Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, September 23, 2005

Jin Soo Kim at Vandy

This show by a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is closing next Friday and worth seeing if you haven’t gotten a chance yet. Kim has taken over the one room of Vandy’s Fine Arts Gallery with an installation that combines her own sound-oriented sculpture with a bunch of works appropriated from the Vanderbilt collection.

The partition that usually creates a sort of back room has been removed, and Kim runs a series of metal tubes shaped like train tunnels along the floor – 8 black sections that zig zag across the space. Inside them she installed speakers that emit sounds like a clock ticking, bells ringing, glass breaking, metal plates hitting each other. Discrete sounds come from different sections of the sculpture and occur at different frequencies. The clock ticking sound is continuous, although its tempo varies, and then from other parts of the room the sound environment gets punctuated periodically by more concentrated pops or bursts of sound. The speakers are well hidden in the tubes, and some of the positioning tends to throw the sound a bit, disconnecting the sound from the visual element. The sounds are very clear, and have nice density. Care went into their recording and reproduction.

All around the room Kim arranged sculptures from Vandy’s collection. It is a pleasure in itself to see the variety in these pieces that Vanderbilt cannot display normally. The emphasis is heaviest on Asian, European, and Pre-Columbian pieces that vary in styles, materials, and time periods. There are distinct groupings, like one case that includes 4 versions of Christ on the Cross and is flanked by larger pieces showing a pieta and Christ after the descent from the Cross. The crucifix images are grouped with figures from other cultures, like a series of Pre-Columbian Mexican figures that are stylized almost to the extent of Cycladic figures. They face another case that includes mostly vessels, and another wall is lined by 7 Asian figures – Buddha, Lakshmi, temple guardians. In the center of the room sits a single pristine Greco-Roman marble head of a girl.

The train tunnel tracking across the floor makes travel an obvious starting point for what you see and hear. The sounds portray an overlaid sense of experience, in which you perceive multiple things happening, sometimes more signals coming in, sometimes fewer. The uncertain pacing of sound events, and their clear, discrete timbral character encourages attentiveness. As you spend time listening to it, you start to hear other things, like the hum of building systems, and run into small difficulties like figuring out if the distant sound of someone whistling is on the recording or in a room elsewhere in the building. The more you tune in, the more potential for disorientation, like looking at a mirror too long.

The sculptures from the collection and their arrangement are clearly integral to the work. Kim acts as a traveler within this collection, appropriating images and making up her own associations and organization of them. She pulls together things that are far apart in time and space but within her consciousness, or the viewer’s, they become associated. Members of a Christian congregation may see Christ on the Cross as a very specific theological signifier, possessed of power and truth above all others, even as a rallying point. In Kim’s eyes it is a representation of the human figure in a certain posture, possessed of emotional content similar to or disparate from other human figures.

A traveler doesn’t make of an experience what the locals do, and often receives things out of order. That’s pretty much what happens with the sculptures in this show.

Beyond the references to travel and the experience of places through motion, there is also a ceremonial quality to the space. The placement and abstractness of sounds promote a meditative frame of mind. The first image you see is a bronze incense holder from Thailand adorned with four seated buddhas, the sort of thing you would use in a ceremony or private. The ceremonialism of the exhibit is subtle and even haphazard, but in this it ends up more like something that could inform one’s experience of daily life.

This show is only up for the next 7 days, but worth a trip – if for no other reason than the chance to see these prizes from the Vandy collection, although the installation has plenty of merit.

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