Milan

Shin II Kim

The various works in “Active Anesthesia,” Shin Il Kim’s first solo exhibition in Italy, concerned the idea of light, which has always been fundamental to the work of this Korean-born, Brooklyn-based artist. One need only think of the technique he often employs: delicately engraving nearly invisible lines into sheets of paper, lines that are perceptible only when the angle of light is just so, then editing these “drawings” into videos, frame by frame (some twenty-five drawings per second). In his earlier “drawing-videos,” such as Door and Water (both 2003), gestures such as opening a door or washing one’s hands are rendered in their most essential state, to the point where the purpose of the action disappears. There is a reduction to essentials and also a movement beyond two-dimensionality; drawing becomes sculptural through movement, achieving an equilibrium that the artist himself compares to the discipline of Buddhism.

For this exhibition in Milan, curated by Samuele Menin, Kim’s light also became color. At the entrance to the exhibition, viewers confronted Active Anesthesia, 2007, a wall of video monitors, each tilted at a 45-degree angle, organized in an elegant and minimal aluminum structure. One side displayed a wide range of TV commercials, covering the entire surface, while the other side consisted of modulations of the colored light derived from the commercials, turning the screens into colored squares—macropixels that no longer invite the viewer to buy a particular sanitary napkin or to use a particular detergent. On the one hand there is the power of the word (the market), which anesthetizes the viewer—thus the title—and on the other hand there is the power of light, which liberates and activates the gaze.

Light and color are also present in Decoded Love, 2006, which the artist describes as a “light installation and a story of unequal love.” Upon entering the dark space, viewers perceive beams of changing colored light, coming from monitors secreted inside a circular structure; what they cannot see is that the hidden videos transmit excerpts taken from the first Hollywood film shot in Technicolor, The Toll of the Sea (1922), although the original sound track can be heard. The unequal love is that of Lotus Flower, a young Chinese woman, and the American Allen Carver, in a variation on Madama Butterfly set in China. Outside the screening room were hung white planks bearing fragments of dialogue from the original script, carved backward into painted Plexiglas. The words become shadows difficult to make out, like conversations murmured and soon forgotten.

As in the drawing-videos, light functioned as a medium of perception in the other works on view. Light is the boundary between the whiteness of the materials Kim uses (paper, plaster, polycarbonate) and the texts or images they convey, including the human body as anatomical structure (in Drawing the Blood, 2007) or as Venus, an ideal of human beauty taken from history (Drawing the Beauty, 2007).

Paola Noé

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.