On ViewHelena Anrather and Foxy Productions
September 6 – October 13, 2019
Illustrated with cartoonish hyperbole, Verses from the Apocalypse resembles the out-of-order panels of a dark, smutty comic book: spotlit vignettes of women bondaged by construction materials, restrained by scaffolds, fettered to medieval torture devices, and occasionally nose-deep in books, as if language itself were a form of punishment. Cindy Ji Hye Kim’s two-part show—at Foxy Production and Helena Anrather—takes on the architecture and topology of Lucas van Valckenborch’s The Tower of Babel (painted repeatedly between 1568 and 1595) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s three eponymous paintings (completed between 1563 and 1568). Van Valckenborch and Bruegel’s paintings refer to Genesis 11:1–9, which does regard language as a punishment, inflicted by a jealous god. Kim disarticulates the allegorical Tower into ruins scattered across her grayscale drawings, paintings, and murals. She offers a technological fiction which casts the phenomena of the edifice, as well as its laborers and users, as characters entangled in an infinite regress of contracts and contingencies—an infrastructural hell.
Kim likens infrastructure to syntax: both are logics of relation which often fail to “work.” Her titles are appropriately dialectical—Interpretation, Metaphor Slut, Knowledge Pervert, et cetera (all works 2019). The entire semantic field of Verses from the Apocalypse is slippery, polysemous. Kim focuses on the in-betweenness, or besideness, of these structural dynamics: the space of the infra. In Character #15, Character #14, Character #13, and Character #4, for example, her subjects are literally caught between the grid. Their rubbery bodies, manipulated by crossbeams, are contorted into characters of the Korean alphabet. Like Babel, they are incompletely and imperfectly translated. Inviting a claustrophobia of the picture plane itself, Kim perhaps plays at the double-entendre of the Latin prefix claustro-, the etymological antecedent of cloister.
Kim’s extended universe, though inspired by various historical iconography, is atemporal and anachronistic: certain characters are somewhat clerical, while others read as Olive Oyl-esque housewives. This show develops two figures in particular, who also recur in Kim’s previous work: Mister Capital, whose defining feature is a ten-gallon hat, and Madame Earth, recognizable by her dramatic mid-century beehive. These cheeky caricatures, supposedly villains, seem to satirize vague, depoliticized abstractions of “Capital” and “Earth.” The two perfectly-symmetrical figures loom over two monumental canvases displayed in the round at the center of the Foxy Production gallery. Mister Capital pictures a larger-than-life brick monument to the character, engridded by scaffolds. On its verso, the wood support is carved into a decorative motif of Mister Capital standing on stretcher bars made of fibulae. Madame Earth’s portrait is her shadow, like a Victorian silhouette, also cast over scaffolding. Behind Madame Earth, a twisted spine, still connected to the sacrum of a pelvis, is wrenched by the pressure of two wooden beams above and beneath it. Madame and Mister make cameos as voyeurs in the backgrounds of Kim’s drawings at Helena Anrather, where the installation consists of a flock of plexiglass-encased works on paper pulped with Kim’s own hair, held aloft by a prohibitive network of steel wire cables. (The network challenges viewers to fold themselves into shapes around it, as Kim’s figures do.)
Vicious circles abound in both installations of Verses from the Apocalypse: the zoetrope, an early animation tool; the Rota Fortunae, or wheel of fortune, a trope commonly found in illuminated manuscripts; and the Catherine wheel, a torture device named for the hagiography of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Kim uses this vertiginous format to animate her characters’ futile desire to climb ever-higher on the fractal ziggurat of the Tower of Babel, which turns out to be just another topological foil. The characters are running in place on a continuous surface, a Möbius strip indifferent to change. Kim’s eschatology is not a tragedy, apparently: it’s a farce.