Lev AAN(Art Critic)
“Until now, when I see routines in the city characterized as ‘objectification of peoples through overcrowding and numerous control system … with a mass outbreak of coronavirus in Daegu in February, ‘routine’ itself that I have pictured faced change. The scenery I used to shall never become usual again…” (Work Note)
“The self is the others(Je est un autre)”
Arthur Rimbaud, Poet
I am another. Others are myself. The self and others are not divided but isolated. The works by Kim, Sohee are filled with the self, nay, with others. However, not really, now, she erases the others and creates the space filled with the self.
Clothing tended to make appearances on the artist’s work for a while. Just like the exuviae of impersonal modern citizens are neatly arranged with straight hanger[<platform>(2010), <interruption>(2014), etc.] or round hanger[<Merry-go-round>(2014), <Merry-go-round 2>(2015) etc.]. Her other works showed garments messily stacked around a trunk[<Way home>(2015) etc.], or washing machine[<Sick of people II>(2011)]. Her other works[<Onbu>(2010), <Onbu 3>(2011) etc.] depicted a tired individual struggling to carry a ball of clothes tangled to each other. Clothes represented “social character” for the artist (Work note), and each garment was one person. However, these people did not have a face, did not have a body. While her works sometimes showed hands or bags held by the hands of people, we cannot get to know those people. They are social characters, only to be anonymous.
Moreover, the artist showed a person running on a merry-go-around to show the hectic life of citizens repeating cage rotor. She expressed subway cars and buses filled with people to show the life of people in an overcrowded city. People in this space all have their faces, unlike when she showed us clothing, the exuviae for modern people. Then, can we call those people by their names? We cannot. They do not have a name. The only thing the people on the merry-go-round care about is running. In the space where people are packed (with animals), nobody cares about other people. They are all others. They run tirelessly, as if their only purpose in life is running[<Merry-go-round> Series (2014-16)]. They sometimes fast food that signifies ‘haste’[<Sandwich> series(2017), <Subway>(2017), etc.], ride a can of food that represents ‘standardization,’ [<Bus> series (2017), etc], and they head to companies, schools, department stores, hotels, shopping malls, condos, terminals that make the modern system operate.
‘Overcrowded, anonymous space’ within a city gives us a dose of comfort some way; it is what the artist feels (interview with the artist). There are plenty of people around us, so we do not feel lonely, but other people do not care about us so that we can maintain a stream of consciousness that is private. As such, a citizen surrounded by overcrowding does not suffer, although forlorn. It surely seems to be represented by a comforting look while alone, shown by the people inside her works. As Rimbaud said, “I am another,” all ‘others’ in her works are in the end ‘myself.’ They are the artist herself in anonymity. They all stay in their own self within an overcrowded city. It means that even though people living in the City are in a situation where the self is others, but each and every one of them is isolated from one another. Therefore, this isolation is serene, but alone, it reminds me of Edward Hopper, who drew the metropolitan New York in the early and mid-20th century. However, Kim fans out the emotion, similar to what Hopper expressed, with the depiction that is seemingly completely opposite; while Hopper showed isolation and loneliness in the City that everyone would emphasize by extremely limiting the number of people on the canvas, Kim exposes this detachment and solitude through overcrowded citizens.
Then, what does constitute a citizen? Kim answers through her works that it is the space. As the stage (setting, space) determines a role of an actor, anonymous citizens (animals or garments) can take a leading role of repetition and overcrowdedness because there is a stage that defines each of the citizens. The artist shows the situation more clearly by substituting the stage (space) to an object. Straight hanger for clothes becomes a stage which signifies public transit everyone needs to wait for their turn to hop on, merry-go-round becomes a stage that shows repetitive routine. The stage that summons ‘haste(or hectic),’ ‘congestion,’ and ‘standardization’ is fast food and canned food – the artist also uses drawer for the stage of heaping up citizen, and the trunk to show citizens always on the move. – A person, anonymous, is born again as a citizen in a stage that symbolizes the functional City. Kim reveals the habit of the citizens by converting objects that symbolize modern civilization into space in the metropolis.
Recently the artist is into ‘cardboard box.’ During recent exhibit for Beomeogil 2019 project <DMGC (Daily Moments within Gaps in Chaos)>, she tried to show forms of congestion in bustling cities through miniature installation arts depicting streets made with shipping box (cardboard boxes) [<City in boxes>(2019)]. She presented hexahedron cardboard boxes as a symbol of residence and movement in a city, saying that “All spaces within a city that harbors my daily lives are square boxes; shipping boxes go around and around within a city just as busy as people in it.” (Work description) - however, cardboard boxes appear in her works before; as we can see with <Way home 2>, Cardboard box works has been seen since 2017 – The difference in 2020 is that the interior of the boxes, previously filled with people (and clothes), turned into the private place where people can be alone. People within a box, almost shaped like a cube, press a print [<A box for work>(2019)], tidies up their apartments[<A box for me time>(2020)], and takes a shower [<A box for refresh time>(2020)]. These scenes surely feel different from the overcrowded City, where the speed matters. What changed in the artist’s emotion?
We can find some clues from some reworked prints, after erasing people in them, to place them in parallel with previous works; large woodprint and variable installation art titled <People growing far apart> (2020), <Daily lives being ruined> (2020); and more importantly, from <Homo masks> (2020), a printed pressed with silkscreen upon copperplate print. Coronavirus Disease -19, which began in the early 2020 and progressed into the pandemic, changed how Kim works. With COVID-19, the artist begins to think her works no longer represents our daily lives, and resist from drawing bustling public transit and densely populated areas. She also felt deeply about “blank… as I could not run into bustling streets… friends whom I got together frequently…” (Work Note). Shifting thoughts, resisting expression, and the blankness led to the expression of “erased congestion” and the tile of the works, such as “People growing far apart” and “Daily lives being ruined.” It also exudes regret and bitterness about “congestion becoming impossible,” which we experience through COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, she expressed the irony (black humor) in reality that we have to wear masks, through the depiction of humanity in the mask, ‘Homo Masks’
However, all these changes did not fundamentally alter the citizens’ routines. <Forward roll for all> (2020), that greets you from the central pillar of the exhibit site, shows that even the COVID-19 situation could not change what people in the city face through depicting people doing endless forward rolls.
Unintended severance from COVID-19 lies under the cardboard boxes changing from congested public arena to the private sanctuary of an individual. Then, does this change bear any negative connotation? It does not. The artist says, “It is the time when I get to be filled with “myself” and feel mentally enriched (Work Note). Therefore, the cubic shipping box Kim drew is not only the symbol of COVID-19 pandemic where only boxes held by couriers roam freely but also the stage that shows citizens’ fulfilled solitude where they can enjoy their private space fully. Even though the box can be cramped and a little lonely, it is the space only for herself where she can let her guard down, not being conscious about anything, and nobody tells you what to do. The congested stages that Kim had shown us were the spaces to reflect myself through others (I=others). This cardboard stage is where I reveal myself as a whole (I ≠ others). This place is our other self, our avatar, no place for the others—the space filled by only ourselves.
Kim is precipitating to ‘the self’ that feels fulfilled about herself, from ‘the self’ as ‘the others’ within a city. If her previous works represented ‘familiar isolation,’ we may characterize her works now as ‘fulfilled solitude. We cannot deny the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic, the epochal event, led to this change. However, As she put it in her work note, “I sometimes drew people who spend time for herself in her private space,” fulfilled solitude full of myself, has already existed insider her. The COVID-19 only tapped into that inner voice.
The artist is now drifting around familiar isolation and fulfilled solitude. Between the two, she gradually settles down to her own space. However, we never know when she floats to the public space. I hope Kim to sink into the embrace of fulfilled solitude, feeling herself to the full extent. I hope she experiences her inner self far and deep, for that will become her strength to spring back towards the others before anyone would know it. ◎