December 5, 2015 – January 17, 2016
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in Canada of work by Korean artist Kim Beom. Comprising a survey of work spanning over twenty years and made across a range of material and form, the exhibition presents characteristically humorous and inquisitive takes on the way we come to see and know things.
Kim is a key figure of his generation in South Korea, his ideas based in the shift created when image-making moves from language to physical form. He fundamentally resists any singular definition, partly through the eclecticism of media—drawing, video, sculpture, performance—as well as taking on seemingly disparate subjects encompassing such things as the entire body of work of a modernist Korean poet or the domestication of dogs. Regularly recalling moments in popular culture and often visualizing wordplay or puns that tip language into the absurd or create comic forms, works such as the untitled series of drawings and related video from 1991-96 are as refreshingly intriguing as they are disarming in their charm and curiosity with the world that surrounds us.
Visitors to the exhibition are welcomed by a modest canvas into which has been cut a short text. Greeting (2007) may appear almost straightforward in its appeal, captivating in the openness of its invitation, and yet it suggests the impending experience of the exhibition as an open field where the viewer can apply or should determine their own impressions.
Perception and illusion are key to Kim’s practice. While much of his work is figurative in the sense that there are recognizable representational components depicted, this lack of ambiguity is called into question whereby the stability of image or language and its ability to communicate are set in motion. In speaking about his paintings, many of which are raw canvases that have been cut into, Kim talks about this blankness as acting like “a screen for the imagery in the viewer’s mind.” In Man Standing (1995), two footprints in metal rings are attached to the surface of the work displayed flat on the floor. Here we are asked to complete the image, conjuring the subject, imagining ourselves in the space of the piece itself.
This idea of fluid meaning can also be seen in other works that involve a notional transformation in some way – be it functional, a tautology between image to object, or a perceptual shift in the mind of the viewer. Such inventive changes may be considered witty or surreal, and achieved via the most economical of means. An Iron in the Form of a Radio, a Kettle in the Form of an Iron, and a Radio in the Form of a Kettle (2002) brings together the three household items which retain their familiarity of form and yet, as described in the title, change their function. As objects they retain their base characteristics but nonetheless are simultaneously something else, becoming other than, or more than, that which they appear to exclusively exemplify.
Such improbable transformation in both the imagination of the artist and by extension the audience can be seen in Untitled (Plants from the Places) series (2007- ongoing). Here Kim cuts photographic images of plants from magazines and newspapers sticking them together to form new “plants” that continue to grow by the addition of other pieces of green paper. Through this reusing the artist completes the cycle – trees are cut down, made into pulp which then becomes paper and is returned to being a plant. In other works, this cultivation of change is suggested by Kim with a mix of both humour and unease.
How meaning is made, who constructs it and for whom it is intended is seen more directly in works such as A Rock that was taught it was a Bird (2010) in which an absurdist gesture has an actor attempting to teach a rock to fly, unperturbed by its seeming lack of response. Yet by soaking up this instruction is the rock not altered in some way? Objects Being Taught They are Nothing But Tools (2010), is a large scale sculptural work that has common household objects placed on model chairs facing a blackboard in a familiar classroom-like setting. The objects are assembled in front of a pre-recorded, televised lecture in which the teacher’s head is cut off and his voice dubbed so that in a speeded up, squeaky voice, the orator emphatically and gravely iterates the utility of “students” and, therefore, the futility of attempting to become anything more. Tools do not go to the hospital to see doctors, the voice points out, as humans do. They are instead serviced and fixed, or simply replaced. So it goes for the student. Education is a process that involves some notional form of change: knowledge is imparted and one’s identity and views on the world around us are (in)formed. Conventional structures of learning are undermined and replaced by questioning the fabric of our collective and individual perceptions.