Cheol Yu Kim
Curated by Nikki S. Lee
September 4 – October 11, 2003
2002 M.F.A. Sculpture, Brooklyn College, CUNY, Brooklyn, NY
1995 B.F.A. Sculpture, Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea
2002 M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition, Brooklyn War Memorial, Brooklyn, NY
1995 Group Exhibition, Cho-Hyung Gallery, Seoul, Korea
1994 B.F.A. Thesis Exhibition, Gong-Pyung Art Center, Seoul, Korea
2000 Charles Schwab Award
Nikki S. Lee is a photographer living and working in New York. She received a Master of Arts degree from New York University and a BFA from Chung-Ang College of Arts, University of Korea. Ms. Lee has had solo exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, as well as solo exhibitions at commercial galleries in New York, Barcelona, London and Tokyo. Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions worldwide and is in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, amongst others.
Cautious Flight into My World
How do we perceive our world? Many people perceive the world in words. Some perceive it mainly by contact or experience, some rely on sounds, while a few may use colors and shapes. Visual images have always fascinated me. They give me intense pleasure. I understand things through their visual arrangement and rearrangement. When something is strange and overpowering, I can manipulate and play with its imagery so that it becomes less terrifying and even familiar.
I grew up in a small rural village that was embraced by layers of mountains. The mountains also embraced the dividing line of South and North Korea. No one in the village talked about the line; it was just a thorny part of our simple lives. Things were definitely slower and simpler there. The distinction between reality and imagination was vague and blurred.
Adults talked about monsters in a deep forest and UFO's in the night sky; kids spent hours discussing such things as a land mine that blew up two children, and a spy plane that had crashed near my village.
The mountains provided the village with numerous flying objects. Therefore, seeds, leaves, insects, birds, balloons, planes, helicopters or UFO's, anything that flies in the air has attracted me since early childhood. I remember spending hours following thousands of colorful balloons in the sky that came from the North and contained political leaflets. I spent hours trying to catch insects, birds, balloons, and boxes coming from planes, anything that flew. These images overpowered me in my dreams. If I could fly, would I be able to fight against those images? I was often aware that I was dreaming, usually about see-through flying dishes attacking my village. Other times I simply dreamt about flying. Because I knew I did not have wings, I had to use my arms when I flew.
Because I knew I could not fly, I had to go through a lot of exercise to learn. Even in dreams I could not escape my reality; tings were still defined and regulated by an overpowering world. I had to put extra effort into creating my own definition and my own law, using visual images.
My memories and experiences are intermingled with my imagination and dreams. It is often unclear what is real and what is not. I find it hard to draw a line between the real and the imaginary, and that line is where I start. My work arises from the boundaries of what is familiar and what is not. It helps me deal with life better, one step at a time.
by Nikki S. Lee
When I was approached to recommend an artist for the CUE Art Foundation, the biggest concern was indeed in selecting the artist. To do so, I had to consider my tastes and inclinations -- which works I favored, what kind of works are deemed "good" works -- and following that, establish three criteria to find the work that met my standards. I've always employed such a personal and objective approach in judging all things. I will briefly expound on these criteria.
First, I like works that "cannot be done without this artist." This can be aligned closely to "destiny" or "inevitably" rather than to "originality' of the work. Second, I like works that "incite my mind." This type of work (1) is continuously thought-provoking, (2) makes me feel the excitement of a new discovery and (3) creates a desperation from this discovery that exceeded my own knowledge, which at the same moment forces me to overcome and understand beyond what I knew.
Third, I like works that are "exceptional in visual communicability." What this means is that through a method, the artist's thoughts are successfully communicated, as a technique. But not using any technique could also be a technique itself. Often, one does not know his or her own technique. Technique that is automatic or even inherent is absolute. That is why technique can be either very hard or very easy. Art that collectively meets these three criteria gives me inspiration. And in searching for art, I found Cheol Yu Kim's work.
Artist Cheol Yu Kim grew up in an unusual setting -- a 16 household village by the Korean DMZ set amidst mountains, the ocean and military soldiers. His works are filled with the images he saw as a child -- parachutes, balloons, and soldiers -- and also of undersea and outer space. The concept of time in his images is similar to the time construct of the ancient Egyptians, Indians and other natives. Due to his isolated and unique environment, the inner world of dream, fantasy and mythology is meshed with true, everyday events, blurring the boundaries and losing meaning; time does not move at a constant speed but meanders between reality and dream. Therefore, his images drift within a weightless state as they move between the constructs of time and space.
In art, the Newtonian system of order lost all meaning long ago. Images in Chagall's paintings fly around, and the humanists have dissected their subjects by cutting them down to elemental pieces. Kim's images are also beyond the one-dimensional arrangement of gravity and time. Rather, they are arranged within space and develop volume by jabbing and folding within the space. Each image resembles a plastic model part, or a wall relief from ancient times, and it's as if these pieces are in the pre-sculptural stage of arrangement before they are made into one structure or conversely, dismembered from the single structure and then arranged into pieces. Time wanders, gravity is scattered, and space overlaps the past, present and future.
His other images use the arrangement of shadow and light. Kim has captured the shadowy images created by shining a light through plastic models suspended above paper. This is also shown in another paper-based work of his. A light is shone through the cutout area of the paper, creating a shadow and filling the vacuous space with life. This transformation of the empty space as an "entity" is an effective presentation of the concept of space in eastern philosophy.
The images in his pen drawings resemble the worm tunnel of a black hole. In astronomy, there is a school of thought which believes that what has been lost in the time-space continuum actually is in the opposite white hole on another time dimension. Coincidental or not, the flow of time in Kim's works and this belief share peculiar similarities.
Kim has solemnly conceived his unique universe but when this clashes with the real universe, the result is preposterous and strange, resembling a humorous cartoonish gesture. Maybe that is why the images in his works seem like cartoon characters. Ink images with their flows and watery spreads indicate continuous speed, the artist's solemnity and maybe even his sweat beads constantly pouring from his forehead, causing one to smile. It's like watching a grown-man in a cartoon sweating to build a spaceship!
Constructed or deconstructed, voluminous or collapsed, past or future, reality or fantasy, tangible or a shadow, moving or suspended, seriously or in jest, all these are completely intertwined to create one gargantuan energy and Kim's work pulls us into a realm of the unknown and incomprehensible.