A Second Exhibition by Kim Do-hee - Releasing Place for Frame of Thought
A big tree trunk hangs from a metal chain on the red brick wall outside the building, suggesting the title of the exhibition.
In the first floor of gallery, a coffin-like form shrouded in cotton and hemp is placed on the floor on the bottom lining board of a coffin in darkness. On the right wall is a repeating video loop of a refrigerator falling from an overbridge with a roar. In the corner is a washing machine with a long hose connected to the outside of the building.
In the basement, a woman vomits words of anger in a small monitor in the corner, from a video work with a title that reads Beware of Wild Boars.
On the wall in the entrance to the second floor in the building restored from a house, Chinese characters 虛靈不昧(Empty Soul Free darkness) are written with the blood of a chicken killed on the opening day of the exhibition.１) Deep in the room remains the trace of where the artist humbly resided.
Under the title Concrete Clock , the artist resided in this closed windowless space for 14 days, 24 hours a day, starting from May 22nd. In this space, the artist was provided with provisions from outside, and had chance encounters with random visitors. The artist originally intended to stay in the space for 24 hours a day for 18 days, but she ended up walking out 4 days prior to the due date.
Why did the artist stay in this space during the exhibition, and what reality is connoted by this exhibition of unfamiliar spectacles that eliminates the visual beauty of the white cube? What is the significance and value behind a project —neither a
performance nor ritual —in which the artist confines herself in the space? Is the subject of this exhibition autobiographical? Is this a requiem for this generation that doesn’t affirm any values at all?
The artist documented in detail the subtle psychological and physical changes that took place during her solo exhibition while she subsisted alone in an open yet closed breezeless grey cement space. Although verbally portrayed, an indescribable sense of genuineness can be felt as this testimony observes the actual situation and her deep psychological condition.
The limited confined situation in a specific space clearly demonstrates the absurdity of human existence. This condition is also illustrated in a book written by Fujiwara Shinya, who experienced the hidden side of life and civilization while travelling throughout Asia.２) In the book, there is an example of a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian locked individually in a separate room. The room is an abstract space in which the four walls and the ceiling and floor are all white. Shinya raises the question as to who will be the first to lose his mind and the one to endure the longest. His answer is that the Muslim and Christian —followers of religions established on a background of abstract space —can endure longer than the Hindu and Buddhist who live in a definite concrete environment. This is because in an abstract space, self-consciousness is transfigured into god, and the transfigured god is confined in a physical body.
While such theoretical experiments demonstrate that strong belief can prolong one’s time in abstract spaces —as illustrated in the aforementioned example of the religious characteristics in an abstract space like the desert —they also inversely ask ontological questions about the human existence and thought.
In this project, Kim becomes the subject of others’ experience as well as an observer of others. As an observer, her experience is demonstrated as the subject onto whom others place their frame of thought. This is verified in the documents she left during the exhibition:
“Just like the many moments in which my body collided into and humiliated my imagination, the audience’s gaze felt as if they were looking at a painting on a wall. They chatted up the painting of their imagination, at times getting angry at it or
feeling betrayed by it.
Most imagined that food would be a problem (as I did)…Some complained when they saw me unable to eat the food people brought, trying to ‘see the end of it’ or mistaking the situation thinking that I was ‘too busy.’ Some even waited to see an extreme situation unfold. Some also imposed on me to like what they like, or told me to act to make it look good. They became more alienated from the space and the exhibition itself the more they judged me as a completed text.
Thinking about it, it was as if I had laid down a trap and played the bait.”
Here, one can detect the artist’s frame of recognition of others which contrasts with the situation of strange encounters. The artist summarizes the response of the other in her statement that “there was the occasional disgust, but they were real, not meat.” In the same manner, she confesses that the audience she met physically was not as despicable as the others she’d met abstractly (indirectly) before.
The artist’s physical condition in this exhibition space is similar to Antonin Artaud’s ‘Theater of Cruelty’. Rather than being literally cruel or atrocious, Theater of Cruelty refers to the ‘destructive act’ that defies existing conventions or art. However, as long as there is the framework of ‘theater’, it’s an attempt at an impossible ideal. Precisely for this reason, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty paradoxically testifies that this act demonstrates the actual condition of human existence.
Artaud stated that “The body is a physical mass. It’s independent, and doesn’t need organs. The body is never an organism.
Organisms are the body’s enemy.” This echoes in Kim’s thought that “A human being is no different from matter if it doesn’t breathe.” Artaud and Kim have something in common in the sense that they both absolutely deny conceptual awareness.
The artist thus sees the human heart as nothing more than a secondary attribute deriving from its physical basis. This point is also evident in Kim’s comparison of the falling refrigeration to a pen, saying that if the size of the refrigerator were much smaller or bigger, our experience of it would also vary. Accordingly, this also applies to the relationship between our body and heart.
The emotional reactions resulting from the physical reaction of the body can also be traced in the description of the experience of the day the artist first stepped out of the exhibition space after the project.３)
This writing presents the artist as an actual being that’s far removed from conscious thoughts. Actual being is simply a being that’s ‘actually there.’ In other words, human is a being that contradicts with his own consciousness. Thus, such existential self-awareness is the starting point of contemporary art practice which argues and rejects the language that systematizes value.
Kim’s work has always researched ways in which the human body responds first as an existential being, not only in this solo exhibition, but in many exhibitions. The body being the first to respond to a certain subject is the focus of evolutionary
psychology. An example of such psychology is given by the artist: “Babies stop crawling when they get to the cliff edge even without being taught that going over the cliff results in death.”
Therefore, the fall of the refrigerator is first felt by the body as a process that cannot be undone. It’s an undesired scene, as futile and tragic as the physical human body.
The artist devoutly shrouded the fallen refrigerator with cotton and hemp, following all funeral formalities from beginning to end, as if to shroud an actual human corpse. There’s a certain sense of poignant sadness and a reason behind the artist
following all the steps of the ritual of sending the deceased to the afterworld. The painstaking care of shrouding the refrigerator is seen as an act of soothing oneself of the sorrows and guilt of those left behind in this traumatic reality.
However, one comes to confront the fundamental human insecurity through such consciousness. Such nihilistic abyss is as unstable as walking along the cliff, and accompanies just as much danger. However, this abyss is an undeniable reality that we must endure for as long as we live.
In this sense, it’s just a projection of consciousness to associate the fridge and its roar and its funeral to the realities of our society, such as the rise of suicide or other futile ideas. The video, objects, and act presented in this exhibition are not open for conscious interpretation.
For instance, the woman in the video Beware of Wild Boars vomits out unfiltered assaultive words that can result in serious psychological trauma for the subject such insults are directed at. Such scene is a cross section of reality that cannot be
understood in rational consciousness, revealing the cumulative trauma of life.
Through this exhibition, Kim makes us think about the direct personal relationship, gap between self and others, and the contradiction between the body and matter. These issues are problems of life that become more vivid through existential self-awareness, and cannot be visualized as a visual medium or be systematized as a meaning.
In this exhibition, the artist talks about the conflict and bonding between the human body and the physical world which forms the foundation outside of the human body.４) In this context, her exhibition clearly demonstrates that we humans are nothing more than lives lived under physical premise. In other words, when the psychological projection of an object is eliminated, what’s left of the alpha and omega of the subject is matter. To borrow Lacan’s statement, “I exist where I don’t
The unfamiliarity, ambiguity and unclearness of this semi-conceptual exhibition lie on the premise of a critical mind on the rational and mechanical thinking and ideology.５)
To experience the emotional state that arises from the material world, Kim confined herself in the exhibition space. She spent
time to endure and respond to such direct experience that results from such situation. Fundamentally, these attempts are seen
as the will of life to free from insecure futility, and as alleviation, not solution, for a wound. In this sense, this project is not
just simply a requiem, but demonstrates the fundamentals of human existence, the existential situation.
The human life is the process of forming oneself through enduring different situations. Thus, the act of killing a chicken and
getting bloody hands, and the theme of this exhibition to ‘water a dead tree,’ are life’s expressions of will to transcend futility
despite its impossibility.
By openly rejecting her everyday life, it’s not a metonymic language, but an attempt for the artist to share with her audience
the freshness of life and reality that has departed from the tautology of everyday —through which can never be shared.
June 19th, 2011
１) This four-character phrase was written neatly with chicken blood on traditional Korean mulberry paper over the cement wall (The chicken was killed by the artist on the day of the opening, on the second floor of the exhibition hall). The exhibition information pamphlet introduces the phrase and its meaning, which originates from the book Great Learning, one of four books of Confucianism. It’s also explained in Juja (Confucian scholar 1130-1200)’s description of Great Learning. We can see how the primitive Confucianism of Confucius and Mencius has transformed and deepened through the Neo-Confucianism scholar Juja, through this four-character expression that is rather Taoist and Buddhist idea.
２) pg. 291, translated by Kim Wook, Fujiwara Shinya’s Journey in the East 2, Chungaram Media, 2008. Fujiwara Shinya left his studies in Western Painting in Tokyo University and travelled throughout Asia for 10 years, from his twenties to thirties. On pg. 42 of the book is a part that’s similar to Kim’s experience in the exhibition. When he spent 21 days in a Lama temple in the backwoods in Tibet, he became able to eat the dirt-like food there finally after 5 days. He writes about the experience: “A revolution happened on my tongue on the 6th day. I can never forget this revolution until now”
３) Kim Do-hee, Letter after daily record, refer to the last part
４) While writing this, the artist thought carefully about this exhibition’s specific word choice that directs at a trade-off for ‘language’ or ‘concept’. She tried as much as possible to avoid the use of deductive words, although of course no word is anything more than signs of ‘reality’. This is the reason she doesn’t use words like ‘performance’ and chose to use ‘matter’ than ‘physics’ and ‘heart’ rather than ‘psychology’, as words like physics and psychology are terms that are based on the premise of deductive logic in terms of their etymology.
５) In this sense, Buddhism’s philosophy of ‘emptying’ and ‘Buddhist revelation’, and the fact that modern thinkers reject traditional metaphysics, are all outcomes of the volition to diverge from the frames of thought that is removed from the world itself.