by Osman Can Yerebakan
TINA KIM GALLERY | NOVEMBER 2 – DECEMBER 22, 2017
Minouk Lim’s first solo exhibition in New York introduces the South Korean artist’s equally haunting and inquisitive practice with three bodies of work intertwined into a eulogy on loss and the consequential search for the missing. “The Hole-In-Chest Nation” (2014), “Running on Empty” (2014), and “The Possibility of the Half” (2012) occupy separate, neighboring rooms at the gallery’s lengthy space. Evident in each body of work is a futile search in the face of loss, predominantly dictated by the political unrest in Lim’s homeland.
The eerie milieu cast by absence is best epitomized in “Running on Empty,” an installation of seven semi-figurative sculptures (each titled separately), which taken together suggest a film crew. A wide window is cut into the gallery wall facing the hallway to offer a glimpse of dispersedly placed figures from outside, similar to those in production studios. The figures are made up of, among other things, equipment for a film set; however, Lim adeptly orchestrates the utilitarian with the uncanny in the backdrop of burgundy-colored walls, delivering hybrid sculptures of existence and fluidity. Black Hole (2015), for example, is an inoperative standing light reflector coated with thick black feathers, immersing its viewer into a pitch dark void. Lim’s inspiration for the installation was “Finding Dispersed Families,” a television program organized by the Korean Broadcasting System between June and November of 1983, in hopes of reuniting war-torn families of the Korean War. Originally planned as a one-time program to honor the 30th anniversary of ceasefire, the event received more than 100,000 inquiries from people desperate to reconvene with their loved ones, ultimately totaling in 53,536 reunions within its 138-day live streaming. The State effectively turned these private, emotionally powerful reconciliations into televised entertainment.
One of the foremost sculptures in the installation, L’homme à la caméra (2015), is an FRP mannequin, donning a typical cameraman attire with a windbreaker and heavy-duty gloves, also covered with black feathers on its bottom half. The head is replaced by a camera with a lens functioning as a staring eye. Hands, reaching at the viewer, poise to seek help, conveying aloofness and disorientation. The sculpture’s baffled and in-between posture (almost beastly with its one-eyed and feathered figure) rhymes with post-war generations haunted by atrocities of the past. Born more than a decade after the Korean War, Lim questions her role and participation in this narrative as a witness of the conflict’s aftermath, grasping the thin line between pity and numbness towards generations of suffering. The artist intricately incorporates equipment used in documentary with an apt selection of organic materials, encapsulating lineage of trauma with objects that symbolize memory, remembrance, and nostalgia. In Camel’s Ocean (2015), a skeleton-like camera stand carries a wide range of wistful objects on its “limbs,” including sea shells, bones, fishing net and a wooden branch, superbly conveying the duality between history and reminiscence.
Synthetic hair, metal, and wood dominate “The Hole-In-Chest Nation,” in which various textures ranging from organic to artificial become mediums for recollecting past horrors. Canes gathered and carved by another artist and massacre survivor, Eui Jin Chai, prompted Lim to arrange a group of abstract sculptures in reference to Chai and others’ yearning for justice against blemished truths. Braids of synthetic hair crawl on the floor, above which torso-like metal shields and wooden branches are suspended to replicate bygone bodies. Finally, loss is most brazenly performed in the two-channel thirteen-minute video projection, The Possibility of the Half (2012), collaging public mourning for the deaths of Kim Jong-il, former supreme leader of North Korea, and Park Chung-hee, an assassinated South Korean president from the ‘70s, with footage of natural and man-made occurrences Lim shot or found, such as an atomic explosion and a sunset. Countless faces drenched in tears collectively wail, sob, and shake upon departures of political figures who held immense influence on the society. In one channel, tears slowly fall from the eyes of a little girl after the death of her leader, while the adjacent footage shows a woman quivering on the floor in terror. The distinction between two eras and nations loses its significance; shared, performed and internalized, agony on national level in both versions transform into a patriotic and absolute gesture which renounces disobedience. Mourners, with hands harmoniously reaching into air in utter awe, tremble back and forth, externalizing agony whose origin inclines in significance and unites masses in suffering.
ContributorOsman Can Yerebakan
OSMAN CAN YEREBAKAN is a curator and art writer based in New York. Osman holds an MA in Art Management from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Among his fields of interest are fluid states of audience interaction, kinship between literature and fine arts, and performance of identity as political declaration.