Aloft at Hermès Presents ‘Oneness’ by Kim Minjung

Now in its tenth edition, this year's featured artist at Hermès Aloft is Kim Minjung
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Dedicated to explorations in contemporary art, Aloft is one of five international art spaces under the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, which supports the creative talents of individuals and organisations. Each year, Aloft presents a themed exhibition series featuring new work by two artists. Presently in its tenth year, this theme for 2017 is ‘Reflection’ and the first name on its roster is Kim Minjung

Born in Gwangju, South Korea in 1962, Kim is a mixed media artist who first studied Oriental painting at Hongik University in Seoul – the country’s foremost arts institution –  and subsequently moved to Italy to study modern Western artists who had drawn influence from Eastern art, such as Franz Kline and Paul Klee. What these Western artists and East Asian painting shared was a belief that gesture and form held profound spiritual and expressive value. This ethos underpins Kim’s artistic practice of combining Western collage techniques and use of colour with the metaphysical approach of East Asian art. Nevertheless, it is the Korean aesthetic philosophy of Dansaekhwa that is most prominently reflected in Kim's works. 

Art Republik speaks with Kim Minjung about her work and artistic journey, and her views on the role of art today.

Both your painted and mixed media work are like a palimpsest of time and effort, with their extensive build up of layers. In relation to the theme “Reflection”, of looking back to the past, back in time. Could you explain how you approached the paintings?

The ‘Mountain’ series is especially meditative and philosophical. Years ago, while I was staying near a cliff at a seaside town, I heard sounds of waves all the time. I began to visualise the sound of waves. I started thinking of the origin of sea and nature because when god created them, he formed them in ways that have been unchanged through time. When I paint in layers, I have to wait for each layer to be completely dry. The motion is repeated again and again, just as how nature is eternal and infinite. Unexpectedly, I realised that when the layers are disassembled, they look like the sea but when assembled, they recall mountains. The sea, mountains, land and even man was one at the beginning of world.


On looking back, as an artist whose formative years occurred during the militarisation, democratic uprising, and clash of social realist and abstract art in South Korea, how have those events shaped your practice?
My practice is generally about my personal narrative, which has been largely affected by Korea’s socio-political issues. I left Korea in 1992 and have lived mostly in Italy but the period from 1960 to the 1990s when I lived in Korea was a time of fevered democratic movements and dramatic economic growth. Many of my generation in Korea suffered from the huge changes we experienced. When I was in art college during the 1980s, student activism was rife. Many artists joined the ‘Minjung art’ or ‘People’s art’ movement against government militarisation, demanding democracy. At the same time, Dansekhwa and avant-garde performance art by senior artists was also developing.

However, artists are creators, not reporters. Some feel that good art is art that directly reflects the world and provokes, but I don't think that is art. Traditionally, artists served as a bridge connecting god and man. We have to create something new, not report what is happening.

Your aesthetics and philosophical approach recall Dansaekhwa, in particular the work of leading Dansaekhwa painters Park Seo Bo, Chung Chang Sup and Chung Sang Hwa. You were studying painting while Dansekhwa was emerging in the 1970s and 1980s. How did it impact your artistic development?

My university professors were now-established Dansaekhwa masters, so naturally they influenced me. Dansaekhwa itself looks very flat and minimalist but it is fundamentally about repeating acts of labour and the process of painting. It has a profound depth, and is completely different from Western Minimalism. Similarly, through repetition, I empty my mind and I meditate throughout my actions. Dansaekhwa may look like a very calm and peaceful aesthetic but it indirectly conveys the very powerful and provocative statement that simplicity or clarity can be derives from repeated action. In the context of Korea’s chaotic socio-political situation during the time, Dansaekhwa represented a form of escapism and speaking out.


Do you thus see your practice as somewhat continuing the Dansaekhwa mentality?

Yes and no. Obsessively repeating certain motions, such as painting layers, collaging papers, burning papers, is very like Dansaekhwa. I often hear my work called post-Dansaekhwa though, and I have never intended that. The subject of my practice has always been my own personal history and its changing narrative. It is more about my longing for home since I migrated to Italy; my practice is almost like my life’s series of encounters and farewells. The Korean traditional papers and inks are the best materials I can use to express my story and identity. Ultimately, I cannot really say that Dansaekhwa is a direct influence on my work but as I grew up with it and was taught by Dansaekhwa masters, it is difficult for me to ascertain.


Have these contemporary issues affected how you think about your practice? If so, how?

To be honest, I do not take the term “contemporary" seriously. We should not have to deliberately think about contemporaneity; contemporary means the time and space we are all living in now! I am conscious of all the issues currently surrounding me, naturally. I read the news everyday and am constantly checking it all the time. My friends and I sometimes discuss and critique these issues but I do not want them to be directly reflected in my work. The issues I choose to reflect in my practice are always first filtered by my personal perspective and artistic language.


‘Oneness’ by Kim Minjung, will be held at Aloft at Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers from 27 April to 30 July, 10.30am to 8pm daily.

This article first appeared in Art Republik 14.



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