With Fluid Style, Artist Finds HerselfLike many artists, Kim Hyun-jung was 19 when she was struck with that age-old question of identity: Who am I?
And like many other artists who attempt to face that issue, Kim found it impossible to find an answer. But there was one obvious truth about herself that she realized, and it became the foundation of Kim's later artworks － everything in life, including the artist herself, constantly evolves over time.
"Just about everything changed － my thesis, the carving tools, art history books, even the sound of peoples' voices through the telephone," Kim said with a mix of innocence and seriousness.
It was around this time when she was 19 that Kim saw the sculptures by the British artist Rachael Whiteread in her art history class and decided, like Whiteread, to narrow the artistic ideas she was exploring to issues concerning her body and space.
Unlike some Korean artists who fear being criticized for imitating other artists' works, Kim made no attempt to hide that her art was an offspring born between American painter Eva Hesse and Whiteread.
"I try not to deny the influences I found from other artists and theorists," Kim said.
"Books about Foucault's discourse on the body filled the bookstore when I was studying art at my university. Postmodernism is another thing. Perhaps I might have been influenced by all of them."
She began experimenting with different materials in an attempt to find a way to express her interest in change and the body. After a series of trial and errors, Kim chose water and bodily fluids, because fluids are a medium in which "even the smallest changes are quite visible on the surface."
"It's strange though," she continued, "and I think it was purely a coincidence, because I tend to work or choose my medium from a very theoretical level, but my two favorite sports happen to be swimming and scuba diving. And I love taking baths."
She then combined her interest in fluids with a material called FRP, Fiberglass Reinforced Plastics, a kind of synthetic resin.
In her earlier works, Kim used her own urine. For about 100 days, she collected her daily urine in separate sample bottles, writing on each the date and amount of fluid. To exhibit this collection, she inserted the bottles into small holes made on the surface of a freestanding wooden panel, carved into the shape of the artist's standing profile.
The work was titled "The Liquid I Produced." She said, "It just poignantly showed my changing body condition. The color and the amount of my urine relied entirely on my what I ate, how much I ate, my emotional fluctuations that day."
A recent graduate of the Master's of Fine Arts program at Seoul National University, Kim just held her first solo exhibition at the Keumsan Gallery.
Titled "The Combining of Negative Space and Liquid," she installed a series of plaster casts, later remodeled with a synthetic resin, made from her body and her personal belongings. Kim then filled these casts with plain water. Metaphorically, the fluid was a replacement of Kim's body, and the synthetic resin functioned as an artificial skin.
"The gallery was so dry because of the air-conditioning that I had to add water to these objects every morning I came into the room," she said.
"It made me feel strangely uncomfortable to look at the dried water stains in the bottom of these objects."
Kim recalled that she treated these objects as an extension of herself, more than her previous works.
The objects she used in the installation included books, hardware tools and wine bottles, all straight from the artist's studio.
The books were whatever Kim was reading when she was working, ranging from "Winnie The Pooh" to Rosalind Krauss's "Passages in Modern Sculpture." The tools and the household items were objects that Kim had been using in her studio.
Now 28, Kim realizes that it takes more than courage and hard work to survive as an artist in Korea. She is currently working as a museum conservator at Seoul National University and also teaches students at art institutes.
"These days I feel that I need to separate my works into two in order to keep going on a long term basis," she said. "I need to produce artworks that the public and art collectors can identify with, and others I can really put my energy into."
by Park Soo-mee