Soo-Ja Kim: Cities on the Move

Cities on the Move - 2727 kilometers Bottari Truck, 1997 11 days journey throughout Korea, digital c-print light box. Photo by Lee Sang Gil.

Soo-Ja Kim: Cities on the Move

Dziewior, Yilmaz


  • Cities on the Move is a globally conceived and constantly widening project by Korean artist Soo-Ja Kim being realized in different media and contexts. It consists of an 11-day performance, the two videos that resulted from it, a sound-installation, a contribution to the in-flight magazine of Asian Airlines, a catalogue, and several art exhibitions. She borrowed the title of her project by agreement with Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Hou Han-Ru, whose migrating exhibition of the same name brings together, against the background of the profound structural changes in Asia, recent architectural vision with the work of younger artists, predominantly of Asian origin.

  • From November 4 to 14, 1997, Soo-Ja Kim traveled through Korean cities to which she has a direct per-sonal relationship, criss-crossing her homeland from north to south and east to west as she did so. The videos of this performance show the small Bottari Truck, on the bed of which a mountain of cloth bundles (bottari) is lashed together, as it slowly makes its way through town and country. In one of the videos Kim sits atop the pile loaded onto the truck, traveling through the changing landscape. One sees the artist only as a background figure, which conveys the feeling that one is traveling in her stead through the countryside. The cloth bundles are an essential component of the performance. Classical bottari designates a bundle in which unbreakable objects like pieces of clothing, bed-linens, household utensils, and books can be kept. For the Korean critic Airung Kim, the bottari symbolizes restlessness.

  • In Korea espe-cially, where the population has often been forced to leave their homes in order to flee war or famine or to look for work, the bundles are historically charged and emblematic objects. They were used both by refugees and merchants, who transported their wares in them. On a metaphorical level, the bottari also functions as a signifier of mobility in unbound space, and is thus at the same time a container that includes its own contents.

  • With her performance, Soo-Ja Kim is not merely thematizing mobility, whether voluntary or forced by external circumstances. The textiles also refer to the condition of women in Asian society, for Korean women sew bed-linens from these pieces of cloth. These spreads, sewn by the artist herself from tradi-tional textiles, may thus be interpreted as an allusion to the discrepancy between an emancipated con-sciousness and restrictions on specific female activities. Starting from references to her own cultural identity, [Kim's] bottari join feminist concerns to very personal matters. Kim describes her motives for the use of these textiles as follows: 'One day, as my mother was sewing a bedsheet, I made a surprising discovery, whereby my my thoughts, my feelings, and my activitities of the moment seemed to come into harmony. And I discovered new possibilities for conveying buried memories and pain along with the quiet passions of life. I was fascinated by the primal, orthogonal structure of the fabric, the needle and thread moving through its smooth surface, and with the expressive powers of the brightly colored traditional cloth.'

  • Soo-Ja Kim has been using this cloth since the middle of the 1980s. Although at the beginning, she emphasized more strongly the abstract, formal qualities, and thus the imagistic character, of the cloth, it already contained within it memories of its work on walls, and allusions to its own past and to its former owners. Subsequently, Kim developed a stronger interest in more performative and interactive processes, as in the installations where she used the fabrics for tablecloths in the museum cafe. Viewers were also actively involved in her installation for the Kwangju Biennial, where they could walk on and take home with them pieces of cloth spread out through a forest. The once private fabric thereby became a public Memento mori. At the same time, Kim sketches out an allegory of global migration, and, by thus reflecting back on her own cultural tradition, creates work of contemporary relevance.

    1. Kim Airung, Soo-Ja Kim: Solitary Performance with Old Cloth, in Echolot, or Nine Women on the Periphery, exhibition catalogue, Museum Fredericianum, 1998, p. 6. 2. Ibid., p. 7.
  • Translated by Warren Niesluchowski.

  • — From the exhibition catalog Art-Worlds in Dialogue:
    From Gauguin to the Global Present,
    Museum Ludwig Cologne, 2000.

  • Yilmaz Dziewior is the curator of the Museum Ludwig Cologne, Germany.