultural and geographical identity by not separating the family name and the first name. In this same way – without an identity or with an almost ephemeral one – she has been developing since 1992 her singular and poetic work that includes videos, performances, installations, site-specific projects and photographs.

To give rise to her work, Kimsooja travels to different cities, villages and small towns in search of diverse cultures. It is a pilgrimage with bottaris – Korean word that means "wrapping luggage with a wrapping cloth", the easiest and most functional way of carrying one's belongings– sometimes walking and others by truck; a nomadism that speaks about civilizations, traditions, and languages that shall be faced in the new crossing.

The art that she creates becomes ceremonial. She looks through her own past, present and future and through that contemplation the questions and discourses on time and space emerge. This way, Kimsooja links her work to nature and the relation with others. In her pieces the viewers are engulfed by the multiple perspectives introduced by the artist and they can participate of it lively.

Textiles are the media that Kimsooja chooses to develop her maps of beliefs. Despite her origins where there always existed a need of experimenting different types of media similar to fabrics, sewing became the wisest and most accurate tool. It allowed her to combine her questionings and the relation between the "I" and the "Other" over the canvas surface. Thereby, the separation between the artist and the surface disappears and transforms into a healing joint.

Bottaris are probably the most distinctive element in Kimsooja's art. They hold not only references to the migration of her land but also to the essence of all her work: mankind. "I've always been fascinated by nomadic minorities' life style and their rich visual culture and originality. During my youth my family also lived a nomadic life due to my father's job, although within Korea. I wasn't aware of the fact that my family had been wrapping and unwrapping bottaris all the time until I started Cities on the Move–2727 km Bottari Truck in 1997", she explains.

Kimsooja's bottaris are sculptural pieces. Viewers can open, touch and examine them. The artist acts as an intermediary between the owners of those clothes and old bedspreads and the observers. As they make contact with the bottaris, they embark on their own journey imagining who used these fabrics before. This way, the pieces transcend the Eastern tradition and the historical codes that were associated to them; they become channels which redefine the concept of the object. Here it doesn't matter if Kimsooja re-makes and re-contextualizes a ready-made but the way she chooses to look at her past and the transition that Korea lived from a traditional lifestyle to a modern one.

A Needle Woman, A Beggar Woman and A Homeless Woman are the most developed and delicate performances by Kimsooja. In them, she appears with a singular hieratic posture amongst a crowd in continuous flow that walks towards and by her sometimes observing and others questioning themselves the truth of her static stance. Anonymous and with neutral clothing, she achieves to interfere with the canons and flux of the city with one unique message: temper and truth.

The patience and austerity that the artist uses to introduce folklore and daily habits of Asian and Latin-American cultures in her videos is what lets her bonds so closely to their respective traditions. Each folkloric practice that Kimsooja discovers works as a talisman. First she researches the origins and encounters of the culture and then she charges herself with figures of power.

The spectrum and repetition which Kimsooja works with in her videos is expressed by the cities in move, in an action loop. In Thread Routes (Chapter 1. Peru) – a video that captures the routes of the threading women in Peru –, women weave again and again the colorful embroideries of their origins where generations and spiritual experiences are combined together. Mumbai: A Laundry Field was filmed in India where men shake, drain and strain against the stones the symphony of tonalities of their clothes. They are the representation of time, an intangible and unapproachable mental space, never planned.

"When it comes to the performative video pieces such as A Needle Woman performance series, I just had a strong desire to do a performative piece but didn't know what exactly it would be, even until the moment I started filming", Kimsooja says. That is the main reason why intuition plays such an important role in the process and meaning of her work. She rises as a medium woman, as an ethnographic canal that lets the world see the most pure forms of art. A reader of the visible and invisible worlds given by nature.

These projects have turned Kimsooja into one of most renowned and interesting artists from the international contemporary panorama. She lives and works in New York, and has exhibited her projects and artworks all around the world. Among them latest ones we can name NPPAP - Yong Gwang Nuclear Power Plant Art Project, commissioned by The National Museum of Contemporary Art (2010), Earth – Water – Fire – Air, Hermes (2009), Kimsooja, Baltic Center (2009) and Lotus: Zone of Zero, BOZAR, Brussels (2008), as well as other emblematic ones like Artempo: where time becomes art (2007) presented at the Venice Biennale, Cities on the Move (1997-2000) and Traditions/Tensions (1996-1998), and the participation in other biennales like Moscow (2009), Whitney Biennial (2002), Lyon (2000), São Paulo (1998), to name some.

Kimsooja has been working for two years on a series of a 16 mm film project called Thread Routes. She has completed the Peruvian chapter on weaving culture and the European chapter on lace making is being developed. The project about origins of textile culture includes India, Mali, China, and Native America.