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Kimsooja installation in Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 30 March – 29 September 2019

With a lightness of touch, Kimsooja has transformed the historic Chapel with To Breathe, an enthralling installation using light, reflection and sound to blur expected boundaries. Covered with a mirrored surface, the floor provides a new way of seeing, opening up and unfolding the architecture, and making solid surfaces and confining structures appear fluid and expansive. A special diffraction film on the windows turns the direct light that passes through them into a myriad of rainbows. Responsive to the natural environment, the effect changes according to the strength and position of the sun, the weather conditions and time of day, making every experience unique.

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Within this space, we also hear the amplified sound of Kimsooja breathing and humming. This creates an intimate and shared encounter that links her body to ours and encourages us to think about our own breathing. Starting slowly, her rhythmic and controlled inhaling and exhaling builds pace and intensity until it stops suddenly, giving a sense of release and calm. By carefully creating situations that refocus our attention, Kimsooja invites us to consider things that are invisible, intangible or overlooked. She describes the Chapel interior as the “void within the skin of the architecture”, yet it becomes the heart of the work and a site of communal contemplation for all who enter, harnessing the building’s particularly meditative qualities.

For over twenty-five years Kimsooja has worked with the notion of bottari – the Korean word for a bundle. Made from cloth tied with a knot to enfold the contents within, these bundles are traditionally used for carrying personal possessions, and relate to the movement, migration and displacement of people. She describes them as “a selfcontained world, but one which can contain everything like a vessel, materially and conceptually, since one can tie up a bundle without revealing the contents”. Kimsooja extends this idea to include architecture, symbolically wrapping whole buildings to alter what lies within, as she has done here by using light. Much of the artist’s work takes inspiration from traditional forms of female labour, craft, and everyday actions such as sewing, weaving and folding to investigate the role of women. Making quilts with her mother provided the stimulus for incorporating needlework into her practice and since then Kimsooja has travelled extensively, exploring the cultural importance of clothing, textiles and making. She also considers sewing metaphorically, and views the body as a needle that invisibly weaves together the fabric of lives, cultures and cities, celebrating a shared humanity regardless of geographical borders.

To Breathe is partnered by Kimsooja’s extraordinary 14-metre high sculpture A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir (2014), on display in the Lower Park. This elegant spire was developed with scientists at Cornell University, New York, who formulated a nanopolymer film applied to the acrylic window panes to mimic the iridescence of butterfly wings when activated by light. Also with a mirrored floor, the environment within the sculpture is remarkable as its space appears simultaneously to extend deep into the earth and to reach high into the sky.
Born in South Korea, Kimsooja is international in her practice and her outlook, currently living and working between New York, Paris and Seoul. She describes her use of a one-word name as being an anarchic statment as it: ”refuses gender identity, marital status, socio-political or cultural and geographical identity by not separating the family name and the first name”.

News images

  • To Breathe, 2019. Kimsooja
    © Mark Reeves. Courtesy of the artist and YSP
  • © Photo-Jaeho-Chong