Sensing Memories: Reviewing Jihee Kim Solo Exhibition, ‘Signs Under Skin’ at Out_Sight, Seoul
Amy Gahyun Lee
Jan 11, 2019
You may be curious as to what each image depicted in Jihee Kim’s drawings signify and why they stand side by side together to formulate a screen. You may even try to ascertain any connection point that can group the individual images to a single theme in order to grasp her oeuvre. However, you would eventually find yourself just standing impotently in front of her work because you will come to the realization that the semi-abstract images, irregularly mingled with colors, are not the representation of a single event, but rather are multiple layers of the artist’s memories, which have been accumulated on to the artist’ body over a long period of time.
In conjunction with her previous presentations, but also keeping a certain level of distance from them, with Signs Under Skin at out_sight, Seoul, Jihee Kim focuses on the term “layer” and sophisticatedly connects it with her original interest in the concept of memory. Kim expresses her fascination with the meaning of the Korean word ”겹(gyeob)” which means “a layer” in English (though with slight variations in meaning), articulating her deep attraction to the word’s simultaneous inclusion of a sense of subject, object, time and space, just like a scene in a play. The artist especially finds the sense of layers in the process of reminiscing her memories through the exhibition, showing the entirety of her process of accumulating, summoning, transforming, and distorting the memories, to combine them to visualize them through images.
Kim stacks the layers, one by one, very neatly in the exhibition; drawing on paper, with another drawing on the drawing, then coloring the drawing, and again with another drawing over the colored drawing. Perhaps it is not enough for her to express fully her idea of layers, which is something that never stops, is never limited and is constantly transforming. Thus, she even violates the border between paper and wall and stacks colors onto the wall outside the paper. She very much attempts to break the conventional frame that locked her previous presentation, and gives freedom to the layers of her memories, which constantly try to escape from the paper to expand them further.
Then, there is the layer between the artist and the viewer. Previously, at her participation in the exhibition at the Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul (From the most intense to the most secretive, 2018), the artist brought a drawer where some of her drawings are in and had the viewers open it to see the traces of her memories. As she is not the friendly storyteller who gives the viewers the exact, detailed account of what the memories are that she is describing, she visualizes her memories instead and places them behind layers. In the same context, at the exhibition, Kim suggests the viewers to “peep” into her memories, which are showcased on eighty 35mm film slides, embedded in light boxes that can be viewed through a small magnifying glass. Just like being caught red-handed sneaking into someone’s personal diary, the people who view through the small magnifying glass, like sitting ducks, are discomfited when they realize that the image they “are peeping” at is someone’s private memory. Generally, in exhibitions, Kim leaves the viewers feeling uncomfortable and keeps a respectful distance from them on purpose. The artist sets up a layer in her relationship with her audience, and through this invisible layer, she speaks very openly and euphemistically about her memories.
To interpret her layers, the artist quoted a part of a Korean writer Bong Gon Kim’s “Summer, Speed,” where he remarks on Roland Barthes’ manner of writing:
“I thought that Barthes’ writing is too refined. If I could meet him, I would wish to tell him that he should have been more tough and coarse. I really believed that he should have revealed himself through his writings. What a layer. Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny that the pleasure of reading Barthes’ also came from this layer between him and me and he eventually revealed himself through hiding him. His writing is timid and refined, but also aesthetic and plentiful.”
As French Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty once said, “The body is our general medium for having a world,” and Kim senses the world through her body, and layers these senses under her consciousness. The artist then visualizes all the sensations left in her body that result from experiences of the past in the form of memories, revealing how she has engaged with the world thus far in her exhibition. In other words, the memories that she conveys through the images are not a record of what she saw necessarily, but a trace of what she has sensed. They do not hold to the exact shape of what she experienced, but rather, they are volatilized memories combined and transformed by the artist, more precisely by the artist’s body. These memories are very distorted and illusionistic indeed, but at the same time, they are vivid ironically, as they are the artist’s own memories, which are instinctively subjective and always favorable to her.
The exhibition presents the united layers of the artist’s previous memories from various perspectives, but also presents the history of transformation and modification in how the artist has managed her memories, how she has built the relationship with her own memories, and how she finally re-senses them to combine them with her present situation. In 2013, audiences saw two drawings depicting each side of a girl brushing her hair at the artist’s exhibition in London, to meet the girl again in Seoul five years later, who became a part of the artist’s new installation work. The girl presented at both exhibitions may have the same look, but this girl is not to be the same girl as we met her five years ago, as she has already experienced a transformation through a process of red, blue and green, of which breathed in to her a new identity from the girl she was before.
Jihee Kim currently lives and works in Seoul. She attended Dongkuk University in Seoul, and received her MA and BA in Western Paintings, and her MFA in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Kim has recently solo-exhibited at out_sight, Seoul (2018); Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul (2018); Songeun Art Cube, Seoul (2017); ThisWeeknendRoom, Seoul (2016) and participated in several group exhibitions, including Songeun Art Space, Seoul (2018); Suwon iPark Museum of Art, Suwon (2017); Taipei Artist Village (2016); Asia Art Center Taipei I + II, Taipei (2016).
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