Thursday, July 8, 2021

Drawings In Space: The Stitched Images of Gisoo Kim

Diary / Gisoo Kim, stitched yarn on photo-collage, 2020. (Gisoo Kim)
“Avant-garde art is yoga for the mind.” – Khang Kijarro Nguyen

Human consciousness is such a fragile and changeable thing. Being in the presence of provocative art can alter the entire field of our experience to a sometimes surprising degree. It’s almost as if the room temperature suddenly changes and our skin feels different, while our minds start racing in all kind of intriguing directions. This is also totally relative, since one person will react to one kind of work while another will respond to something utterly different, often even without either of them being able to quite grasp what the other is experiencing, unless they use their own experience of being transported as a kind of barometer. Then: ohhhh, you mean that when you listen to a Johannes Brahms symphony you feel the same kind of frisson as I do when I listen to a Miles Davis jazz solo? Now I get it. And the same is true of visual art, or design, or sculpture, or anything else. A Vermeer painted interior might have the identical impact as a Mark Rothko abstract, once two different viewers realize they’re both observing representations of the ineffable essence of perceptual majesty. The imagery only appears different on the surface, while the mechanics of reverie remain the same at the deeper internal level, where it matters. 

It is for exactly the same reason that among circles of people with a basic knowledge of art history, there is no longer any serious debate as to whether photography is one of the fine art disciplines in a direct recursive line of evolution from painting onward. It is. If there is such debate, not only is it not serious, but then you’ll also know that some basic knowledge of the trajectory of visual history is missing from the discussion, and you should therefore absent yourself at once. This is because the inherent aesthetic value embedded in a Minor White or Alfred Steiglitz photographic image is precisely comparable to that of an Andrew Wyeth or Frank Stella painting. Getting at and digesting that value as rapidly as possible, as if it were a kind of vitamin (which it is), is what matters most. Which is why all artworks, it has occurred to me, operate as a kind of homeopathic remedy, with small doses of melancholy or poetry injected into our daily lives in order to bolster our resistance to any potential ennui or disillusionment. All art, in other words, might have an immediate remedial, even spiritual, aspect which can enliven us. 

On the Way, 2019. (Gisoo Kim)
On the Way, 2019. (Gisoo Kim)

And so it is with the splendid and elegant imagery of Gisoo Kim (b. 1971, Seoul, South Korea). Whether it is in her more traditional format, as evidenced in the intriguing On the Way series, or in her more experimental format, as conveyed compellingly in her stitched image-collages such as her ongoing Diary, Combination or Form Landscapes, we are being invited to share in a marvellous daydream of elemental proportions. At first glance, the deceptive simplicity of the On the Way series might appear to be adhering to certain traditions of a representational nature; however, I find their theatrical framing device, the use of a train window, to be dramatically alluring and surreal. They also seem to contain the entire history of landscape painting and photography within their cool grasp, and in fact I feel a strong interplay with some of Minor White’s and Walker Evans’s more conceptually challenging meditations on form and light. This emphasis by Kim on the drama of light and dark, form and content, is further explored with the interstitial experimentation of several of the landscape pieces in her Diary series, especially those that include one of her key signature techniques, the introduction of threads stitched into and onto the image surface, which are both graphic as well as functional elements of her collage experiments.

The coining of the word "photography" is usually attributed to Sir John Herschel in 1839. It is based on the Greek phōtós, meaning "light," and graphê, meaning "drawing, writing," together meaning "drawing with light." What Kim manages to achieve, through her experiments with image, form and structure, is an intriguing intermedia realm that invites sculpture to the party: they are drawings in space, using light.

The Pencil of Nature by William Fox Talbot was the first commercially produced tome to be illustrated with photographs, between 1844 and 1846. At the time of its publication, photography was still an unfamiliar concept, let alone an art for most people, with one magazine notoriously referring to this work as “modern necromancy.” To try and clarify, Talbot placed a note in his book: “The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.”

Kim is basically operating in a significant zone of exchange between media: images are impressed by the agency of light, and at the same time, her deft use of stitching multiple photographs into what I might term sculptural collage units embarks on a daring avant-garde journey into the dream life of images. 

Diary (Gisoo Kim).

Diary (Gisoo Kim).

One instance of this stylistic borderline being crossed is in a Diary piece which seems to echo one of her train-window landscape photos, with the exception that the ‘curtain’ has been replaced with the artist’s own embroidered screen of threads. Meanwhile in other recent visual ventures, such as her Combination and Form Landscape, she has crossed over entirely into a fanciful three-dimensional sculptural domain. I’m even tempted to describe them as four-dimensional sculptures consisting of images.

Such Kim experiments are also akin to another zone of formalist image-thinking presented by Rosalind Krauss in The Optical Unconscious, which celebrated the surrealist stance of maintaining a careful and graceful distance between conscious control and aleatory accident. As the currently Essen, Germany-based Kim expresses it in a recent self-curated catalogue of her stitched images:

As a fine artist, I work with photography and embroidery. I create new worlds through stitching on the photographs with needle and thread. An important part of my work is to combine and connect different views and perspectives and to create new realities through photo collages, not by composing and editing pictures on the computer, but by hand-sewing the individual picture elements together. With the help of yarn, I connect the picture elements to form a new reality. However, through the embroidery I not only connect pictures, but also draw with needle and thread completely new motifs and elements, which harmonize with the images and even complete them. This leads the picture into different unconscious levels and new visual structures. The different threads are sometimes clear and can be seen at first glance. Sometimes they are hidden and less noticeable. The visible reality of photography coincides with my imagination and the real motif of the photographs is continued in the space of the imagination.

Diary, 15 x 15 cm (Gisoo Kim).
Diary, 15 x 15 cm, 2020 (Gisoo Kim).

Gisoo Kim continues to explore the edges of interdisciplinary experimentation. Her new catalogue production, Lines and Spaces, which features a splendid selection of her charming and elegant constructions, is also available for order on her artist’s website: She has here clearly established herself as a most capable representative of that most unique form of aesthetic expression: her marvellous work is indeed yoga for the mind.

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films. He has been the Executive Director of both the Professional Art Dealers Association of Canada and The Ontario Association of Art Galleries. He is the author of the recent book Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016). In addition to numerous essays, articles and radio broadcasts, he is also the author of two books on creative collaboration in pop music: Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos2007, and Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter, 2008, as well as the biographies Long Slow Train: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings2018, and Tumult!: The Incredible Life and Music of Tina Turner2020. His latest work in progress is a new book on the life and art of the enigmatic Yoko Ono, due out in early 2022.


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