Kimsooja, To Breathe - Zone of Zero
The CAC Málaga is pleased to present the exhibition To Breathe - Zone of Zero by Kimsooja, the most influential conceptual Korean artist of her generation. The title of the show is an amalgam of the two works that comprise it, a site-specific intervention in the central space and a video work in Espacio 5. Both works invite us to reflect on profound aspects of the human condition and alter our perception of the world by embracing a different cultural sensibility.
The visual language of Kimsooja (b. Daegu, South Korea, 1957) is rooted in Korean cultural traditions. She has transformed and redefined the concept of painting in the course of her career, and her oeuvre ranges from installations, photographs and performances to videos and site-specific interventions. Cloths, sequences of light and sound, mirrors and the sound of her own breathing are resources that she uses and have become identifying characteristics.
In the 1980s, she began her multidisciplinary practice with textiles, creating geometric patchwork compositions by sewing scraps of used cloth together. Kimsooja uses sewing as a metaphor and as an activity in itself. The bottari, bundles stuffed with clothing and other personal belongings – very common in Korean culture and suggestive of mobility as they are used to transport household goods – are feature prominently in many of her works and are presented in many different ways. Brightly-coloured traditional Korean bed covers are another characteristic element. In the 1990s she started to document and record her performances on video. The video series A Needle Woman, begun in 1999, in which the artist filmed herself, back to the camera, on the crowded streets of some of the world's most populous cities, brought her international fame. In it Kimsooja reverses the notion of the artist as the main actor through non-action in order to reveal a critical attitude, a mindset linked to Zen Buddhism and eastern philosophies.
Over time the artist has acquired a universal, nomadic quality. Kimsooja's art directly addresses profound questions of human existence through reflection and self-awareness. It explores gender (women and the problems they face in different places), identity in the face of change and social flux, time, memory and the human body's relationship with the material world. Concerned by experiences of cultural dislocation in her native land, she also reflects on socio-political issues we face today, such as migration, exile and violence, exposing art's complicated connections to political life. The themes she addresses transcend the local context and are globally relevant.
Her works show a commitment to engage with the audience and inspire solidarity and respect for others by appealing to the sense of humanity we all possess. This is apparent in her video To Breathe - The Flags (2012), in which 246 national flags are slowly superimposed, one by one, in alphabetical order, without hierarchy or political bias, all nations on the same basic level; creating a visual experience in which differences and conflicts between nations can fuse and blend together as one. The piece was originally created for the 2012 London Olympics to reflect the unifying spirit of the games, although that first version only included the flags of participating countries. The flags added later represent nations which are not accepted or officially recognised by the authorities. Overlapping the flags is a gesture of understanding, of fraternity among equals, of respect for differences.
The installation Lotus: Zone of Zero (2016) has turned the exhibition space at the CAC Málaga into a place of contemplation and meditation. Some 700 lotus lanterns cover the ceiling of the room, but instead of the circular mandala design used in previous presentations of this work, here they are arranged in a rectangular pattern. Gregorian, Islamic and Tibetan chants flood the hall and wash over spectators, inviting them to turn their thoughts inwards. Although this project was conceived in 2003 in response to the Iraq War, today it is still a relevant proposal, providing a safe haven where people of different cultures and religions can meet. This zone is a place of respect, reflection, dialogue and harmony – a place of concord.