Movement is a constant experience that courses through the duration of each life, as blood flows, breath is drawn and growth occurs. Meditation attempts to slow down the rush in order to appreciate, with awareness, being. Kimsooja’s work recognises the spiritual through slowing down movement.

Much of the work is based on bottari, the practice of wrapping objects in cloth. The leading image, Encounter — Looking into Sewing, where a figure is covered in fabric, prepares the way for the subtext running through the exhibition — women’s work with an attention to cloth.

The exhibition begins with a maze of fabrics hanging from lines (like laundry) that criss-cross the gallery. It is impossible to rush through the pathway defined by these beautiful exotic cloths, wedding bed covers. The tempered movement slows down the heartbeat just as contemplation centers like a Vipisanna walking meditation. Kimsooja references — often imitates — religious ritual. Like a priestess, Kimsooja presents a powerful yet immutable character, her ‘identity’ not a display of personality but an example of the potential of a quieter sensibility.

For A Needle Woman Kimsooja relates walking through crowded streets that were a-buzz with activity. While in the forward projection of self, she stopped. People flowed around her. She felt that the sensation of being still as the crowd pulsed around her was similar to being a needle piercing the fabric of life. This masculine image of penetration has an aspect of aggression to the imagery that belies, for her passive stance is very feminine. The video camera is behind, Kimsooja in the foreground dressed in a dark jacket with a simple cut, her long black hair tied at the neckline. There are many screens, floor to ceiling, so that the focus as one stands to watch shifts ever so slightly in order to see all of the screens, so movement is reduced while viewing. People come up to her and then detour, continuing their quotidian round while she remains still, silent, statuesque.

Kimsooja assumed the same stance in different mega cities — Mumbai, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York and Paris. People enfold around her. The response of the flow of human traffic varies from city to city, ethnicity to ethnicity. Gender creeps into the frame when men react provocatively towards her blocking their way — revealing, haunting, perspicacious and frightening. Kimsooja seems vulnerable, open in her exposure, as if she may be bowled over by the onslaught of human bodies with their determined progress. The intellectual spin offs are numerous: Mother Earth in the face of progress, the feminine plea before war and brutality, women protesting the advance upon their homes and families when the push of politics ignores, or advancing agendas that fail to acknowledge basic humanitarian needs. The video brings to mind the plight of women arrested in their own life development due to the mobility of ‘larger’ concerns.

In the video Sewing into Walking, Kimsooja dips and rises, pivots and sweeps as she gathers an array of wedding bed covers from the ground. The fabrics flutter and wave as do the saris on the women ‘airing’ on the train car in Mumbai, A Laundry Field. Kimsooja recognises the correlation between beautiful fabric and the beauty of the feminine through rippling movements, like water.

Cities on the Move — 2727Kilometer Bottari Piece is the video of a journey that Kimsooja made in Korea between towns where she had grown up. She is filmed sitting atop a pile of bottari, a dignified and sombre accent of dark riding a saddle of colour. The truck, parked as evidence in the dimly lit gallery appears insignificant, old, battered, worthless, in comparison to the glorious bundles, as if the masculine symbol (the vehicle) has been overcome by beauty.

KIMSOOJA Unfolding
Vancouver Art Gallery
October 11, 2013—January 26, 2014