Conceptual artist Kimsooja presenting 'To Breathe' at Kewenig
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Conceptual artist Kimsooja presenting 'To Breathe' at Kewenig
Kimsooja, Meta-Painting, 2023, KEWENIG Berlin. Installation view courtesy of Kimsooja Studio and Kewenig photo by Anita Back.

BERLIN.- For her exhibition at Kewenig, Kimsooja has covered all the windows of the historic gallery building with a film that lets in the daylight, breaking it into countless colours. This installation is part of her series of works 'To Breathe'. It encompasses the entire building, bathing it in a shimmering light of bright rainbow colours and entering into a dialogue with other works shown here as well as with the people moving through the building.

Kimsooja (b. 1957 in Daegu, South Korea) is a conceptual artist who has worked in a variety of different media since studying painting, including sculpture, photography and video, site-specific installations and performance. Using textiles, light and sound, Kimsooja asks questions that concern humanity as a whole and deal with the themes of migration, cosmopolitanism and transculturality. She explores the concept of home, of a constant search and memories.

The installation 'Meta-Painting,' which lends its title to the exhibition, involves several stretched but unpainted canvases hanging freely in the room, and bottaris made of the same, natural linen fabric spread across the floor. Bottaris are traditional Korean travel bundles and an essential part of Kimsooja's oeuvre. They contain clothes, household items, things you need and want to carry with you for travel and life. The items are wrapped in a large piece of fabric and closed at the top with two knots.

For Kimsooja, the filling and closing of the bottaris already plays an important role. She too fills the bottaris with material belongings. But with the gesture of folding the clothes and placing them next to each other, stacking and arranging them with other clothes, artfully bundling and knotting the whole thing, Kimsooja adds something else, something immaterial: thoughts, sensations and memories, painful and beautiful, fleeting and formative.

Her earlier bottaris are striking for their bright colours and silky smooth, artfully embroidered traditional Korean bed covers. The bottaris in this exhibition, however, are made of the same natural greyish fabric that covers the stretcher frames. It is made of the flax that Kimsooja had planted, harvested and processed for her 2020 exhibition at Wanås Konst Sculpture Park in Sweden. Like the contents of the bottaris, all the material in this installation has this connection to the place. After numerous working processes and a journey to Palma de Mallorca, where 'Meta-Painting' was shown at Kewenig in 2022, the works now stand in this new Berlin spatial context, yet retain the story of their creation and their journey.

The term 'Meta-Painting' is to be understood in a similar way to the relationships underlying a meta-language. It is about painting that is not executed. It is about painting that negotiates painting without the need for paint. It is the non-doing that, in the spirit of John Cage, nevertheless produces a perceptible result, which thereby acquires a conceptual, spiritual depth.

All this is accompanied by the incessant breathing of the light installation 'To Breathe'. The rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, which here corresponds to the rhythm of the course of the day and the path of the sun, permeates the interior spaces with ephemeral but recurring, ever-changing, iridescent plays of light. The breath is not audible, but can be experienced visually and spatially. Kimsooja succeeds here in an impressive way in transferring the physical function, which can at the same time have a meditative function, to a building, to the people who move around in it and are invited to contemplate.

In addition, Kimsooja will be showing works that she has made from hanji, the traditional Korean rice paper. To do this, she pressed large sheets of paper together into a ball and later carefully unfolded and smoothed them out. A reference to Kimsooja's earlier, participatory piece 'Archive of Mind' (2016) becomes apparent, in which clay was formed into numerous spheres using the hands. Here as there, an individual, formative handling of the material occurs. The aspect of corporeality also takes on significance in that each of these works titled 'Deductive Object: Un(fold)' (2023) has absorbed the artist's hand movements and the texture and form of her palms – gestures that can both be traced back in contemplation and in the work itself.

The production of hanji follows a long tradition and is very complex. Similar to the 'Meta-Painting' works, the process of creation is an essential part of each individual work: from the cultivation of the mulberry trees (Korean: dak namu), to cutting and steaming, separating, layering, scooping and drying the fibres.

Through the manual compression, the material created in this way takes on non-material traces that are exposed through the subsequent opening and are reminiscent of topographical lines. They have now become a visible part of the material and irrevocably part of its structure. Through the crumpling of these objects in black and in white, Kimsooja also creates objects of impressive sensory aesthetics that carry physicality and time within them.

Here, too, the focus is on traces of processes, of time, of material, and on how such transformations are perceived individually. With these and the other works in this exhibition, the artist refers to an idea that she has repeatedly taken up and reformulated in many works of the past years: the dissolution of boundaries and the interpenetration of different levels, spatially or temporally. The simultaneity of materiality and immateriality can be experienced in each of Kimsooja's works in this exhibition, but also in the totality of this spatially comprehensive presentation.

Kimsooja lives in Paris and Seoul.

This year she is being honoured with a solo exhibition at the Humboldt Forum, Berlin.

Following Kimsooja's solo exhibitions at Kewenig in Cologne (2005, 2009) and in Palma de Mallorca (2013, 2022), Meta-Painting is now the second in the gallery space in Berlin after 2017.

'To Breathe'
September 8th, 2023 - November 4th, 2023

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