To Breathe: Bottari, 2013, mixed media installation, partial installation view of the Korean Pavilion, The 55th Biennale di Venezia, photograph by Jaeho Chong

Centripetal Acceleration

Seungduk Kim, 2013

"The proper place of the inner life is defined solely by the failure to establish any satisfactory relationship with external reality." - Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, 1957


What has not yet occurred cannot be described, of course... even though we have all the information imaginable on materials, the construction plans, and the display. We experimented with every aspect separately in a highly visual manner: checking samples of aluminium mirror panel for the floor and ceiling; sticking portions of diffraction grating film on the windows of the pavilion on a cold November day; testing the sound-absorbing foam for the anechoic dark room; spending hours on Chinese websites to find ideas for the "by-products": bags, socks, USB keys; going to Dongdaemum night market in Seoul to look for bojagi fabric. In fact if we had already done similar things for previous shows, this time was rather special since all the elements were mass-produced and the entire display is handled by a local construction team. Nothing directly implies an artwork, but there is a huge volume of material for an intangible installation.

Paradoxes are common in art, but in Kimsooja's case, it comes close to the wire. Which is exactly what makes it exciting, and challenging. Nothing can be gauged in advance, it has to be completed to be delivered and experienced properly. No model, no CGI can offer the final vision... For the artist, it is a method and a life-long involvement, but for the curator there is a certain amount of suspended action. Slowly we will perceive the strengths and effects of the materials, patiently we will figure out the reflections on the ceiling and on the floor, gradually we will begin to fathom the sounds absorbed by layers of thick and heavy rockwool, plasterboard, rubber coatings and sharp foam pyramids. Virtuality will be at play all through the weeks of April and May until the last touch is added by the sound installation. The voice of the artist will imbue the whole environment with organic bodily breathing.

In order to work within Sukchul Kim's architecture for the Pavilion with no structural modifications, additions or alterations [1], Kimsooja decided that the metal skeleton of the pavilion would receive several skins to shape it into a consistent body: diffraction grating films will cover the glass windows (walls and roof); aluminium mirror panels will be stuck on the floor and fixed to the ceiling; the artist's voice will wrap the main space; an anechoic chamber will occupy the brick pavilion on the South side. The volume of the space will thus be opened out; the skins provide the mutation of the initial transparent cage-like space into a translucent web of light diffracted into rainbow colours, which speed up through an infinity of reflections. Humming and breathing will fill the space with kaleidoscopic volume. A dark anechoic chamber will bury the coloured experience deep inside the visitor's body. Kimsooja's project for the Biennale, To Breathe: Bottari, is original and perfectly fitting within her body of work.

Breathing
Bringing nurturing air into our lungs, exhaling impoverished air, in a constant balanced movement. Our body is run by capturing the fuel for life. Bringing it in and sending it out. It takes the best and rejects the weakened part of the gas.

Diffracting / Reflecting
Light will be driven around from surface to surface and it will already be multiple in its diffracted state. Will it be rainbow-like and packed with art historical reminiscences? An infinity mirror -la-Kusama? A kaleidoscope on an adult scale? Architecture as an engine to provide a kind of light therapy? Viewers are included by definition. If no one is there, then there is nothing! The traditional Korean use of bright colours, plain colours, primary colours is at work everywhere in everyday life, in the past and still now. Red, yellow, blue, white and black, these five colours or Obangsaek were considered to be closely related to the five cardinal directions. In Korean, Obang means "five directions" and saek means "colour". Obang consists of north, south, east, west, and the centre of these cardinal points. Each direction has its own colour. North is associated with the colour black. Black stands for winter, water, kidneys, a salty taste, sorrow and knowledge. The colour for south is red. Red means summer, fire, the heart, bitterness, pleasure and propriety. East was assigned the colour blue. Blue represents spring, trees, the liver, sourness, delight and benevolence. West was associated with the colour white. White signifies fall, gold, lungs, pungency, anger and righteousness. Lastly, the centre was attributed the colour yellow. Yellow denotes the spleen, soil, sweetness, greed and wisdom. Beyond such symbolism, these colours (found in fabrics for bedcovers and cushions among other uses) equally strongly address those whose background has been bathed in the utopia of the De Stijl patterns: primary colours in geometric patterns and order. The ghosts of Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg are alive in Korea. Naturally Kimsooja has dealt, and keeps dealing, with these traditional and modernist issues of colour. It helps when tradition, which is often a burden of authoritarian limitations, is aligned with avant-garde references.

Bottari
In Kimsooja's work, Bottari reads as seminal, motherly, warm, storytelling, formalist, matrix-like, basic, vintage & kitsch, cheap & precious, flexible, endless. Bottari is the result of rolling up pieces of fabric in bundles. A package, a wrapped object. Though they may consist of several pieces of fabric rolled up together in a tautological bag. In the 1990s, Deductive Objects were shown in different locations and particularly in New York at PS1 during a residency programme in 1992-1993. Some works bear the diffused influence of the Paris time while others found their way out and captured the cultural and artistic specificity of the New World. There is one piece (see pp. 117, 132) that can be seen as a turning point for her work – away from the sculptural objects or bidimensional canvas-like pieces, towards site specific environments: it took up an entire wall for a discreet and precise installation of small torn pieces of multicoloured fabric inserted in tiny holes between the bricks of the wall. This piece reminds me of a sacred place. There are traditions in different religions – jewish or buddhist– to use written words as support for prayers or meditation: placing slips of paper containing written prayers in the crevices of the Wall in Jerusalem is much publicised or hanging Lokta paper prayer flag garlands on trees in Tibet. In this instance, slips of fabric replaced the paper, and colours instead of written prayers. As such, the piece deals with memory's narratives and secrets.

Transparency and Obstruction
Kimsooja's work could also perhaps be qualified as acts of unveiling and disclosing: slips of papers are left behind, a corpus of secrets is wrapped in bundles, she is seen from the back in the video works. Kimsooja does not willingly participate in the transparency of the present world, where everything is supposed to be accessible, revealed, only to be forgotten a moment later. She is keeping layers of narratives deep within the knotted fabric. If she does not show her face in the videos, it means that we will never see the way she looks at the crowds of human beings in the noisy streets of the cities of the world. She stands as an obstacle in the flow, like in Etienne-Jules Marey's poetic science experiences – such as the mechanics of fluids visualised by using a square object (obstacle). Does Kimsooja mean to study how much an obstacle – here a still and quiet standing woman – may slow down the pace of humanity on the move? What will such a woman in grey outfits cause to the movement of a crowd? Often she stays invisible and does not produce any slow down. Swiss professor of French Literature and Historian of Ideas, Jean Starobinski, analysed the constant unbalanced position in the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau between his sincere desire for "transparency" and his frustration that created "obstruction" and led him to passive resignation.

Contradiction in form usually creates unsolved situations. In Kimsooja's works, paradox is an engine, a tool for building shelters and places for relief. Neither an "art aid", nor a comfort spot for exhausted art travellers, her places are energy batteries. Transparency is not invisibility. But rather, turning transparent is the ultimate dream of the voyeur: nothing is kept secret, everything is visible, accessible to desire. Architecture in modern times has fought for this since glass could be mass produced in large sizes and reinforced to resist [2]. The combination of clarity (glass) and blurring via a colourgenerating device is one step further than stained-glass in churches, where light comes through coloured glass windows and projects onto the stone paving in a complex palette of colour tones [3].

For the 2013 Korean Pavilion, with a formal strategy of non-doing, Kimsooja will allow the random good fortune of the changing lights to shape and reshape the whole building. The composition will not be controlled, leaving chance and mischance to create the coloured ambiance. Mirrors on the floor and ceiling will multiply to infinity the reflected coloured lights contained inside the pavilion showering the visitors with jets of diffracted violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red pure light colours.

Centripetal Acceleration
The proposed environment will function as a centripetal engine, an unplugged energy plant absorbing energies of any kind like the ever-changing daylight and the empathy left behind by the viewer. Every single component and effect will be sucked up by the centre, by the nucleus. The Korean Pavilion will be turned into a large scale experiential generator.

The additional room could be described either as the total opposite or as the end result of chromatic light experiences. This anechoic chamber is a darkened space designed to completely absorb the reflections of sound waves and be insulated from exterior sources of noise. It is designed to accommodate just a few people at a time who are prepared to lose their sense of auditory stability and dwell in their own heartbeat or the turmoil of their blood circulation. To complete the Korean Pavilion visit as if attracted and absorbed into a black hole.

Somehow this could be envisaged as a summary of a number of Kimsooja's previous works in which the elements of the composition have been captured, absorbed, wrapped. We have decided to take the visitors to a region of space from which nothing can escape, neither light, nor sound. A perfect hijacking. For the greater good.



[1] The framework and its limitation to the architecture isn't a curator's caprice to challenge the artist, but rather a rooted project deeply attached to the specificity – in style and in meaning – of this particular and significant edifice: the Korean Pavilion looks like a temporary World Expotype national pavilion. For this reason, the visitor's journey needed to be cast as an immersive art experience. Since La Biennale di Venezia is a gigantic theme park with contemporary art as the core, it was absolutely obvious to stay within that very format. There was no point in mimicking museums or art centres but instead it seemed important to follow the World Expo style as a natural place and moment for the participation of avant-garde artistic movements and individuals. Osaka Expo 1970 was the last edition to be really in tune with such a practical utopia.

[2] Different to the Crystal Palace, erected for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, the Glass Pavilion by Bruno Taut in Cologne in 1914 and La Maison de verre (1927-1931) by Pierre Chareau in Paris, which used glass bricks as a light provider more than as a source of transparency.

[3] In Theo van Doesburg's Stained-Glass Composition II (1917) and Stained-Glass Composition V (1917-1918) designed for the Villa Allegonda, the projection of diffracted light is already planned at the design stage, having organised the nonobjective distribution of rainbow-coloured units (primary and complementary colours) in the vertical format. Daniel Buren's Passages Under a Colored Sky in 2007 in Anyang in Korea operates in a similar way: using the pergola structure with coloured glass casting coloured shadows on the ground.