Conditions of Anonymity: The Performance Art of Kim Sooja


Kim Sooja at Peter Blum


Kim Sooja at P.S.1


One Woman's Serenity in the Thick of Things


Sooja Kim: Intercommunication Cente




Folds and Loose Threads

Kim Sooja, Epitaph, 2002, digital c-print. Performed at Greenlawn Cemetery NYC, courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery, New York. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Conditions of Anonymity: The Performance Art of Kim Sooja

Goodman, Jonathan


  • In the art of Korean-born, New York-based Kim Sooja, we see an entire career built upon the notion of the anonymous as a metaphor for the wish to merge with forces and circumstances usually acting against the forthright assertion of self. Kim's art inverts expectations as a way of embracing the world. Her performance of self is at once oppositional and acquiescent, fated and willed. There is a tremendous strength and assertion in her apparently anonymous actions, which are not so much transgressions as they are recognitions of fate. It may well be that the very circumstances Kim addresses, presenting as oppositions, are what the self needs to define itself — in much the same way the whole defines the part. Kim stands alone, unnamed, in her struggle to achieve a consolidated awareness, whose definitions may be seen as Buddhist in their unboundaried flow. In the elaborations of her anonymity, then, Kim presents a sensibility acutely aware of the warring contradictions between her desire for an erasure of self and the kind of resolve necessary to confront the environment she so eloquently, albeit silently, strives against.

  • When, in the performance A Needle Woman (1999-2001), Kim stands against waves of Japanese passersby on a street in Shibuya, Tokyo, her pose begins as antithesis but becomes, over time, a wordless affirmation of human resilience, even of individual worth, despite the conditions of anonymity she imposes upon herself. In a remarkable transformation of value, her actions quite literally embody the progress of a self increasingly cognizant of its mortal limits — it is as though Kim is mourning death, which is always ahead of its time. Yet the overall thrust of her vision is far from dark or macabre; her art demonstrates a knowing perception of life's circumstances that is by implication assenting, and her engagement with different cultures — Kim has performed A Needle Woman in eight cities throughout the world (in order: Tokyo, Shanghai, Delhi, New York, Mexico City, Cairo, Lagos, and London) — amounts to an affirmation of existence no matter what the environment.

  • Kim's development as an artist has been steady and assured. Born in 1957 in Taegu, Korea, she studied painting at Hong-Ik University in Seoul, where she completed graduate school in 1984. She spent half a year in France, on a grant from the French government. In 1992-93, Kim came to New York as an artist-in-residence at the contemporary art center P.S. 1. Deciding on cultural exile, Kim again returned to New York in 1998; this move marked her permanent stay in America, where she has received more and more recognition, becoming an artist of international reputation. Although Kim did not stay long as a painter, she remains interested in investigating the issue of surface, an activity she has continued throughout her career. Indeed, Kim comments, "This pursuit [of the surface], along with my will towards artistic freedom, enabled me to open up new horizons in my art." The change in expression came quickly to Kim; as early as 1983, while still in graduate school, she first "discovered the methodology of sewing as a means of questioning art and life while I was sewing a traditional bedspread in 1983." Kim made the decision to use fabric in daily life as a new kind of canvas. But the act of sewing was also personal, being tied to mourning: "My first attempt at sewing used clothes was done with the remains of my grandmother's clothing, left behind after her death a year before."

  • Kim began as a painter who questioned the surface of her canvas, seeing it as "a wall and barrier that painters wish to overcome." Over the course of a decade, she moved into new developments incorporating different media and strategies — videos and performances — in which the emphasis shifted from a treatment of surface to her now recognized language of wrapped used clothes and bedding: an image bundle. The changes in her art revolved around an increasingly emblematic use of materials; when asked why she makes use of bedcovers, Kim replies: "The bedcover is a symbolic site. It is where we are born, where we rest and love, where we dream and suffer and finally die. It keeps memories of the body alive, which result in another dimension." Now that she is concentrating on the world of performance and video, Kim has turned toward an increasingly allegorical reading of her environment, in which her life and actions function as an existence representative of ours. The human condition is taken up as essentially anonymous because Kim comprehends that all of us share the recognition that our actions reveal a deep-seated isolation, as well as an unconscious awareness that behavior takes on paradigmatic meaning in the face of our limited span of time. In Kim's art our understanding of death becomes enlightened by her mediation as an individual toward her audience; her actions resonate because they enter into an existential dialogue with their viewers, replete with the high moral seriousness the presence of death inevitably calls to mind.

  • A Needle Woman enacts the isolation we all feel by offering a resonant silence, contemplational in nature, in the midst of the crowd. Kim, who is not a practicing Buddhist, nevertheless sees Zen Buddhist affinities in her recent performances. Her art is suggestive of meditational mind in the encompassing awareness of its practice. She disavows her sense of herself in favor of a stance that heals and binds by taking in the energy, or noise, of the world. As Kim herself has said, "After a decade of sewing practice [since 1983], I came to see myself as a needle weaving the fabric of nature."

  • The artist intends to bring together disparate parts of the real as an act of selflessness represented by the precise metaphor of needle and silk. Her silent, even prayerful, interactions with the amused, bemused crowds in eight cities show a tenacity of purpose as well as a self deliberately obliterated so as to take in, out of harm's way, the various responses her stillness and silence create. Video witnesses her activities, creating an archive of interactions. Interestingly, Kim sees the use of video, which documents her activities in different places, metaphorically as well: "Another encounter occurs when audiences see the video resulting from my performance. My body functions as a barometer, as a needle connecting people from a different time and space." She means to emphasize the ties that bind people, by extinguishing, for the duration of the performance, the illusion that the self is primary.

  • Kim's epic eleven-day journey Cities on the Move — 2727 Kilometers Bottari Truck (November 1997) retraced sites in her memory; she traveled to different cities and villages where she used to live, carrying colorful bottari on a flat-bed truck. Kim considers the performance "a social sculpture, loaded with memory and history, which locates and then equalizes physical and mental space." The video, witnessing Kim's transit in Korea's Taebek Mountains, movingly and also literally presents the baggage she carries with her as she seeks to face her past. The performance presents her travels as a metaphor for the narrative of our existence; as Kim states in a catalogue accompanying the piece, "Bottari Truck is a processing object throughout space and time/locating and dislocating ourselves to the place/where we come from/and where we are going to." The figurative language engages the viewer on a metaphysical plane, demanding that we read her journey as emblematic of our own. Kim is particularly strong when her imagery is offered as a symbolic representation of awareness; the notion of moving along a path resonates in sympathy with the inevitable determination that the path will end when the person is gone. Asked in the catalogue to comment on unrealized projects, Kim replies, "I contain my projects in my body which I find as my studio, and I don't try to remember or describe them all." The statement returns us to the idea that Kim holds within her body a wellspring of creativity, which acts as the counterpart to the anonymous public self she so carefully presents. If it is true that we never see her face in her performance videos, it is because her anonymity is large enough to incorporate whatever occurs in the world around her.

  • As one follows the steps left by Kim in her sojourns of memory, it becomes clear that the implications of her path — itself a Buddhist term — suggest deep affinities with Buddhism. Kim comments that her "attitude and way of looking are similar to that of Buddhists." At the same time, she reserves the right to remain "an independent individual, who looks at the world in one's own way and who recognizes that one's own path can sometimes meet with a broad stream of thought." In the isolation of her artwork, Kim seeks out a generalized correspondence with the world, but on her own terms and from her own experience. Her allegories are successful because they originate, despite seeming otherwise, from a highly individuated sense of purpose. In a way, Kim's anonymity is a subterfuge, a manner of relating a sense of self whose boundaries are so extended as to do away with the notions of limit entirely. The odd thing about Kim's isolation is that it in fact completely engages with her audience; just as she offers solitude as a way of emphasizing universal implications, so she underscores her autonomy as a way of proceeding toward a wide involvement with others. Indeed, her lonely actions appear to call for help — in the video A Beggar Woman, done in Lagos in 2001, she sits crosslegged, her palm extended for alms. Someone gives her some change, and the muteness of the scene intensifies the artist's vulnerability. We read the interaction as evidence of need everywhere; in her dramatization of want, Kim reduces herself — and us as well — to a egoless composite of desires, an enactment of utter poverty.

  • As a result, Kim objectifies our intuitive knowledge in a language of actions stripped to the bare essence of their intent. There are of course feminist implications to her devotions, accomplished with a purposeful humility. In a remarkable performance, entitled A Needle Woman-Kitakyushu, done in 1999 in Japan, Kim stretched out on top of a limestone mountain, her curving body echoing the stony rise. The video confirms the artist's procedure, whereby her interaction with her surroundings envelops them in a unified will. The suggestion of the earth mother comes into play; there is a sense of limitless identification with nature. At the same time, some of the other performances have political implications, as suggested by A Beggar Woman or A Homeless Woman — Delhi (2000), in which Kim lies down on the sidewalk of a busy street. The lack of a direct message advocating social change does not affect the two pieces, which render suffering as intrinsic to our condition. Indeed, the indirectness of Kim's premises actually enhances her expression, which feels inevitable in light of its universality.

  • In the recent installation A Mirror Woman (2002), Kim hung used bedcovers across the width of the Peter Blum Gallery in New York City. She also placed mirrored surfaces on both of the side walls, reflecting the path of visitors as they made their way through a labyrinth of colorful cloth. There was a sound element as well — the chants of Tibetan monks accompanied the exhibition. Overall, the experience of the piece was otherworldly to the point of being disturbing. Perhaps, in the largest sense, Kim's interventions are indeed disturbing, for they remind us of our mortality. In Epitaph (2002), Kim waves a bedcover in the midst of a cemetery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; it is a moment that merges life with its apparent opponent, death. As such, the work suggests that the interpretation between existence and nonbeing may be forced; sometimes, a seeming dichotomy is actually two surfaces of a single idea. Kim's great strength as an artist is to find the moment wherein passion and calm, action and passivity, merge.

  • She would have us understand that art is the great equalizer of false dualities; our mind is a place capable of including most everything. In the generosity of her vision, Kim reiterates the great truths of the unknown, what lies above and beyond our lives. She takes what we implicitly know and bestows upon it a public grace. As she grows larger in her art, so do we, so completely are we included in her generous expanse of her imagination.

  • — From Art AsiaPacific, Fall 2003

  • Jonathan Goodman is a poet, an editor, teacher, and writer who specializes in contemporary Asian art. He is the New York editorial adviser to Art Asia Pacific.

  • All quotations are taken from a written interview with the artist in Summer 2002.

A Mirror Woman, 2002. Korean bedcovers, mirror structure walls, 4 fans, cables, clothespins, Tibetan monk chant. Installation view at Peter Blum Gallery, New York, 2002. Photo by Bill Orcutt.

Kim Sooja at Peter Blum

Wei, Lily


  • New York-based since 1998, Kim Sooja here exhibited a new installation titled A Mirror Woman. The artist, who was much praised last year for her riveting video A Needle Woman, seen at P.S.1 and later at this year's Whitney Biennial, has said that in her native Korea, her work is sometimes not seen as art, since it so closely approximates the look of daily life. For this show, she presented the best-looking room of laundry you're ever likely to see: gaily colored silk bedspreads, 14 rows deep, pinned to clothes-lines strung across the gallery, whose walls had been mirrored from floor to ceiling for the occasion. The coverlets, elaborately embroidered with phoenixes, dragons, fruits and flowers — symbols of long life and fertility — were strikingly festive, with their high-pitched color schemes of fuchsia, emerald green, sour lime, royal blue, golden yellow, ripe plum, hot pink and cherry red. The mirrors extended the installation in endless, repetitive sequences.

  • Traditionally given as gifts to newly married couples, these salvaged wedding bedspreads are domestic objects that can be folded, wrapped and carried away, if need be; indeed, like tents, these covers can create a dwelling, an emblematic compound of sorts, in which women perform centuries-old, conventional domestic tasks, like hanging out the wash, attending to fabrics they have woven and embellished in considered acts of art and meditation. "A fundamental site," the artist says, "these bedcovers refer to marriage beds and shrouds, birth and death, love and pain, hope and despair, sleep and awakenings, cycles of incarnation and dreams, a delicate but comprehensive view of a woman's world."

  • Hung, with the exception of the first and the last two rows, in pairs, the bedcovers were strategically positioned. Entering the installation was a little like entering a painting. As you negotiated the space, which resembled a maze, you had to choose your route, your subsequent progress gently controlled in a ritual of passage both profoundly symbolic and quite ordinary. Small unobtrusive ceiling fans set the silk aflutter as if it were animated by chi, the breath of life. Encompassed by planes of color, you were soothed by the faint hum of recorded Tibetan mantras interrupted by the tinkling of bells — a spiritual version of pillow talk, perhaps. This was a comely, courteous kind of feminism, from an Asian Buddhist perspective seen lightly, self-consciously, through artfully arrayed mirrors.

  • — From Art in America, September 2002:

Lilly Wei is a New York-based independent curator, essayist and critic who writes for several publications in the United States and abroad. A frequent contributor to Art in America, she is also a contributing editor at ARTnews and Art Asia Pacific.

Kim Sooja at P.S.1

Volk, Gregory


  • This first solo New York exhibition by Korean artist Kim Sooja featured recent videos, but her work is really a mixture of video, performance, sculpture (involving Kim's own body) and private acts of meditation in outdoor public spaces. The centerpiece was A Needle Woman (1999 — 2001), for which Kim traveled to eight major population centers — Cairo, Delhi, Lagos, London, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo — only to stand motionless, with her back to the camera, on downtown thoroughfares packed with pedestrians and sundry vehicles. At P.S.1, the silent videos of these actions, taken from a stationary camera several yards behind Kim, were projected on the walls of one large hall. Wearing a simple gray dress, Kim stands amid human motion and commotion, as people surge toward her and around her. Sometimes she seems about to be overwhelmed, perhaps even struck or otherwise menaced, and you fear for her safety. At other times, she is a strong enigmatic presence who simply waits in one place while everyone else goes every which way.

  • Always visually lush, these videos tap into the uneasy relationship between the individual and mass society, the dislocation of being a foreigner engulfed by another culture, and questions of how to maintain one's own equilibrium in a swirling, destabilizing world. Even though you never see Kim's facial expression, it is clear that her actions required courage and intense inner vitality. Throughout everything, she exudes a patient acceptance and a spiritual calm which is deeply affecting. Also part of the performance is the life of the streets — i.e., hundreds of anonymous people striding, pedaling or driving toward Kim, then disappearing from view: on-the-go New Yorkers too preoccupied to notice, multiethnic Londoners yammering into cell phones, Shanghai residents stealing surreptitious glances.

  • What's particularly impressive is how such minimal actions on Kim's part result in provocative portraits of the different cities. In Tokyo, Kim is so completely ignored that she could be a ghost, and you can't help but think how the Korean minority in Japan has long suffered from cultural invisibility and discrimination. Just the opposite is Lagos, where people cluster around her with a lively curiosity.

  • Also included in the show were videos of related actions, sometimes projected and sometimes on monitors. Lying on her side in Cairo while surrounded by staring men and young boys, Kim becomes a female "other" par excellence, her unobtrusive yet bewildering behavior confounding the onlookers. As she stands on the bank of the Yamuna River in Delhi, the river lows from left to right, its surface festooned with slow-moving flotsam. This is garbage moving past, but you think of memories passing, of wishes and losses, the dazzling scraps of a life. Kim Sooja's unassuming actions really draw you in with their complex and evocative power.

— From Art in America, December 2001.

One Woman's Serenity in the Thick of Things

Johnson, Ken


  • An art form of chameleonesque elasticity, video can adapt to a bewildering variety of formats, from tiny television monitors to whole-wall, wraparound projections. It can mimic narrative approaches from real world documentation to surrealistic montage to Hollywood-style fantasy, and it can readily absorb the colors and patterns of digital abstraction.

  • Still, as the works of Kim Sooja demonstrate in "A Needle Woman", on view at P.S. 1, one of video's most effective uses in the gallery is the creation of rectangular pictures on the wall — like old-fashioned photographs or paintings, but with moving parts.

  • Ms. Kim, who was born in South Korea in 1957 and moved to New York in 1998, uses video with bare bones directness yet uncommon elegance to document her quietly provocative performances. In each of her works, the artist stands, sits or lies very still with her back to the camera while the world around her rushes by. The best have a surprising emotional impact.

  • In the main installation, eight projections show Ms. Kim standing on busy sidewalks in different cities: New York, Cairo, Tokyo, London, Mexico City, New Delhi, Shanghai and Lagos. Pedestrians hurry by while this enigmatic, unprepossessing figure with a long black ponytail stands like a statue, a motionless stone in a river of humanity.

  • Most people ignore her; some glance at her quizzically; some stop and stare or take pictures. In Lagos, mischievous children study her as though considering what they might do to get a rise out of her.

  • The tension between the colorful, all-over busyness of the crowd and the stillness of the central figure makes these works captivating pictorially and as a real-time narratives.

  • In addition, the still woman has a mythic and curiously melancholy presence. She might be the lost soul of globalized modernity.

  • Two other large projections in other galleries shift the setting from city to country. In one, we look down from a slightly perspective onto the artist, who stands with her back to us facing a glassy, slowly flowing river. Spatially this is the most interesting of Ms. Kim's works because the reflective surface of the river appears at first to be far away; then you realize it is almost at the artist's feet. The collapse of distance is breathtaking.

  • In the other video, the artist reclines on her side on the rocky summit of a hill holding still as clouds drift slowly by. Both videos have a soothing, meditative effect.

  • The image of the lone artist facing cosmic spaces calls to mind the lone wanderers that Casper David Friedrich painted, and video adds the dimension of time. Just as the protagonist in the video contemplates the flow of time in nature, viewers in the gallery contemplate the flow of time not only as represented in the video by flowing water or shifting clouds, but also in the real-time flow of the video itself. And again, as in the artist-in-the-madding-crowd videos, the centered figure embodies an inspirational equanimity of spirit in the face of what must lead, after all, to death.

  • Ms. Kim goes wrong in a piece called "A Beggar Woman" that she performed in Nigeria. At P.S. 1 a video monitor shows her sitting cross-legged on a patch of public ground holding out one hand as if begging for money. Some people put money into her hand; one man steals money out of her hand. While the image of the beggar is not without resonance and the events captured by the camera are not without interest, the element of deception is troubling. Unlike the other works, in which the artist's enigmatic presence casts no judgment on the crowd, this one shines a light of moral inquisition on passerby, implicitly questioning their relationship to people in need; yet the artist herself is behaving with an ethically questionable duplicity.

  • One wonders where Ms. Kim might go from here. Can — or should — she venture beyond this one idea of the motionless, anonymous woman in tension with worldly movement? Might new performance ideas lead to new formal possibilities? Repeated too often, the performance of motionlessness could start to seem like a gimmick, but who knows? Maybe it could be extended and deepened through ritualistic repetition into a powerfully spiritual enterprise.

  • — From The New York Times - Friday September 7, 2001.

Ken Johnson is the art critic for The New York Times and Art in America.

Sooja Kim: Intercommunication Cente

Ardenne, Paul


  • Soo Ja Kim (Korea, 1957) first got out there in Europe at Manifesta 1 in Rotterdam in 1995. Since then people have gotten used to her installations made up of sheets and blankets laid out on the floor or rolled up into bundles. Seen at Venice last year and the Lyon Biennale this summer, these somber metaphors provoke reflection on the body and its finalities (the sheet as envelope wrapping a newborn child, lovers, a corpse).

  • But Soo's A Needle Woman represents a singular achievement. This video installation presented at the InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo is the finished version; an earlier and less worked-out one was shown at Basel art fair in June 1999. The theme is our relationship to space and time, treated here with great subtlety. On six screens laid out in a rectangle, the artist shows herself filmed from behind, wearing a long black dress and set in the middle of urban and natural landscapes: standing in the middle of busy streets in New York, Delhi, Shanghai and Tokyo, stretched out on a rock by herself in Kitakyushu in Japan; and finally standing again, and again alone, by the Jamuna river in India. The needle in the piece's title is a reference to that gender-specific tool but also, and more importantly, to the compass needle evoked by her immobile position, this being particularly striking in the street scenes where passers by bustle all around her.

  • The initial impact of A Needle Woman is very powerful. The viewer is struck by the image of her solitary body stationed amid people and things moving all about her, highlighted and amplified by the artist's completely rigid pose and the silent projection. It brings to mind a question which is never answered: why this isolated body, torn away from all contingency, from its earthly attachments? Then there is the powerful process of identification that this piece sets off in the viewer. This body standing proud in stubborn self-affirmation despite the power of the crowd or of nature, has to be me. A third strong point is the simultaneous use of two kinds of time. The street scenes are infused with humanity's time, the stuff of active lives, a temporality driven by doing.

  • The two nature sequences, in contrast, are governed by a different kind of time, a temporality where we are torn out of our common condition as individuals in which activity alienates us. The river as a reference to a Heraclitus's metaphor, and the rock with its extreme mineral hardness — these images take their distance from all too human time and instead opt for the rhythm of the earth and the cosmos. Soo's prone position on the rocks, in opposition to her standing station, evokes rest and contemplation, a state of contained tension in which human beings, confronted with that which is beyond them, relearn their own measure. It may make us think of the languid Buddha, the parinirvana, observing the world and Creation. An earlier video, Sewing into Walking (1997), shows a street scene in Istanbul and suggests the adoption of the simplest view one can have of things: simply noting them. This sequence can also be read by weighing, on the one hand, the reality of the world, with its density and rhythms far beyond human understanding, and on the other hand our own position as we search eternally for fusion and harmony. Speaking of A Needle Woman, the curator of the ICC exhibition, Keiji Nakamura, summed it up perfectly: "existential minimalism".

  • — From 'Art Press' 261, 2000, solo show at the InterCommunication Center (ICC) May 26 – June 18, 2000

Translated by L-S Torgoff.

Bottari, 1995, Yongyou Island, used clothes & bedcovers, Iris print. Photo by Ju Myung Duk.


Szeeman, Harald


  • There are words for activities — for existential doing — that always trigger a forceful shift into the visual: 'sew', 'spread', 'fold', 'wrap', 'assemble', 'tie'. These apply to working with brightly colored traditional fabrics used for bedcovers. These are also the underlying theater for birth and death, one that each and every one of us regards as our own place. And when we store or move on, each of us ties up our own bundle, our own bottario (is there such an Italian word for bundle?). Kim Sooja uses this richly decorated fabric as part of an originally imagistic, now always spatial and environmental utterance. Through the quite present and simultaneously distanced engagement of cloth, she challenges us to reflection on our most basic conduct: consciousness of the ephemera of our existence, of enjoying the moment, of change, migration, resettlement, adventure, suffering, of having to leave behind the familiar.

  • She masterfully sets her fabrics, rich in memory and narrative, into the situation of the moment, as zones of beauty and affecting associations. With a grace that knows ever so much.

  • — From Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Hamburg, 2000

Harald Szeeman is an independent curator who curated Documenta 5 in 1972, the Lyon Biennale in 1997, the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001, and also Money and Value, the Last Taboo in 2002.

Folds and Loose Threads

Schwabsky, Barry


  • Kim Soo-Ja's art is either some of the most humble, open, context-sensitive work that exists, or else some of the most self-consistent, implacable, and inner-directed: take your pick.

  • First approximation: Kim makes no objects, neither builds nor constructs, transforms nothing. She simply takes some ordinary quotidian things, namely pieces of used fabric, primarily colorful embroidered Korean bedcovers, moves them around, and places them into situations. Although these rectangles of fabric are juxtaposed with sites to which they may be alien, they neither hide the site, interfere with it, nor contest it: perhaps it would be most accurate to say they assay it. The site shows the cloth and the cloth shows the site. Nothing is ever denied. It's not that there is a "work" that can be installed in the space, and then reinstalled differently or similarly somewhere else. There is a supply of materials which the artists carries from place to place, and which she will dispose differently or similarly, depending on her perception of what is already there, a perception that may take into account aesthetic, architectural, functional, social, or any other noticeable factors.

  • Second approximation: the work is self-consistent, for instance, in regard to precisely the question of materials. And isn't it interesting that, in English, the word "material" means both matter or substance, generally, and cloth, fabric in particular, as though cloth were a natural synecdoche for matter. Kim is, so to speak, married to her fabric. Yes, she uses other media from time to time (video, recorded sound), but only insofar as she can deal with them as not-material. Whatever it is she's going to articulate, she's got to do it through those same means. As for implacability, these humble textiles are really loud, strident. Just as their bright colors clash among themselves, they cut against the grain of the situations in which they are placed, producing a distinct tension. For all the work's sensitivity to its varying situations, in another way what it is asserting is just the opposite, the importance of having a project that can be developed, unfolded, in as many circumstances as possible, unattached to any one of them. Just bundle up your stuff and move on. No nostalgia, no regrets, just self-containment. When I asked her, recently, about the studio she'd found in New York, having moved here at the beginning of the new year, she shrugged. "Well, since I'm not making things anymore, it's more of a symbolic studio..." And when asked by curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist to comment about her unrealized projects, she replied, "I contain my projects in my body which I find as my studio, and I don't try to remember or describe them all." A videotape Kim showed in Cities on the Move, the exhibition Obrist and Hou Hanru organized for the Secession in Vienna in 1997, and which I saw in its reduced version at P.S. 1 in New York the next year, showed the artist sitting atop a load of bright cloth bundles strapped to a truck traveling the highways of Korea: a scenario of nomadism, of endless movement, certainly, but because the camera filming it was mounted on a vehicle following Kim's truck at a constant distance, a view of immobility, of constancy as well. The artist remains as she is, allowing the landscape to move around her.

  • Kim, born in 1957 in Taegu, Korea, was educated both in Korea and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1984-85). In France, she undoubtedly became aware of the Supports / Surfaces artists, whose analysis of painting into material components, including fabric, is echoed in her own early work. (Patrick Saytour, in particular, used readymade printed fabrics with minimal painterly intervention in ways that anticipate aspects of Kim's work.) From her years in Paris through the end of the decade, Kim's work consisted of "combine paintings", as one Korean critic called them, echoing Robert Rauschenberg's usage. In them, rectangles of differently colored and patterned textiles were roughly sewn together, and used as surfaces for drawing and painting. These works, which were usually not rectangular in format but rather cruciform, T-shaped, or in some other way irregular yet rectilinear, were hung unstretched.

  • In 1989, Kim began using cloth in a more sculptural way, as wrapping or sometimes as stuffing for mundane objects. With these works, the parallels with Supports / Surfaces began to diminish, while those with Arte Povera began to increase — most obviously, with Michelangelo Pistoletto's works incorporating rags. She began giving all these works the same title, Deductive Object. (An echo, perhaps, of Pistoletto's Minus-Objects?) Yet the reiterated title masks the diversity in the way the objects were made, at least from 1992 on. In some, the cloth functioned essentially as color applied to an object; these works are still indebted to the Supports / Surfaces-inflected analysis of painting (especially since the objects, among them window frames, wheels, and so on, could often easily be seen as stand-ins for the idea of stretcher bars). But in others, cloths were simply draped across objects. For instance, a Deductive Object shown in 1992 at P.S. 1 in New York, where Kim was in the visiting artists' studio program, consisted of a chair whose legs were wrapped with cloth, as with the earlier Deductive Objects, but whose seat and back were simply loosely draped with a single sheet of gaudy pink and gold fabric. It was at this time, too, that Kim sometimes began showing her cloths tied up in large bundles.

  • These bundles, I think, are the key to everything Kim has done since. For one thing, they definitively withdrew her use of textiles from an essentially pictorial notion of them as surfaces upon which something would be visible; in the bundles, it is more important that something is contained, that is, subtracted from the realm of the visible. They speak to the notion of potential more than to that of accomplishment, of departure more than arrival, storage rather than use, and of the body and its obscurity rather than the field of vision and its lucidity. "The human body is the most complicated bundle," as Kim says.

  • Kim began with an understanding of fabric as surface which developed into a treatment of it as object, and the bundles take their beginning within the field of objects, certainly, but do not end up there, and I would question whether Kim's continued use of the title Deductive Object is really justified as she is now working with situations more than with objects. Perhaps, like Lygia Clark in her last phase, it would be better for Kim to speak of "propositions" (as long as it is understood that Kim's work is not burdened with the therapeutic pretensions behind Clark's). When she unbundles her cloths and, for instance, lays them out on the tables of a museum café, as she has, for instance, at the Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, or at the Setagayara Art Museum in Tokyo (for the exhibitions Manifesta I, 1996, and De-Genderism, 1997, respectively), she is hardly presenting an object in anything like the usual sense. She is decorating a space by overloading it with color, and she is displacing assumed distinctions between the realms of art and everyday life (and not necessarily in the sense of relaxing those relations: I assume that a common reaction among viewer / diners at these museums must have been a heightened self-consciousness about the act of consuming drinks and snacks, since a residual quantum of "respect" for art would have led them to be more than ordinarily careful about soiling the cloths — a care, which could well have resulted in the opposite effect, a clumsiness leading to even more spills than usual.) And not only between art and everyday life, but within different orders of everyday life: if your mother brought you up not to eat in bed, or at least to be a little embarrassed by it, then the idea that you are eating on what is in fact a bedspread and not a tablecloth may induce peculiar ruminations about the connections between what goes on in bed and what goes on at table, and even about the mixing of the various sorts of stains that can come to cloth in the two different situations.

  • Not only does Kim's work heighten one's sense of the tensions between art and life, and between one order of quotidian activity and another, it can heighten the tensions between one work of art and another, as I came to understand when she participated in Ceremonial, a group show I organized in 1996 at the non-profit exhibition space Apex Art in New York. Her work for the exhibition was a Deductive Object consisting of a single bright-green fringed bedspread on the floor; with the traces of its having been folded into a small square visible, it was something like a verdant landscape with a cartographer's grid superimposed on it. A striking landscape, but not a welcoming one: I had the damnedest time situating the other works so that they did not clash with its garish hue. By the time I'd figured out how to do that, I'd realized that this work, which ought to have been unrecognizable as an art work except by its context, was actually, so to speak, forcing the other works to react to it, and thereby imposing its own identity on the entire exhibition. Later on, when I gave a lecture about the show and heard myself saying that, basically, the show's subject was "folds and loose threads," I realized that I was implicitly equating the show with this one work.

  • "That green as the colour of a tablecloth has this, red that effect, does not allow us to draw any conclusions as to their effect in a picture," as Wittgenstein observed in his notations "On Colour". The point of Wittgenstein's remark depends on the dichotomy between the way color functions in art work and in daily life, a presumption that is somewhat surprising coming from a man who is known to have been fanatically sensitive to the aesthetics of ordinary living as expressed in, for example, architecture. Kim's humble / implacable, sensitive / detached, gaudy / austere, mundane / extravagant work reminds us that art may not be so much a separate realm as a way of posing questions to any realm in which it may occur.

— From Art/Text 65, May - July 1999