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Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’ Ocula Conversation Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’

A group of voices accompanies me in the exhibition. They are singing words I cannot comprehend, yet the warm tunes are familiar: folk songs, love songs, songs of longing. There are letters, too. They speak of the quotidian details of a soldier's life: the hardness of the war, sending money to the family, and longing for familiar landscapes, food,...

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Aichi to Okayama: Art in Japan Looks to the Future Ocula Report Aichi to Okayama: Art in Japan Looks to the Future 11 Oct 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...

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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough Ocula Insight | Video
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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough 15 October 2019

Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...

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Kimsooja

b. 1957, South Korea

Kimsooja Biography

In Kimsooja's videos, performative actions, sculptures, and installations, pieces of daily life become tools of investigation into the diverse yet shared experiences of humanity. Particularly known for her use of Korean bedcovers and fabrics to create bottari (Korean for bundles) and—both literally and metaphorically—the act of sewing, the artist explores ways of wrapping or stitching objects, spaces, and lives as a means of bringing disparate elements together.

After graduating with an MFA from Hongik University, Seoul, in 1984, Kimsooja received the French Government's Scholarship to study in the Lithography studio at the Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. Many of her works from this decade are two-dimensional geometric patchworks, made from sewing pieces of fabric and clothes together into various shapes such as a cross in The Earth and the Heaven (1984) or a stepped pyramid in Untitled (1987). Some, such as Le Bleu and Le Noir (both 1987), feature abstract drawings in ink and acrylic paint on the fabric. These sewn works were inspired by the fabrics and clothes that Kimsooja's grandmother had owned and the artist's interest in the association between needlework and female labour in Korean culture.

In the early 1990s, Kimsooja started incorporating the concept of bottari into her practice to create minimal sculptures. The Korean term Bottari refers to a bundle made by wrapping objects—usually one's possessions for the purpose of travel—with a piece of fabric fastened with a knot. Her 'Deductive Object' series (1990—1997) involves wrapping everyday items such as a Judo mask, farm tools, pitchforks, and clothing racks in brightly coloured Korean bedcovers and clothes to create bottari. While any kind of fabric can make bottari, the artist chooses second-hand clothes and found objects to reference the passage of time and the fact that the objects are not only ready-mades but have also been used. She began to gain international recognition during this time, with her residency at MoMA PS1 in New York in 1992 and by presenting her works in the group exhibitions In Their Own Images at MoMA PS1 and Trade Routes at the New Museum, New York, in the following year.

Returning to Korea in 1993, Kimsooja noticed the role of women in Korean culture more acutely and began to expand bottari as a metaphor for female activities, migration, and displacement. In Sewing into Walking (1994)—her first video performance work—the artist ties second-hand fabrics into bottari and slowly lays them on the grass. In 1995, when asked to participate in the first Gwangju Biennale, the artist re-enacted the performance in a forest. She dedicated the resulting installation of scattered clothes to the victims of the Gwangju Uprising that took place between 18 and 27 May 1980, in which a civilian pro-democracy movement in Gwangju was brutally repressed by the military, with the used fabric alluding to the presence of human bodies. The video component of her project Cities on the Move—2727 Kilometers Bottari Truck (1997) documents the artist's performance, showing her from the back seated atop a mound of bottari on a truck as it travels through Korean cities and towns. Made two years before Kimsooja left Korea again for New York, the work examines the complexities of one's changing cultural identity, while the bottari embodies the artist's psychological burden—in Korean, the phrase 'making a bundle' means, especially when in relation to women, to leave one's family or home behind.

One of her best-known works, A Needle Woman project (1999—2001) considers the artist's body as an allegorical needle weaving through the multifarious fabrics of life and culture in this world. First filmed in Tokyo, then in Shanghai, Mexico City, London, Delhi, New York, Cairo, and Lagos, the eight-channel video installation—each screen depicting one city in a loop of six minutes—all show the artist from behind, with her long hair drawn back in her signature ponytail, standing still as the busy residents of each city walk past her. Surrounded by people in constant motion, the artist could be in any modern-day city. While referencing the ideas of global citizenship and mass urbanisation, A Needle Woman also addresses the increasing difficulty to maintain a sense of the individual in such societies.

Starting in the late 1990s, Kimsooja began incorporating mirrors in her practice, followed later by light. One of her earliest installations to feature mirrors, Bottari Truck in Exile (1999) was presented in the International Art Exhibition of the 48th Venice Biennale and consists of a truck loaded with bottari. By reflecting the vehicle onto a wall-sized mirror, the artist created a symbolic exit into a new world—in this case, for the refugees of Kosovo to whom it was dedicated. In another instance, mirrors and light were combined in the site-specific installation To Breathe—A Mirror Woman (2006) at the Crystal Palace in Madrid. The floors of the palace were covered with mirrors, while translucent diffraction film was placed on the surrounding windows. As the film diffracted the interior with spectrums of the rainbow, the space infinitely expanded with the reflections in the mirrors. The installation was also accompanied by a soundtrack of her breathing; in an interview with Art21 in 2013, the artist said that she saw the work 'as a bottari of light and sound and reflection'—a bottari wrapping space with non-physical qualities.

Since her first solo exhibition at Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, in 1988, Kimsooja has presented her work in international galleries, museums, and art fairs, as well as public spaces. In 2019, she transformed the Yorkshire Sculpture Park's historical chapel with an iteration of 'To Breathe' as part of Yorkshire Sculpture International, while her needle-shaped steel sculpture A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir (2014) was exhibited in London's Regent's Park for Frieze Sculpture 2018. Following her previous four participations in the Venice Biennale (1999, 2001, 2005, 2007), she represented Korea at its 55th edition with To Breathe: Bottari.

Kimsooja lives and works in New York and Seoul.

Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2019
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Featured Artworks

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Deductive Object by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaDeductive Object, 1997 Used clothes and bedcovers
47 x 390 x 289 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery
A Needle Woman - Paris by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaA Needle Woman - Paris, 2009 DVD, single channel video, 25 min loop, silent
Axel Vervoordt Gallery
Geometry of Body by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaGeometry of Body, 2015 Artist's yogamat
182.9 x 61 cm
KEWENIG
To Breathe - A Mirror Woman by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaTo Breathe - A Mirror Woman, 2006–2009 Duraclear photographic print in lightbox
185 x 138 x 16 cm
KEWENIG
Encounter - Looking into Sewing by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaEncounter - Looking into Sewing, 1998–2013 Digital Flex Print, sandwich mounted
203 x 117 cm
KEWENIG
To Breathe: Mandala (YELLOW) by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaTo Breathe: Mandala (YELLOW), 2010 Single ready-made American jukebox speaker with the artist’s voice performance “The Weaving Factory” (2004);
KEWENIG
Deductive Object (VII) by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaDeductive Object (VII), 1996–2013 Digital flex print, sandwich mounted
102 x 75 cm
KEWENIG
To Breathe (IV) by Kimsooja contemporary artwork
KimsoojaTo Breathe (IV), 2013 Duraclear photographic print in lightbox
124 x 185.9 x 15.7 cm
KEWENIG

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Infinitive Mutability at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Hong Kong
Closed
25 March–1 June 2019 Group Exhibition Infinitive Mutability Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Kimsooja, Room #2 at KEWENIG, Berlin
Closed
20 February–16 March 2019 Kimsooja Room #2 KEWENIG, Berlin
Contemporary art exhibition, Kimsooja, Gazing into Sphere at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp
Closed
20 January–24 March 2018 Kimsooja Gazing into Sphere Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp

Represented By

In Related Press

View All (17)
Kimsooja in conversation Related Press Kimsooja in conversation Art Gallery NSW : 24 September 2019

In the new exhibition Here we are at the Art Gallery of NSW, some of the most compelling women artists at work today consider the connections we create with others and how these connections resonate outwards through our lives.In the 2009 video A needle woman by Kimsooja, from the Gallery's collection, the figure of the artist, seen from behind,...

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When the Arts Resist Imperialism Related Press When the Arts Resist Imperialism Hyperallergic : 7 September 2019

A resplendent display of 272 fuchsia-colored paper lotus lanterns adorns the light-filled oculus on The Rubin Museum of Art's top floor. The sweeping circular installation, Lotus: Zone of Zero (2019) by Kimsooja, is among the more striking of the works by 10 international artists selected by guest curator Sara Raza for the exhibition Clapping with...

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The South Korean artist painting a Yorkshire chapel with prismatic light Related Press The South Korean artist painting a Yorkshire chapel with prismatic light Wallpaper* : 15 April 2019

Five hundred acres of voluptuous hillsides are peppered with wandering eyes, concrete lumps and hollowed Hepworths, all cohabiting the landscape with grazing sheep. Yorkshire Sculpture Park is perhaps one of the only sites in the UK where you might confuse an ovine watering trough with a modernist sculpture. Now it also houses the only chapel where...

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Thukral and Tagra: Bread, Circuses and TBD; Kimsooja: To Breathe – review Related Press Thukral and Tagra: Bread, Circuses and TBD; Kimsooja: To Breathe – review The Guardian : 7 April 2019

A new gallery has opened in the rolling green paradise of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Or rather an ace cafe with a space for art. The new Weston building, a visitor centre designed by architects Feilden Fowles, is light-filled, airy and undoubtedly beautiful, its concrete and polished plaster tinted to match the sandstone bedrock of this glorious...

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In Video & Audio

Zoe Chun, Kukje Gallery on Deductive Object at Art Basel Hong Kong Related Video & Audio Zoe Chun, Kukje Gallery on Deductive Object at Art Basel Hong Kong CoBo : 27 March 2017

CoBo speaks to Zoe Chun, Communication Director of Kukje Gallery – CoBo Challenge at Art Basel Hong Kong 2017.

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Kimsooja on 'Brilliant Ideas' Related Video & Audio Kimsooja on 'Brilliant Ideas' Bloomberg : 26 January 2017

Born in 1957 in Daegu, South Korea, Kimsooja started attracting the attention of the international art community when she began constructing Korean bottaris in her art – a gesture and motif that continues to appear in her work till today. Her art centers on the work and labor of women –beginning with her early sewn works, to her films and video...

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