Sewing into Walking, an interview from 1994

Sewing into Walking, 1994, site-specific installation at Seomi Gallery, Seoul. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.

Sewing into Walking, an interview from 1994

Hwang In


  • H.I: I’d like this interview to address your ideas of the art world, your peers, and interpretations of art and life as they intersect. To begin with, the title of the installation exhibited at Gallery Seomi, Seoul, is Sewing into Walking (1994). Can you explain the title and the meaning behind the work?

  • K: Sewing into Walking is an installation that combines my sewn works from 1983 with my Bottari works from 1992. The concept of sewing is transformed by walking, with the viewers acting as the needle that connects and sews the clothes that are laid on the gallery floor. This experience will allow the viewers to experience sewing in their conscious state.

  • H.I: On the video monitors, you are seen walking along a road toward Mount Mai in the distance.

  • K: In past exhibitions, my sewn works were physically made with needle and thread. In this exhibition, my body acts as the needle, sewing together the fabric of nature. With my walking, the relationship between the ground and my breathing process is comparable to the in-and-out motion of a threaded needle. Before, while sewing, I walked in my conscious state; now, I sew in my conscious state while walking.

  • H.I: Can you explain how your work developed and transitioned from your sewn works to the current “walking” works?

  • K: Working with old and used cloth is my way of connecting with life. When I first worked with cloth, I accepted it as a two-dimensional structure. I was absorbed in the process of identifying the systematic structure of cloth, with shapes that were horizontal, vertical, cruciform, and T-shaped. As I continued my sewn works, I began to simplify and pare down the colors and patterns; as a result, the cloth’s material quality was foregrounded. I experimented and assembled sewn works into square and circular shapes, as well as wrapping daily objects, thus transforming them into a tableau or sculpture. This way of working is a way of connecting to life and nature; I think of this process as a logic of desire, not a certain logical conclusion.

  • H.I: Your work has transitioned from two- to three-dimensions, as well as transforming space. In this current exhibition, your body alters the space, creating a different energy. Perhaps I could call this “the artist’s entrance into space”?

  • K: Certainly. I needed to reinterpret the gallery space to fit my work, or look elsewhere for a more appropriate space—which is why I chose the traditional village, Yangdong near Gyeongju, to be the place I would install the Bottaris, and Oksanseowon Valley and Mount Mai to install used bedcovers and have my walking performance. The encounter with nature was very meaningful to me, so I wanted to think of other ideas where I could make the natural landscape in the gallery space. As a result, the concept of “image bundle” led to the use of TV monitors in my work.

  • H.I: In Sewing into Walking, monitors are lined up like trees on an avenue with used clothes laid on the ground to form a path or road. As viewers walk along the path toward the corner of the room, they encounter five monitors, stacked on top of each other with one Bottari at the very top. On one of the monitors, a scene of the sound installation in one room appears within a scene of the second room. Can you elaborate on the relationship between the two spaces?

  • K: The installation I created in nature are “wrapped” on the monitors that are installed on the gallery floor. The first space is wrapped by the Bottari of the second space by means of a closed circuit camera. Installations in the second room and the monitor, televising the first room, are seen on another closed circuit camera in the second room. Thus viewers going into the gallery are able to stand in front of the monitors and see their own backs. That is how I try to convey the two spaces through several processes of wrapping.

  • H.I: Regarding your Bottaris, sometimes you would spread them out flat like a bedcover and at other times, you wrap them up in a bundle. Can you talk more about the concept behind your Bottaris?

  • K: A bottari can be wrapped or unwrapped. I consider the human body as the most complicated bottari. Just as a bottari can be wrapped and unwrapped, my body can stay and leave in a continuous manner. So cloth symbolizes skin by creating a border between the inside of the body and the outside. The relationship between tension and relaxation and the dual structure of working may confuse viewers; however, I’m not perplexed at all, because all this happens inside my body.

  • H.I: As wrapping and unwrapping of bottaris can symbolize a body staying and leaving, can’t sewing also belong to the same category?

  • K: Yes, sewing is like the act of breathing or communicating. I would move the threaded needle into the rear side of the cloth and then the needle’s point pushes upward, towards the side that faces me. Similarly, in conversation the same process takes place continually, where the act of speaking is enacted back and forth between two people. It is an in-and-out act or movement.

  • H.I: The art we have seen so far requires the existence of concrete objects, whether they are two-dimensional, three-dimensional, or an installation. These concrete objects can contain the spirit of the artist’s body, but they do not identify the artist. Your work, transcending the boundary of a gallery space, is attributable to your identity. Conversely, the space of working is expanded without limit, inevitably, causing the artist to be completely immersed in the creative process. This is seen as a new effort to dismantle the conventional conflict between the artist and the artist’s work. As a result, art is closer to the human body, like music or dance. This attempt may appear to relate to the culture of nomads; it could be called nomadic art.

  • K: Maybe so. I have always worked in a comprehensive manner to connect closer to life. Artists are the ones who have overcome their own contradictions, desires, and limitations with their artistic language. The formation of an artistic language is created through the artist’s solitary and intimate encounter with the world.

  • H.I: Another element of Sewing into Walking is the introduction of sound. How do you interpret the sound of the first space and the thumping sound in the second space?

  • K: The thump sound is created by placing a bottari on the ground of a traditional Korean house; it is connected to the monitor of another room. The sound symbolizes the burden of life as I experience it. In the next room, a popular jazz song and applause are interpreted as a serious appeal to each bottari and also a gesture to lighten the burden of life.

  • H.I: Part of Nina Simone’s concert performance was played repeatedly. Do you have a special reason for including this?

  • K: I feel that she interprets songs, like “Ne me quitte pas” and “Please don’t let me be misunderstood” with their themes of ordinary life, in a raw and honest way. I wanted to capture her passion for life and have part of her performance interact with the Bottaris. The concert and the thumping sounds of bottaris falling are good to be heard together and separately in each room. In the future, I would like to use a female black singer’s performance for a sound piece, more realistic and beyond racism.

  • H.I: After speaking with you, I find that your work has a dual meaning. Although it seems to be an awkward encounter at first, one image permeates another image, thus creating a new concept. That’s the beauty of formative art, isn’t it? Today’s conversation may be as light as a stitch in sewing, but I hope that it will be the place a needle must pass through.

— Kimsooja: Interviews Exhibition Catalogue published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König in association with Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, 2018, pp 15 - 18
This is the revised version of an interview first published in SPACE, (January 1995), pp. 35–37. It is published here with the kind permission of Hwang In.