Naked to the hidden and ruined urban world

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Naked to the hidden and ruined urban world

It could be a shot from a dark action film: A lithe Asian woman crouching nude but with nothing R-rated exposed next to a rusted steel pillar, surrounded by pipes, chains and ancient brick, all tinged a sinister green.

But this place isn’t on a Hollywood set. It’s an abandoned sugar refinery in Brooklyn, New York. And Miru Kim is no actress - she’s a photographer and urban explorer.

Her pictures provoke powerful emotions. The only living creature amid industrial ruins, Kim looks small and vulnerable, while her nudity gives the photos a sensual dimension. The odd combination is strangely harmonious.

This series, which Kim calls “Naked City Spleen,” is now on display at the Gallery Hyundai in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. It’s the first solo exhibition in Korea for the New York-based artist.

Urban explorers such as Kim seek the less-traveled parts of the city environment - abandoned amusement parks, factories, power plants, tunnels, sewers, graveyards, ports, subways, asylums.

Kim chooses her settings to maximize the dramatic effect of her work, often without city permission. One photo shows her sitting atop a suspension tower on New York’s Williamsburg Bridge. Another, taken in the Parisian catacombs, shows her laying naked on hundreds of old human bones. Kim has even photographed herself in the humongous sewer near the Han River in Seoul where portions of the Bong Joon-ho film “The Host” were filmed.

“Experiencing alienation and anxiety in the city, I began to understand the artists and authors who suffered from severe bouts of depression and isolation, represented by the term ‘spleen,’” Kim wrote in the pamphlet for the exhibition. “Every time I stepped out of the ordinary aboveground spaces, I felt regenerated and unrestrained.”

Born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, in 1981, Kim studied painting and earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the Pratt Institute.

As she explored the urban ruins and structures in New York City over the last 10 years, Kim said she began to feel that the city was one living organism. Kim found herself fascinated by rats, wild dogs, stray cats or bees nesting in sugar barrels in abandoned sugar factories.

She had been photographing urban ruins for some time before it occurred to her to include herself nude in the pictures. “The pictures looked like photos taken for bureaucratic records, so I wanted to include a living creature in my photographs,” Kim told reporters recently. “It was difficult to use animals so I decided to take pictures of myself.”

Kim has been featured in Esquire’s 2007 Best and Brightest issue and the Financial Times of London. Her work was even introduced in The New York Times in an article about urban explorers titled “Children of Darkness.”


By Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]



The exhibition continues through Sept. 13 near Apgujeong Station, line No. 3, exit 2. Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. The exhibit is closed Mondays. For details, call (02) 519-0800 or visit www.galleryhyundai.com.
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