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Issue 236

Soun Gui-Kim’s Art of Meaninglessness

At Arario Gallery, Seoul, new and reformulated installations and photographs by the artist track the non-meaning generated by financial markets


BY Park Jaeyong in Exhibition Reviews , Reviews Across Asia , Reviews Across The World | 09 MAY 23

In a 2001 conversation with Jérôme Sans for Bonjour, Soun-Gui Kim noted that the ‘excessive inflation of images and objects espouses the speed and the development curve of the global stock market’. At that time, the world was on the brink of the dotcom crash. Today, two decades later, a blind optimism about artificial intelligence flourishes, despite the risks to privacy and security in a world already embroiled in border conflicts, sanctions and embargoes. It is against this backdrop that, for the past 50 years, Kim has been making art that, while not dialectically opposed to reason and rationality, is rooted in a Buddhist-like embrace of chaos.

Stock markets, plants, and a projection on the wall
Soun-Gui Kim, ‘Voice of Silence’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist

Spread across three floors of the recently relocated Arario Gallery in Seoul, Kim’s new solo show, ‘Voice of Silence’, welcomes visitors at basement level via a sunken staircase. The exhibition opens with Téléphone Arabe (Chinese Whispers, 2023), a series of metal canisters collected from around the world over several decades suspended from wire strings on a rudimentary wooden framework. Recalling primitive tin-can telephones as well as the titular children’s game, the installation is based on a series of drawings Kim created between 1987 and 1992 – around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War – when she was distressed by how the media often contributed more to confusion than communication. Today, with each of us wielding our own de facto media outlet in the form of social media, this cacophony of overlapping and conflicting voices has become an even bigger issue than when Téléphone Arabe was first conceived.

A string of tin cans around a wooden structure
Soun-Gui Kim, ‘Voice of Silence’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist

Many of the works in this exhibition have likewise been realized after years, even decades, of reflection: it’s a long-view approach that carries echoes of the Buddhist practice of gradual cultivation. On the ground floor of the gallery, Stock Garden – Temple (2023) is a new iteration of Kim’s 1999 work Stock Exchange I – a video installation featuring financial indexes screened in real time. Here, the economic data is accompanied by a video of a Buddhist temple in which a bell tolls 33 times, harking to the Buddhist doctrine of anātman: the non-self in expansive, non-relative time. While today’s real-time financial data and the prevalence of NFTs make the work appear somewhat dated, Stock Garden – Temple serves as a nostalgic time capsule for when the now-banal seemed like science fiction: in 1999 Kim had to make calls in order to garner now-ubiquitous financial information. Instead of updating the piece with newer indexes tracking the restless 24/7 global cryptocurrency and financial derivatives markets, however, Kim reminds us of the enlightenment possible beyond a calculable, data-based world.

Black and white image of mountains
Soun-gui Kim, Shi-Lin 2, 1991, pinhole camera, analogue print, 108 × 80 cm. Courtesy: the artist

The exhibition concludes with a series of works produced in the 1990s using a pinhole camera, which the artist titled ‘foolish photography’ to convey the fact of their being mere chemical reactions between light and film. Kim asserts no influence over the subject, with the works given titles only after they emerge from the darkroom. There is sparse evidence, for instance, of the subject of Deux fois lune (Two Moon) (1992); the image, rather, is born from the artist’s total suspension of any desire for control. To paraphrase the words of French philosopher Jacques Derrida during a conversation with the artist at the 2002 Gwangju Biennale: the art of silence or non-meaning can be a way to resist a world in which we are deafened by the globalizing forces of the market. Across five decades of artistic practice in a rapidly changing world, Kim’s art of non-meaning invites us to look into the abyss of chaos without fear.

Soun-Gui Kim's ‘Voice of Silence’  is on view at Arario Gallery, Seoul, until 13 May. 

Main image: Soun-Gui Kim, ‘Voice of Silence’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist

Park Jaeyong is a curator, writer, and translator based in Seoul.