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The Aesthetics of Bottari, Very Korean but Very Cosmic

ARTIST INSIDE 2022 | Kimsooja

The Aesthetics of Bottari,
Very Korean but Very Cosmic

Bottari is main topic of Kimsooja’s works.
The artist, who tracked the city she had moved to as a child on a truck full of bottaries(bundles),
released a video work documenting her journey, “Cities on the Move: 2727 Kilometers Bottari Truck”(1997).
And she achieved international fame through the work.
Bottari, inspired by her own luggage bag, was the reality of the life of city dwellers who wandered around like strangers.
Kimsooja packed Bottari again. It may be a tangible object, or it may be a symbolic meaning that encompasses different things.

Kimsooja Portrait, Photo by Sebastian Schutyser, 2018

We will see the Bottari at Kiaf SEOUL this time.

I am presenting a series of the light-boxes that represent my historical work, “Cities on the Move”(1997/2001). I’m also presenting my new sculpture, “Deductive Object”(2022) which is another kind of Bottari. The egg-shaped sculpture is inspired by a brahmanda stone known as ‘the cosmic egg’. The cosmic egg symbolizes totality that encompasses birth and death. I conceived of this piece as both a Bottari and a body. In this work, a black stone absorbs ambient light as it suspended above a mirror ‘enfolding’ the physical space.

Kimsooja, 김수자, Deductive Object, 2016, Fiberglass, steel, paint, and mirror, 220 × 121 × 121 cm, Gangoji Temple, Japan, Courtesy of the artist and Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Photo: Keizo Kioku

What is the reason why the Bottari penetrates the entire art practices and is still valid?

I explore the conditions of life and death with my body. It is in “Bottari”(1992) that the question first became visible. And it has been expanded in many different forms. Using my body as a Bottari, I had the breathing sound performances in various spaces. In “To Breath-A Mirror Woman”(2006) at the Crystal Palace, Reina Sofia in Madrid, I presented a synesthetic Bottari in which the light surrounding the palace and my breathing resonate. At that time, a translucent diffraction grating film was covering the glazed dome and the whole of walls of the crystal palace to make rainbow light, and mirrors were covering its floor to reflect the light. The light surrounding the space was extended spectrum, starting from the Obangsaek.

Kimsooja, 김수자, Cities on the Move – 2727km Bottari Truck (Artist Facing Mountain), 1997-2001, Lightbox, 184 × 123 × 19 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Is the Obangsaek of Yin-Yang and Five-Elements also a condition of existential question?

The Obangsaek make us sense the seasons, taste, directionality, and sounds. It embodies the practice of Bottari aesthetics. And the primary color combination presents a strong visual aesthetic. Although the original color spectrum is no longer used in contemporary Korean culture, but the metaphorical potency of Obangseak remains important to me. The Obangseak palette will continue to evolve with light.

Kimsooja, 김수자, To Breathe – A Mirror Woman, 2006, Translucent filter, mirror and sound installation, site-specific, Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Retiro, in Madrid, Courtesy of the artist

Does it mean to raise a universal voice through the cultural specificity of Korea? I think it resonates today when racial hatred is rampant.

The conditions of life have been my fundamental questions from both individual and collective perspectives. The Ybulbo(or bedcover), is a typical example. We all go through life and death being born, loving and dying on the Ybulbo. Ybulbo is connected to Bottari emphasizing and multiplying as social and global issues. The racism, violence, war, and migration that we are witnessing today have always been hidden in Bottaries. I think it ought to be discussed in a shared context within global society.

Interview by Heaseung Kang, published on Kiaf 2022 Catalogue