Critic's Note: Art, the Aesthetic Inspiration of Life Force
Juyeon Kim's recent artworks show an exemplary style of ecological art that uses nature as its ultimate inspirational source and material. This doesn't mean that we cannot find this nature-friendly tendency in her previous works. The eco-friendly philosophy based on reverence for life is a consistent keyword that has dominated her entire art world. Therefore, Kim's recent art needs to be appreciated not as a rupture from her past artworks, but as the maturity of her previous sprouting ideas.
Nature, a subject in her work, is different from materialism that uses nature just as a subject matter, and also different from the manifestation of natural thought that brings nature into its idea and recomposes it. However, she practiced living art to consider nature as a living creature and represent nature as itself. In her work, working together with nature means that she has lived in nature and produced works together with natural materials in that environment for a certain period without any contact with civilization. Through this working process, her work shows response to the circulation principle of nature that repeats creation and extinction. The entire work process is not distinct from the natural ecology as she took her subject from nature. On the other hand, "living art" shares its concept with eco-feminism and feminism, because it considers life itself as true nature. Of course it doesn't mean that life is the exclusive right of feminism, but it is true that substantial feminism seeks to identify itself in extensive symbol, sign and mythical source of life. As we can see here, Juyeon Kim's "living art" is a practice of naturalism that recognizes human and nature as a unity, a question about the general condition of humans whose nature is life, and most importantly it is a way to find a sexual identity of woman. This identity is a vegetal imagination compared with an animal imagination, horizontal order logic compared with vertical lineage, and practice of extrication of hegemony.
Natural art, Living art
To certify this logic in her current works, we need to pay attention to the works she did in 2000 while she stayed in Weimar in Germany. She planted 2500 snowdrop bulbs alongside the forest path in the "Artist garden" at the Bauhaus University for the snowdrop project. The snowdrop is a flower that blooms in February and it is also the name of a project for bees living in the nearby Bee Museum that have just awoken from the winter sleep. It is a kind of process art as it continues for a while until the bulbs bloom and also a type of landscape performance, which means nature makes one aware of potential life through the process of planting, gardening and feeding bees. She also has produced a work in Gaerten der Sinne in Gehren, Germany. This garden is more like a forest and very much like a British garden, maintaining its wild nature as far from artificial handling as possible. In one of her works, "Dancing trees", she has hardened the ground with a regular round shape and covered it with red earth and finally planted dead trees discovered in the forest. The shape was just like an exceptional holy place, sacred earth. In this nature work, the red round earth symbolizes a womb and the act of planting dead trees in the womb hints at the healing power of nature. Especially the red earth used to show her previous work represents the meaning of the immanent life of nature. It may result from the metaphor of blood soaked into the earth. In addition to the metaphor, the ground has a strong relationship with physical constitution, and physical constitution is not unconcerned with the hint of life. The combination of the horizontal form of round ground and the vertical form of dead trees represents the union of negative and positive. In this work, she is a shaman intermediating between earth and heaven.
In another work, "long-term study", she observed the physiological function of moss to cover the red ground on a mossy tree lying on the floor and another function of shooting of scattered seeds in the ground unawares. As we can see from the title, time appears to be a practical rather than a simple metaphor in this sort of natural art. And like the natural habitat, human substance adapts to this time (slowly lasting time and circulating time even accepting death). On the other hand, this artist's other works are still very much related to nature. In other words, in "Quillaja Ritus", by floating united medicinal herb bags on water in washbasins, the artist reproduces the old European ceremony of treating disease by washing the body with an infusion made from medicinal herbs. This work originally has the meaning that traditional treatment revives natural healing. In "Holy water 1249", a work of a bottle filled with holy water, the artist gives a religious holistic meaning to the restorative power of nature. The ceremony and holy water or Quillaja ritual are related to practical desire, and there is a respect for nature sublimed to the religious stage. Regardless of the meaning of healing disease, the performance of washing the body itself symbolizes a kind of purification ceremony or of life reborn through the ceremony. The Bible and tribal myths give plenty of examples related to these ceremonies, and especially, all ceremonies related to holy water connect its meaning with the amniotic fluid containing life.
The distinctive character of her work met a turning point in "Yisook" (2002). In other words, symbolic forms, such as life as an original form of nature, a life of water and earth and sexual identity of woman which was implied in relation to the round womb have turned up at this point. The term "Yisook" originates from Buddhism and means "having matured as a different form". It may imply that ultimate maturity is not the one that can be shared but an independent notion, and it is also not a kind of thing that can be transferred. In that sense, a distinctive existence demanded in the doctrine of Buddhism is contrasted with a modern person whose independent life does not exist any more. Furthermore, the meaning of "Yisook" implies various existing customs of nature, the vegetal life principle compared with the animal life principle and sexual identity of woman with nature. In this work, she shows historical perspectives of nature through the growing process of the plant and links them together with the sexual identity of woman. Precisely, she presented the growing process by planting various plant seeds for a certain period on the surface of a white dress. As time flows, the dress changes colour from white to green and finally to brown as the plants die. Because they were planted at different times, there are green and brown surfaces growing together and dying together, and life and death cross each other.
Therefore, it is an example of the circulation theory of nature. The very first seeds have matured as a different form even accepting death. In this work, the dress is an extension of a female body, takes the place of earth to sprout the seeds and suggests that sexual identity of woman is closely related to the life principle. Another remarkable thing about this work is that it says a unique existence theory of living art. In other words, "living art" demands a botanical environment totally different from an ordinary gallery, such as a dark space, regular humidity, and the smell of plants.
In "The planting project"(2002), she made an installation of envelopes containing plant seeds (balsam, marigold, salvia, etc.) with pots. This is a kind of performance to make the audience get involved and it is a practice of expansion of herbal growing to the ordinary space.
On the other hand, in "Yisook"(2002), she sewed a fabric with fluffy cotton in it and put many bra-cups on the surface with an onion in each cup and let it grow. This is a stronger expression of sexual identity of woman as its entire shape brings to mind the image of a seed of a huge plant. However, depending on the view, it remindfffffffs us of a spermatozoon with tail. It shows dual possibility as one shape recalls both seed (female sexuality) and sperm (male sexuality). This dual possibility is amplified by representing a bust with a lot of bra-cups (woman) and a rising shape (man). It is now not a strange thing in modern art, especially in feminine art, to symbolize bisexual identity or neuter gender and numerous bust shapes sometimes cannot be distinguished from the shape of transformed protrusion.
Discovered object and transformed space
Juyeon Kim has also developed other series of works with a theme of the phase of nature co-existence in the city. She raises questions in these works about a life immanent in nature and its transformed shape, and discovered object and transformed space, a notion of the specific place. It is a tracing of degenerated form of nature from the natural world to city life, and its traces. And there is a notion of the specific place of a particular environment of the city in this work. For example, in "city garden" (2002), she takes notice of a shape of transformed nature in the city. She shows vegetables and flowers planted in various temporary pots, such as form board and plastic box. These pots show the parasitism of the city. Various abnormal pots replace the normal pots. These temporary pots explain a form of abnormal environment, parasites in the city and also play a role as a temporary garden, temporary park, and temporary nature itself. This work is regarded as a process for enduring natural life to settle in the changed city environment and also as a process to create a third-party environment transformed by the meeting of social environment and natural environment. In "remains" (Jamsil, 2002), a work for an apartment reconstruction project, she installed lots of different pots discovered at a construction site, such as terracotta pots, potting pots, and plastic pots, in the place of a sub-basement of a primary school in that area. She realigned the collected pots on the hardened ground. It gives a feeling of reproducing a field of excavation. The performance of hardening ground is practically for preparing a space for the exhibition, but at the same time it means a kind of purification ceremony, like washing the body. As it were, the location (transformed by the artist) is a place where discarded pots have been reborn as a totally different aesthetic object, a place where past and present cross, a point where existence and absence cross, and a scene of sympathy where the artist is involved in the residents' life. As we have seen so far, Juyeon Kim's work suggests a living art and realizes a possibility of eco-art. It is different from object art and conceptual art. It is also different from a human-centered understanding of the environment. Instead, as we see in her works, nature is the only subject in eco-art, and human is considered to be a part of nature, or at least equal in quality with nature. Life is a true nature for nature and human, and nature and human forms an element of circular structure of creation and extinction. Based on this theory, her works are represented as a process of recognizing that nature and human are co-existing things. In other words, uncovering true nature is recognizing the existence of the artist herself. In this practice of recognition, we can feel her respect for the life of nature.
by Chung-Hwan Kho (Art Critic)
Artist's Education: Meisterschuelerin on the Prof. Anna Oppermann at Hochschule der Kuenste, Berlin
Graduated at Hochschule der Kuenste, Berlin
Graduated from Fine Art Dep. of Chonnam University, Gwangju
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