"Cities on the Move" is a video from 1997 in which Kimsooja utilizes colorful cloth bundles, a material commonly used by the international artist.

Migrant artist

Kimsooja left her Korean homeland
for her art's sake, yet she continually
explores issues of the displaced self

'Crossings' brings cutting-edge artists

FOR MOST OF US, "home" means a place where things are permanent and familiar. It is a concrete place where, for good or bad, things stay somewhat the same. But for international artist Kimsooja, the child of a Korean military man, home meant something different when she was growing up.

Art "We had been moving from one place to another in Korea almost yearly," she says. "We were always packing and unpacking, never settling down. We never had a permanent address. We never had proper furniture."

These experiences have shaped the way Kimsooja looks at the world, moving her to consider "the relationships between one place to another and one group of people to another." And of course, these perspectives spill into her art: "I continually explore issues of migration, refugees, war, difficulty, the passing from one border to another," she says.

With exhibitions around the globe, Kimsooja could easily be described as the premier artist of "Crossings 2003: Korea/Hawaii." "Crossings" is a collaborative art even among Honolulu's major art museums that celebrates the centennial of Korean immigration to the United States. Kimsooja will open the event on Sept. 14 with an installation at Honolulu Hale designed specifically for "Crossings."

The Honolulu Academy of Arts, The Contemporary Museum, the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, East-West Center Gallery, Gallery Iolani at Windward Community College, Koa Art Gallery at Kapiolani Community College and Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center on Maui are participating in the event, hosting exhibitions by Korean artists and a few Korean-American artists that will continue through early 2004.

HAVING GROWN UP a perpetual migrant, Kimsooja's concept of "home" is fluid and mutable. Rather than attaching to a physical space, she seems to find a sense of home in art and in being an artist.

Kimsooja calls light "the untouchable fabric." In one of her most recent installations, she lights up Morris Island lighthouse in South Carolina.

"Life leads me to be an artist, and being an artist leads my life in certain ways, too. It is a specific path to follow, a way of living, of perceiving," she says. "It means being awakened in daily life, being critical and honest about what I'm seeing. I want to be a whole person, a proper human being. This is most important to me. Art is one way I approach that."

With regard to "Crossings," Kimsooja says she understands "very well" the experience of migrating from Korea to the United States.

"I understand the mentality of isolation," she says. "As a Korean in Korean society, we isolate ourselves from Korea by choosing immigration. And of course, there must be isolation from American society as well."

But her situation is unique.

"I consider myself a migrant, not an immigrant. I didn't come to this country to leave or change my nationality to pursue a better life in the States. For me, this is a cultural exile. I had decided to go to New York as an artist, not an individual. I couldn't continue my career in Korea anymore. I felt limited in Korea."

This decision left Kimsooja again without a place to call home, but this time it was in the largest sense -- being without a homeland.

"We can't avoid our history," she says of the way she perpetuates this recurring theme of "home" -- or more to the point, "homelessness" -- in her life. "I think it comes out slowly, the way we unconsciously connect to our past."

Kimsooja inspects Honolulu Hale in preparation for her "Crossings" installation. With her is "Crossings" organizer Tom Klobe.

THE INSTALLATION at Honolulu Hale is different from what Kimsooja intended when she was invited to "Crossings." She had thought she would bring an existing show to Hawaii -- an internationally exhibited laundry installation in which clothing are wrapped as bundles and stacked in a truck -- which clearly touches upon themes of migration.

But when she visited Hawaii to see City Hall earlier this year, she realized "Honolulu Hale is a very special space in scale and structure."

"I was impressed with the architectural elements, and I wanted to use them in a positive way," she says.

She especially wanted to use the building's skylight as part of the installation. This is what she came up with: A cylindrical curtain that hangs from the skylight, towering 60 feet, to the floor. The cylinder will be 21 feet in diameter and made of translucent, fine gauze. In the middle of the cylinder will be a platform mirror, upon which visitors can stand and see the reflection of the sky below their feet.

"I want to give the sensation of space, a virtual sense of space. The body (in the cylinder) can be an island in between space, just like Hawaii," she says.

KIMSOOJA SAYS the "Crossings" installation might surprise those who've followed her work, because it's not the kind of piece she usually creates. She's worked in fabric before, but never in this manner, and other works have entailed using video and, most recently, light.

With video, Kimsooja says, "instead of wrapping people's clothing, the video is an immaterial wrapping cloth that wraps people on the street" whom she's videotaped.

Her latest installations have taken immateriality a step further through the use of light. Kimsooja has lit up the Morris Island lighthouse, the first site of the Civil War, in South Carolina; she's lit a building in Valencio, Spain; created a dome lighting project in St. Bernard, France; and lit a landscape of snow on the Alps.

Why light?

"The work is transformed from one element to another," Kimsooja says. "It transforms from physicality to void -- from visible to invisible, from material to immaterial. Lights are like an untouchable fabric."

Immaterial video wraps and works of light may seem unrelated to migration, but Kimsooja says, "I'm always trying to open up another horizon to the next stage." In other words, she strives to continually cross another border.

"That endless moving between one space to another -- it's what I did as a child, moving from one borderline to another."

The work of Yun Dong-Koo and other Korean artists will be on exhibit at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery Sept. 14 to Nov. 7.

‘Crossings’ brings
cutting-edge new media
artists to Hawaii

Organizer Tom Klobe is attempting through "Crossings 2003: Korea/Hawaii" to promote Hawaii's presence in the art world.

"It's important that the national and international arts communities recognize that significant things are happening in Honolulu," Klobe, an art professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, says. "And Kimsooja is probably, of all the Korean artists in 'Crossings,' the most highly recognized in all the art world. She's in demand everywhere. Plus, it's important to bring someone (to Hawaii) of her caliber so people here can experience her work."

The "Crossings" event is a series of exhibitions by primarily Korean artists that will be shown in Honolulu's major art museums and smaller galleries to celebrate the centennial of Korean immigration to the United States. There will be a few lectures and workshops as well.

Klobe says 25 years ago, when he organized a 75th anniversary at UH, he focused on the historical accomplishments of the Korean art world. This time, he's decided to focus on the future.

"Korea is leading the world in new media arts, so it's going to be a great benefit for us here in Hawaii to see some of this work," he says. "People will ask, 'Is this art?' But that's part of the new movement. As an educator, I think it's important that we stretch ourselves."

Here's a lineup of the "Crossings" events. For more detailed information on the exhibits, go to

Honolulu Hale

Installation by Kimsooja

Runs: 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, from next Sunday to Oct. 31. Official opening ceremony of "Crossings" at 2 p.m. next Sunday in the main courtyard.

Admission: Free

Call: 523-4674

The Contemporary Museum

Group exhibit by artists who use media in a conceptual manner

Runs: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays, from Sept. 19 to Nov. 16

Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students, free for ages 12 and under. Free the third Thursday of each month.

Call: 526-1322

Also: Mixed-media group exhibit by Hawaii artists of Korean ancestry runs 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, from Oct. 3 to Jan. 6, at the Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center. Free.

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Group exhibit of artists exploring contemporary expressions of traditional Korean craft materials and techniques, and solo exhibit of metal sculpture by Komelia Hongja Kim

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 18 to Nov. 9 (Kim exhibit continues through Nov. 16)

Admission: $7 general; $ seniors; students and military; free to children 12 and under. First Wednesday of the month is free.

Call: 532-8700

University of Hawaii Art Gallery

Group exhibit of installations exploring issues related to global interaction and intercultural relationships

Runs: 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays, from next Sunday to Nov. 7. Reception: 4 to 5:30 p.m. next Sunday.

Admission: Free

Call: 956-6888

Also: University of Hawaii Commons Gallery will exhibit ceramics produced by students from Hong-ik University in Seoul and UH students during a summer workshop held at Manoa, from next Sunday to Sept. 26. Reception: 4 to 5:30 p.m. next Sunday.

East-West Center Gallery

Contemporary paintings by various artists inspired by traditional Korean art

Runs: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays, from next Sunday to Nov. 14. Reception: 5:30 to 7 p.m. next Sunday

Admission: Free; parking $3 except on Sundays

Call: 944-7111

Gallery Iolani at Windward Community College

Drawings by contemporary artists who use traditional materials

Runs: 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, from Sept. 16 to Oct. 18. Reception: 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 16

Admission: Free

Call: 236-9155

Koa Gallery at Kapiolani Community College

New media that features a cutting-edge group of contemporary video artists

Runs: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 22. Reception: 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 17

Admission: Free. Parking passes available.

Call: 734-9375

Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center, Mau

Selections from various "Crossings" exhibits in Honolulu

Runs: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, from Dec. 27 to Feb. 1. Reception: Jan. 9

Admission: Free

Call: 572-6560


Artists from UH exhibit: Cho Sung-Mook, Han Kyung-Ah and Kim Jong Ku, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at UH Art Auditorium.

Kimsooja: Artist who created Honolulu Hale installation, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, UH Art Auditorium.

Korean contemporary art: Kim Hong Hee, curator of Korean section of 2003 Venice Biennale, "The State of Contemporary Korean Art," Kim Young-Na, art historian at Seoul National University, and curator Kim Heh-Kyong, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, UH Art Auditorium


Pojagi Korean Textile Wrapping Cloth Workshop with Chunghie Lee: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 19 to 21, Academy Art Center. The fee is $120. Call 532-8700 to register.

Kosong Okwangdae Korean Masked Dance-Drama: 5 p.m. Sept. 27, East-West Center Friendship Circle. Free.

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