Zone of Nowhere is the headline exhibition in the visual arts program for the Perth Festival. The exhibition is the first solo exhibition held in Australia by the South-Korean born and New York based artist Kimsooja and it focuses on ideas of cultural and political tension, as well social harmonies and the dissolution of prejudice.
Kimsooja’s practice is multidisciplinary, and through the various mediums present in the exhibition, she explores the environment in which we live and the condition of those who inhabit it. The major piece of the exhibition, that greets the viewer as they enter the main gallery at PICA, is To Breathe – Zone of Nowhere (2018).
A breathtaking installation of 30 large-scale flags, To Breathe hangs over the viewer as they walk amongst the exhibit. An ever-present call for social cohesion, a desire for peaceful coexistence between cultures, and a utopian dream in which individuals unite to honour differences and commonalities, To Breathe – Zone of Nowhere is a reminder of cultural distinctions, distinctions yet unified by underlying common humanity.
The work has its genesis in the commissioned video piece To Breathe – The Flags (2012), created for the Summer Olympics in London 2012. To Breathe – The Flags is also present in this exhibition, depicting national flags that dissolve into one another on a continual loop, creating a visual representation in which cultural distinctions are blurred and national conflicts are harmonised. The work is mesmerising, and, as I found, one can easily spend minutes upon minutes watching the continual loop of national flags and identities becoming one with one another.
The same experience is felt with To Breathe – Zone of Nowhere. Walking amongst the flags, hung a metre or so above head height, I quickly became mesmerised and lost amongst the large, translucent flags, which move in an almost ethereal manner, displaying a picture of utopian harmony. Individual and national elements may be seen on display amongst the many flags but only through a concentrated effort of attention and close looking.
Yet the work, in its ethereal nature, the way in which the flags flutter softly and unconcernedly above one’s head, bears an element of sadness. The viewer is distanciated from the work, both physically and emotionally. The way in which the utopian flags move suggests a lack of corporeality, a lack of physical existence, reinforcing the utopian dream as just that: a utopian ideal.
This implied distance between the viewer and a dream of social and cultural harmony, whether or not the intended effect of the piece, and I doubt that it was, evokes a sad disquietude in the viewer, a sadness that such a dream may never be attained.
The exhibition is complemented by several other works, including Bottari sculptures, made from a traditional Korean bed cover used to protect personal belongings when leaving a native space; Bottari Truck – Migrateurs (2007), a video installation in which the artist appears with her back to the camera, transported through the streets of Paris on a truck also bearing bottari.
This work takes place in an outlying district in Paris, home to many immigrants from Asisa, North Africa, and Southern Europe, and commemorates the ‘Sans Papiers’ movement, in which 300 African immigrants stood in solidarity in Saint-Bernard Church, Paris, in 1996 to stop deportations and were violently displaced by the police.
The exhibition also features Tierra-Agua-Fuego-Aire / Earth-Water-Fire-Air (2009-2010), a six-channel video installation that explores ideas of the four elements as utilised by Eastern and Western philosophical traditions to describe the source of energy, life, and the material reality, and Mandala – Zone of Zero (2010), an installation that explores the mandala, a Hindu and Buddhist symbol, as a symbol of eternity.
Human existence is divided into separate cultures, identity, and zones, if you will. Kimsooja presents a utopian dream in which human existence is no longer divided and defined by such disparities, in which we all exist in the Zone of Nowhere.
Sadly, the effect presented by the exhibition is one of unattainable distance, where cultural distinctions may never be left aside, except perhaps in the unattainable ether. Yet the exhibition is hopeful, too. Perhaps this unattainable reality is simply a future reality, as yet unreal in the temporal scheme of things. We can but hope.
Kimsooja: Zone of Nowhere
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), Perth Cultural Centre, 51 James Street, Northbridge
Exhibition continues to 25 April 2018
For more information, visit: www.pica.org.au for details.
Image: Kimsooja, To Breathe – Zone of Nowhere (2018). Installation view, PICA
Review: Karl Sagrabb