Mandala: Zone of Zero, 2003, 9:50 loop, dimensions variable. 4-channel sound installation with jukebox, mixed sound from Tibetan monk chant, Gregorian chant, and Islamic chant.

Kimsooja at The Project

Nancy Princenthal, 2004

In the beginning, readymades were chosen for their dumb simplicity: a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack, a shovel. Kimsooja, on the other hand, has chosen an object that is spectacular in its own right. The circular jukebox speaker that appeared four times in the installation Mandala: Zone of Zero features concentric bands of colored plastic, circulating bubbles, mirrored tiles and colored lights, all surrounding a brocade-covered audio element. A rotating knob at the center supports the resemblance to a roulette wheel; vaguely pagoda-shaped brackets give it a generic Asian accent. In the exhibition, the speakers were each centered on a wall in a room painted a deep soothing indigo and unlit, except for the audio units' multihued glow. Carpeting enhanced the serenity.

But it was a jangly calm, which matched the east/west discordance of the glitzy object itself, a sensory buzz amplified by the sound composition Kimsooja assembled. Mixing Gregorian chant, Muslim singing and Tibetan bells, the music was, like the bubbling speakers, almost embarrassingly engrossing. The mutually subversive and anyway kitsch-challenged spirituality of the three soundtracks produced genitive dissonance where an unlikely and altogether gorgeous aural harmony reigned.

The connection Kimsooja saw between the jukebox speakers and Tibetan mandalas is evident in this installation's title. Implicit in the subtitle is the question of whether its musical mixed messages transcend sectarianism to attain a higher level of spirituality than any one faith can offer (a zone of zero where striving particularity can be sublimated), or if the work points to the crass commercialism of which every religion can, at times, be found guilty (a zero zone of spiritual aridity).

A Korean artist now in her 40's, Kimsooja is a past master of imperturbable resistance to conclusive statement. Her previous work includes installations of filmy Korean textiles hung on lines like drying laundry and, perhaps best known, an international series of performances called A Needle Woman. Standing sentinel in London, Cairo, New Delhi, Lagos, Mexico City, Shanghai, and elsewhere, Kimsooja was the unmoving obstacle around which pedestrian traffic swirled. In the video documentation that followed, she is always shown from the back. It's possible to read committed asceticism in her posture, but also frank refusal to engage.

The same disinclination to take sides is evident in Mandala. Somewhere between the aggressive irreverence of Jason Rhoades's imaginary trip to Mecca, documented in his rapturously messy recent installation Meccatuna, and the prim eroticism of Duchamp's Precision Optics, with their hypnotic rotating geometries, is the null zone of quietly pulsing intransigence where Kimsooja has taken up residence.

— From Art in America, April, 2004.