To Breathe / Respirare, 2006, Teatro La Fenice, Venice.

An Interview with Kimsooja

Francesca Pasini

Francesca Pasini:  Space, light and the body are the elements with which you give form to the world. In all your works the purity of the images might seem to situate the vision in metaphysical space, but you accomplish this in the physical dimension.

Kimsooja:  Physical and metaphysical states coexist simultaneously as one, rather than as separate or parallel entities. Physicality represents the metaphysical, in the similar state of space as time, and time as space, I believe.

FP:  How important is the idea of the "void" in your process of "making space"?

K:  For me, making space means creating a different space, rather than "making" a new one. The space is always there in a certain form and fluidity, which can be transformed into a completely different substance. For example, our brain cells or mental space construct a physical and visual tableau, sculpture, or environment, which are transformed spaces. My interest in "void" is as a negative space in relationship to "Yin" and "Yang," as a way of inhaling and exhaling, which is the natural process of "breathing" as a rule of living. This idea of duality can be found in all of my working methods from the beginning of my practice.

FP: In the audio work The Weaving Factory, which accompanies the projection presented on the screen at the Theater La Fenice in Venice, what is the link between the "breathing" that comes from the color spectrum, versus the one that is created by your breathing?

K:  The breathing element in my video projection To Breathe: Invisible Mirror / Invisible Needle is based on the abstract of the phenomena of nature, which was generated by a digital color spectrum. This creates a clear distinction from the video pieces I've shown at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, which are captured from the existing phenomena within nature, as part of my study on nature. The sound for the vocal performance for The Weaving Factory was made from my own breathing at different speeds and depth, and humming different notes through my nose and, in the end, by opening and closing my mouth. Both audio and visual breathing is performed within the body of La Fenice Theater, which I took as my own body, which breathes in and out, connecting the bodies of the audience to that of the theater. It was also interesting to relate the nature of the lyrical theater, which is all about singing, which in turn, is breathing.

FP: In your current project at Palacio de Cristal in Madrid, you also use the same combination of color and breathing "to make space."

K:  The glass pavilion is covered with translucent diffraction film, that diffuses the light coming through the structure into rainbow spectrums, which is then reflected by the mirrored floor, while the breathing from the audio piece The Weaving Factory fills the space, bouncing back and forth onto the mirror. The waves of light and sound, and that of the mirror, breathe and interweave together with the viewers' bodies within the space.

FP:  What kind of relationship is there with the project in Venice?

K:  Both To Breathe: Invisible Mirror / Invisible Needle and To Breathe: A Mirror Woman are related in terms of the notion of "surface", "sewing", and "wrapping". Interestingly, a mirror is another tool for sewing, as an "unfolded needle," that connects the self and the other self. Mirroring is sewing and to sew is, in the end, to breathe.

FP:  I see a progression with respect to your previous works. To an increasing extent, the visible loses its perspective limits: in Bottari - Throwing the globe, as well as in A Wind Woman, we have the perception of colors' movement without any distinct image; meanwhile, in To Breathe: Invisible Mirror / Invisible Needle we have only a color spectrum.

K:  Most of the videos I showed at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa are entitled "Bottari...". The word "Bottari" means "bundle" in Korean. A Bottari is wrapped fabric that contains daily objects, for carrying one's belongings and moving households. It is the easiest and simplest way to locate and dislocate one's belongings. When Koreans say, "Wrap the bundle," and Westerners say "Wrap it up," it means, finish the relationship or move on. But when it is used by women in a specific way in Korea, it means she is "leaving her own husband and family to pursue her own life." In the series of those videos with subtitles, I applied the general meaning of Bottari as a wrapped image rather than focusing on the feminist connotation. The works at Fondazione Bevilaqua La Masa in Venice are studies on nature where the boundaries are ambiguous and continuous, except for the frame of the video. Especially in To Breathe: Invisible Mirror / Invisible Needle, there seems to be no surface that remains in our gaze as the color spectrum light from the projection is constantly changing and transforming from one color into another, so there is no definition of surface in this "painting." My motivation for creating this piece was to question the depth of the surface, as well as questioning its definition, and this has been one of my constant themes since the sewing pieces earlier in my career. Where is the surface? What in the world is there between things?

FP:  And the distance between what we see, and what we perceive, is it important? You mentioned your sewing pieces, could you explain the development in relation to the videos?

K:  My work is based in part on questions of perception — it can be found continually in my practice. In making art, I am particularly interested in getting close to the most accurate answer to the questions on the relationship and reality of things and life. I started working in video in 1994 from my interest in its "frame" as a means of "wrapping," rather than focusing on the image-making quality of the video. In the context that "wrapping" is, in fact, three dimensional sewing, it is all connected and influenced by the notion of "sewing" and "wrapping", in which the camera lens plays the part of the needle's eye.

FP:  In other videos at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, such as Bottari -Waiting for the Sunrise, as well as in Bottari - Chasing the fog, or in Bottari - Drawing the Snow, the viewer must wait in front of an image that changes very slowly, and in doing so, captures the perception of time itself, inside a sort of immobility. Does the concept of time take on the function of an emotional state?

K:  The immobility of the audience's body occurs while watching what is taking place in the video, and its relationship to the passage of time. The body of the video camera and the body of the audience take on the same barometric role, to measure and capture the passage of time. Our waves of emotion and perception of the video move along with the transition of time and the changing landscape within the video.

Time exists in our minds only when we are conscious of what we think, feel or act. To percieve what we see, we need to focus on moments that extend the duration of time with our own consciousness.

Francesca Pasini is a Milan-based art critic and independent curator. She contributes to Artforum, Tema Celeste, Flash Art and Linus; has written essays for the exhibition catalogues of Italian and international artists. She has curated numerous group and solo shows in private galleries and museums, including Castello Di Rivoli, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin; Mart — Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of Trento e Rovereto; PAC Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan; Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice; Teatro La Fenice, Venice. For the 1993 Venice Biennial she curated the international exhibition, Voyage to Cythera. She is the artistic director of Fondazione Pier Luigi e Natalina Remotti, Camogli, Genoa.

* This text was published in Tema Celeste, Vol. 166. July/August 2006.