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Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Kimsooja, "Bottari Truck," 2013, with Cities on the Move – 2727 Kilometer Bottari Truck, 1997, truck, used clothing, Korean bedcovers and bungee cords, installation view at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
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Commissioned by Arko, Seoul. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.
"Cities on the Move – 2727 Kilometer Bottari Truck" film still
Kimsooja, "Cities on the Move – 2727 Kilometer Bottari Truck," 1997, video still from single-channel video projection, 7:33 min.
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Collection of the Artist. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio. Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Kimsooja, "Deductive Object," 1991, used Korean clothing fragments and thread on Korean stool.
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Courtesy of PLATEAU / Leeum, Samsung. Museum of Art, Seoul. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery.
"Lotus: Zone of Zero"
Kimsooja, "Lotus: Zone of Zero," 2013, 306 lotus lanterns, Tibetan, Gregorian and Islamic chants, steel structure and cables, installation view at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
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Private collection. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.
Kimsooja, "Bottari," 2000, used Korean bedcover and used clothing.
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Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio. Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery.
"Mind of the World"
Kimsooja, "Mind of the World," 1992, thread and ink on used Korean clothing fragments.
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Collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Goetz Collection, Munich. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.
"A Needle Woman" film still
Kimsooja, "A Needle Woman," 1999–2001, video still from 8-channel video projection, 6:33 min. loop.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Oct. 11, 2013 to Jan. 26, 2014
By Portia Priegert
Korean artist Kimsooja has become an impressive international presence with work that uses fabric and sewing as metaphors for the human experience. As this first retrospective of her 30-year career ably demonstrates, her involvement with the material and the immaterial via installation, performance and video is interwoven with themes related to place, memory and identity. While her approaches vary, there’s remarkable cohesion, allowing visitors to follow thematic threads from room to room through an entire floor of the gallery.
Kimsooja, who says on her website that her one-word name refuses gender identity, marital status and other forms of cultural identity, trained as a painter in Seoul. Early work on view here – scraps of fabric stitched together as wall hangings – seems to engage the formal concerns of painting. But her interests expanded as she moved off the wall to begin wrapping objects as varied as garden tools and stools in colourful strips of cloth.
A key development – her exploration of bottari, bundles of domestic goods wrapped in sheets of traditional Korean fabric – helped bring Kimsooja to Western attention during a residency in New York in the early 1990s. An installation created for this exhibition, Bottari Truck, shows the bundles piled high in the back of a vintage pick-up. An accompanying video projection documents her 11-day journey through the Korean countryside in 1997, perched atop bottari in a similar vehicle. She is shot from the rear, sitting still and erect. A lone woman in an austere outfit, her hair clasped in a simple ponytail, she becomes a metaphorical embodiment of human passage through time and space.
Kimsooja’s A Needle Woman project is among her most memorable work. Amid the busy streets of different cities – places as varied as Shanghai, New York and Cairo – she meditates with her back to the camera as throngs of people surge past, a single and anonymous point of stillness amid the visual cacophony. The eight-channel video installation presented here is particularly effective. With two projections on each wall, it’s hard not to feel at the eye of a storm, one’s peripheral vision distracted by eddies of endless movement that create a subtle sense of anxiety.
The show includes numerous other pieces – one favourite is a mandala-like wall work that combines the sound of Buddhist chants with the visual iconography of a jukebox. It echoes broader shifts between stillness and movement in an exhibition that thoughtfully weaves through some of the most vital themes of our globalized era.