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A Study on Kim Kulim

Amy Gahyun Lee

Apr 25, 2017

# The artist, Kim Kulim, was shown alongside celebrated figures of contemporary art such as Jackson Pollock, David Hockney, and Niki de St Phalle, in a large scale temporary exhibition called A Bigger Splash – Painting after Performance at Tate Modern, London in 2012. A series of photographs recording his ‘Body Painting’ performance, exhibited in the makeup studio of the TBC broadcasting station in South Korea in 1969, was unveiled in the show. This was a pivotal moment in Kim’s artistic career. Prior to the show, the Korean Art society considered Kim’s artistic style to be largely immature. However, following the exhibition, his style became globally recognized and accepted in the international art world.



Body Painting performance, 1969, exhibited in the makeup studio of the TBC broadcasting station, Image courtesy of the artist and Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul


# In June 20th, 1970, the Fourth Group was established at Sorim Dabang (coffee shop), located at Euljiro in Seoul. In the name of ‘Human liberation’ and ‘Independence of Korean culture,’ artists such as Kim Kulim, Chanseung Jeong, Taesu Bang, Ilgwang Sohn, and other young artists participated in the founding ceremony of the Fourth Group. The founding ceremony started with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Korean flag followed by Kim Kulim reading a manifesto. It was finally put to an end while the sound of ‘Gong’ and Brahms’ symphony was played back to back in the air. Two months later on August 15th, the Fourth Group reassembled under the leadership of Kim Kulim at Sajik Park where they held a funeral for traditional culture and art. After promulgating a manifesto, consisting of four clauses, for overcoming inconsistency and the harmful effects of traditional culture, the group held a street demonstration, which disrupted traffic patterns that eventually drew the attention of law enforcement.


Kim Kulim’s varied artistic media coincides with the Korean avant-garde art movement. In his freshman year at college, he protested against conservative art education and dropped out of school. He continued to expand his knowledge and scope by reading U.S. magazines and experimenting in various artistic fields such as performance art, cinematography, and music. Since then, Kim Kulim’s works have covered many different fields without ever being restrained by a single artistic medium. For him, art is not a simple replication of formal elements, but a refreshment of hidden social values that have been ignored by the custom of the society for a long time. (An experimental engraving work, Dustcloth, displayed in 1974 at International Print Biennale held in Japan and paintings and collages made after the 80s and 90s are media-centric works, without simply relying on media. They challenge to unsociable formality that previous genres had.)


Dustcloth (1974): The artist displayed this work of art, which he covered a table with a silkscreened cotton wrapping that has remaining marks of water spread by dustcloth and put an actual dustcloth on the wrapping. This artwork caused confusion among judges as to whether they should accept the work as engraving or not. Kim Kulim just wished to challenge what engraving means in the modern capitalistic society and a formality of a traditional engraving media.


In his early days, Kim Kulim conducted artistic experiments that stemmed from a collective movement with diverse mediums. For instance, Korea’s first mailing art Relics of Mass Media in 1969, his earth art performance near Han River, From Phenomenon to Traces, that burned grass only to leave ashes as a trace, and a performance art, criticizing lethargic artists’ self-defensive attitude during a dark period were all created at this time. Kim considers ‘Performance’ as a defining characteristic of his work. Until he left South Korea to move to Japan in 1973, his works were heavily based on practical actions from the perspective of an activist. In the mid-1970s and onward, his focus moved from ‘performing’ to studying human consciousness and temporality of nature inherent in society. (These works are somewhat contemplative, compared to his previous works, but they are still radical in terms of avant-garde.)



From Phenomenon to Traces, 1970, Performance, Image courtesy of the artist and Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea



Relics of Mass Media (1969): At 10 am on October 10th, 1969, Kim Kulim and Chaseoup Kim had started to send out three anonymous letters to Korean art industry professionals every 24 hours. Industry professionals who received the mail destroyed them out of fear. By sending this mail, he caused societal panic and spread anxiety throughout the community. (This work of art started as an unilateral action of the artist, but it also shows a form of a participatory art, for the artist purposefully set anonymous participants to complete the work based on a public mailing system.)


# During an artist talk at RAT School of Art, located in Jong-ro, Seoul, on March 11th, 2017, the artist self-mockingly told the young audiences in attendance that his “life has been like this ever since the beginning.” He grumbled it unwittingly while he was talking about the passive governmental support for artists who wished to show their works abroad, and the authoritative and discriminating Korean art association toward artists like himself. The artist had been regarded as an eccentric person, who could not be part of mainstream art. This remained to be true until his experimental film The Meaning of 1/24 (1969) was finally screened at the Tate Modern’s Star Auditorium for three days in 2012 and eventually became a part of the Tate collection. Kim’s works used to be taken down without the artist’s consent during exhibitions, and numerous art fairs. He was kept from participating in festivals stating his work ‘Not within the realm of art.’ As we can read from the title of the artist’s major retrospective exhibition, Like You Know It All at Seoul Museum of Art in 2013, we had not known about the artist Kim Kulim for a long period of time.


The Meaning of 1/24 (1969): This experimental film is grounded upon a base structure of a movie that requires 24 cuts for each second, and the film represents helplessness of individuals in a fully controlled society in a chaotic era. The artist used to present the art as a performance by screening the movie on his body.



Yin and Yang 15 S 45, 2016, Mixed media, Size variable, Image courtesy of the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul



# In his recent exhibition, Traces of Life and Death at Arario Gallery Seoul from August 30th to October 16th of 2016, the artist focused on various circumstances in the modern day that can demolish one’s life balance, caused by social disasters. His main theme in his work discusses society’s ‘Restoration of Ethics.’ Based upon his insights on our contemporary society, Kim Kulim has continuously looked for multilateral transformations of art despite being a part of the older generation he spent his career criticizing. The old artist, who led one of the most progressive periods of the Korean art, has already become the older generation by our social definition. But, his works still show progress through active social engagement and his diverse multi-media approach.