Kimsooja’s art practice, described by esteemed curator the late Harald Szeeman as ‘existential doing’, has been dedicated over a span of thirty years to discovering and expressing the inherent oneness of life, unifying the physical and the metaphysical. Her beliefs locate readily within Buddhism, Zen, Conficianism or the age-old role of the artist as shaman. Through installation, performative actions and video, Kimsooja employs specific settings within our harried globalised world as the object, and often inserts her own body as the subject in a central role in her works: to experience and transmit the power of stillness, of the void, of anonymity, of the quietude of contemplation; inviting the viewer to use her body as a locus from which to reflect on the human condition, and the condition of humanity.
Kimsooja focuses on the potency of everyday objects and actions, and the memory and narrative bound therein. Transforming the traditional Korean bedcover, the site of birth, loving and death, into a sculptural and symbolic device, the used cloth that bundles one’s belongings when relocating, known as bottari in Korean, features prominently in her work. Bottari convey physical and metaphorical readings of the stitching together of life’s essence and of location and dislocation; for Kimsooja, ‘breathing is another kind of fabric – another way of weaving and another way of sewing – another way of connecting life and death and awareness of my body as both a physicality and impermanency.’
Kimsooja graduated with an MFA in 1984 from Hong-IK University, Seoul, and gained international recognition following a residency in 1992-93 at MoMA P.S.1 in New York, where she still lives between there and South Korea. Awarded France’s Insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2017, in 2019 the French city of Poitiers housed Traversees, a 3-month transformation of public spaces by the artist. Projects have been made in diverse countries, including Egypt, Greenland, India, Nigeria, Japan, Belgium and China (as the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014); survey exhibitions have been presented in Spain, Canada, South Korea, Lichtenstein, Austria and France; and her work has been included in 6 Venice Biennales, in 2013 as Korea’s representative; Istanbul Biennale; Sao Paolo Biennale; Sydney Biennale; Asia-Pacific Triennale; and Whitney Biennale.
Other exhibitions have been mounted at Centre Pompidou Metz, France; The National Museum of Contemporary Art EMST, Athens, Greece; Secession, Vienna, Austria; Louisiana Museum of Art, Copenhagen, Denmark; Hayward Gallery, London, UK; KIASMA, Helsinki, Finland; Miami Art Museum, USA; Perm Contemporary Art Museum, Russia; and D’Art Moderne de Saint Etienne, France.
Kimsooja lives and works in New York City and Korea.