The Unaltered Reality of the World

Kimsooja, Bottari Truck - Migrateur, 2007, Single Channel Video, silent, 10:00, loop, performed in Paris, Commissioned by Musée d'Art Contemporain du Val-De-Marne (MAC/VAL)

The Unaltered Reality of the World

Giovando, Chiara


  • C.G: I just arrived on the island of Møen in Denmark, where your work will shortly be shown. Last night I spoke with a young Swedish traveler and he said, “I am interested in learning everything by doing nothing.” His statement brought your practice to mind. You have made a series of performance videos that elaborate on each other. A Beggar Woman (2000–2001), A Homeless Woman (2000–2001), and A Needle Woman (1999–2001, 2005, 2009): all present stillness in the midst of chaotic activity. In the latter you inhabit a fixed performative posture within various urban environments, blurring the boundaries between private and public space. In a sense, your body seems to be the place that you inhabit. Could you speak about the relationship between the place of the body (the performative posture) and the geographical place?

  • K: You can imagine zooming in, the way a needle engages with a piece of fabric. My body’s mobility comes to represent its immobility, locating it in different geographies and socio-cultural contexts. Immobility can only be revealed by mobility, and vice versa. There is a constant interaction between the mobility of people on the street and the immobility of my body during the performance, depending on the society, people, nature of the city and the streets. Different elements inhabit the site as the qualities of the city and the presence of my body appear as an accumulated container of my own gaze toward humanity, and other gazes reacting to my body. While the decision of the location is based on research of its populations, conflicts, culture, economy, and history, the idea of the immobile performance arrived all of a sudden, like a thunderclap or a Zen moment: the conflict between the extreme mobility of the outer world and my mind’s silence coalesced in my body. I always had the desire to present the unaltered reality of the world, by presenting bodies, objects, and nature without manipulating them or making something new. Instead, I want the audience’s and my experiences to reveal new perceptions of the reality of the world and our existence. I pose ontological questions by juxtaposing my body and the outer world in a relational condition to space/body and time/consciousness.

  • C.G: Your video Bottari Truck – Migrateurs (2007) and the sculptural work Deductive Object (2007) will both come to Kunsthal 44 Møen. Both of these works include bottari. In your work Bottari appears as brightly colored fabric bundles, loaded onto carts or trucks, or placed on the floor. The different contexts draw out various metaphors, representing a journey when loaded on a truck, or exile when displayed half-open and scattered. Once you said, “The body is the most complicated bundle.” What are the imagined and symbolic contents of these bottari and how do they relate to the body?

  • K: In modern society, bottari (bundles in Korean) have changed into bags; they are the most flexible container in which we carry the minimum of valuables, their use is universal throughout history. We hold onto precious things in dangerous times, such as war, migration, exile, separation, or during an urgent move. Anyone can make a bottari using any kind of fabric. However, I’ve been intentionally using abandoned Korean bedcovers that were made for newly married couples, covered with symbols and embroideries and mostly wrapping used clothing inside—these have significant meanings and questions on life. In other words, my bottari contains husks of our bodies, wrapped with a fabric that is the place of birth, love, dream, suffering, and death—a framing of life.
    While a bottari wraps bodies and souls, containing the past, present, and future, a bottari truck is more a process than a product, or rather it oscillates between process and object as a social sculpture. It represents an abstraction of the individual, of society, of time, and memory. It is a loaded self, a loaded other, a loaded history, and a loaded in-between. My Bottari Truck is an object operating in time and space, locating and dislocating ourselves to the place where we came from, and to where we are going. I consider a Bottari as a womb and a tomb, globe and universe. Bottari Truck is a bundle of a bundle of a bundle, folding and unfolding our mind and geography, time and space.

  • C.G: Sewing into Walking (1995) is dedicated to the victims of Gwangju. In this work, piles of clothing and fabric covered the ground and the Bottari were scattered.

  • K: It’s a metaphor for the victims of Gwangju uprising in the mid-1980s. The bottari represent people with no power and those forced to remain silent.

  • C.G: There seems to be both very private and public aspects to your practice. Many of your early works are meticulously sewn, an activity both intimate and meditative. Yet in your films you work with large crews in public spaces. How do these two methodologies affect your process?

  • K: I made the sewn works alone in my studio; the A Needle Woman performances were shot spontaneously, inserting myself into the general public. I traveled alone to meet people in about fifteen large cities on different continents—except Shanghai and Cairo where I couldn’t easily find a videographer in time. It was not always safe and easy. I am the only witness to all of my performances.
    Recently, I started making a film series, Thread Routes (2010–), shot on 16mm film in many locations of different continents. It’s not about my own experience, but instead other men and women who performed the needlework and threadwork respectively. For this project I had to work with a team. It’s been very inspiring for me to work with a team and travel together, communicating with the group. I’ve learned from them and their research. It’s a different process of production, requiring me to work toward an objective, with a collective way of seeing revealing production process. But in the end it is still an intimate process, where I can revise through editing—that is the next step in the process.

  • C.G: The sculpture Encounter – Looking into Sewing (1998–2011) is also a part of your show at Kunsthal 44 Møen. In this work a mannequin, beneath layers of fabric, stands in for a body. Can you tell me about your concept, what happens when this work is looked “into”?

  • K: It originated with an installation I made in the Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, 1998, for the exhibition Echolot, also curated by René Block. I conceived the work as a performance, but without any performing. An immobile mannequin was fully covered with used Korean bedcovers, and I documented the performative actions made by the audiences, who tried to locate the covered figure. Thus, a visible and invisible interaction is happening, peeling off the fabric by looking. I consider this “invisible sewing.”
    I wanted to create a tension between the audience and the ambiguous figure, the sculptural object. The audience looked at this figure waiting for a performance—but of course there was no movement. I used the immobile figure as a performer for the first time, before using my own body, without planning, A Needle Woman performance at that time, so the audience members themselves become the performers, through their own curiosity and reactions.
    This piece is one of the earliest manifestations of the ideas that led to A Needle Woman. It’s a fundamental moment: a strange encounter occurs between the figure and the audience, marked by this intense gaze.

— Kimsooja: Interviews Exhibition Catalogue published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König in association with Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, 2018, pp 151 - 154
This is the revised version of the unpublished interview conducted on the occasion of the exhibition Kimsooja at Kunsthal 44 Møen, Askeby, Denmark, in 2012. It is published here with the kind permission of Chiara Giovando.