Brilliant Ideas Episode #45: Kimsooja

Artist connecting people with a needle and thread

‘Bottari’ refers to a package wrapped in ‘bojagi’, or a patchwork cloth combined from small pieces of leftover cloth. One leftover cloth hardly serves many purposes; reproduced by a needle and thread, ‘bojagi’ is given a new life as an object that can embrace anything in the world.

With her keen interest in people, Kimsooja is inspired by ‘bottari’ and gathers everything with it. In ‘bojagi’, things with different properties are connected and further lead to a significant meaning by a needle and thread. Brilliant Ideas Episode #45 presented by Bloomberg and Hyundai Motor features Kimsooja, an artist who travels across the world carrying ‘bottari’ wrapped in ‘bojagi’.

sooja, connecting everything

Like a needle, which puts together two different things, Kimsooja takes a role of connecting people with different cultural backgrounds. As if by destiny, her name “sooja” means “needle” in Indian. One of her representative works, <A Needle Woman>(1999-2001) is a video artwork of performances in eight cities with eight cultural contexts. In the video, the artist is standing idly in the middle of a street where many people are passing by. The still view of her from behind that contrasts with the busy surroundings look like a needle, which is intended by the artist to make geography, culture, socio-politics, and other features of each region into temporal and spatial indexes. Here, the needle is a barometer, representing the axis. Taking a neutral position in the performance, Kimsooja also turns her body into a hermaphrodite tool embracing the nature of the real and the abstract and masculinity and femininity. Becoming the center of various cultures, she says that she felt the strong connection between the body, the mind, and the world as well as peace when she played the role of a needle.

Her study on the connection has gradually expanded. Presented at the <MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2016: Kimsooja>, <Deductive Object>(2016) is an oval-shaped piece where Brahmanda, the world egg made of black stone, is combined with ‘bottari’, the signature object of the artist. Placed on a plane mirror, the appearance of the object is constantly reflected by the mirror. The materiality and form of the work is reflected; actually, a shapeless non-material is crossed endlessly, which can be seen as the artist’s attempt for wider connection between material and non-material.

Paris, New York, Seoul

contexts the artist experienced in Seoul, New York, and Paris have become rich artistic nourishment for her. The works of the artist also show different sides according to on what background they are displayed or where they are created. The most representative example is ‘bottari’, which made Kimsooja who she is now.
During her short residency in MoMA PS1 in New York, which was for about a year, the artist first found the meaning of ‘bottari’ as a Korean traditional subject in the foreign land. Kimsooja found in ‘bottari’ made with leftover cloth that it had “ready-made” and “ready-used” features, as well as an object with both two and three dimensional properties as it was a plane object that became a solid figure when something was wrapped inside. Therefore, the artist considered ‘bottari’ a matter that could gather everything together including the mind and the body.

All these concepts of ‘bottari’, however, changed as she came back to Korea after the residency. While the aesthetics and forms of ‘bottari’ were stressed in New York, it was no longer regarded just as an aesthetic object in Korea. In the Korean context, ‘bottari’ became a channel for critical view on the roles of women in Korean culture, and was further related to physical concepts, the identity and state of the artist herself as a woman in the Korean society, and the general human destiny. From then on, she replaced the ‘bottari’ in a patchwork form with piece of leftover cloth combined with one made with used clothes to further emphasize the factual element and to embrace everything.
Reflecting multiple cultural contexts in one artwork, Kimsooja has an attitude like ‘bottari’ herself. Her embracing approach to include everything may be the reason that made her the world’s famous artist she is today. ■ with ARTINPOST

  • A needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir 2014

    Steel, custom acrylic panel, laminated polymer film, mirror 14m x 1.3 (diameter). Courtesy of kukje Gallery and Kimsooja Studio. Photo by Jaeho Chong. Image provided by Kukje Gallery

  • To Breathe 2015

    Site-specific installation consisting of video projection, mirror, And diffraction grating film, Centre Pompidou-Metz. Photo by Jaeho chong. Courtesy of Centre Pompidou-Metz, Institute Francais/Annee France Coree, Kukje Galley, and Kimsooja Studio. Image provided by Kukje Gallery

  • To Breathe:Bottari 2013

    partial installation view of the Korean Pavilion, The 55th Biennale di Venezia, Courtesy of Kukje Gallery & Kimsooja Studio. Photo by Jaeho Chong. Image provided by Kukje Gallery

  • To Breathe:Bottari 2013

    partial installation view of the Korean Pavilion, The 55th Biennale di Venezia, Courtesy of Kukje Gallery & Kimsooja Studio. Photo by Jaeho Chong. Image provided by Kukje Gallery

  • Deductive Object 2016

    black casted aluminum on mirror 1.83m x 1.1m (sculpture), 8m x 5m (mirror). Gangoji Temple, Nara, Japan. Commissioned by Culture City of East Asia 2016, Nara. Photo by Keizo Kioku. Courtesy of Art Front Gallery Co., Ltd. and Kimsooja Studio. Image provided by Kukje Gallery


In 1997, KIMSOOJA carried hundreds of Bottaris (bed sheet-like cloth used for packing personal belongings) on a truck and toured the whole of South Korea for 11 days. Since this performance, KIMSOOJA has been called as the “Bottari artist.” The artist creates a unique art world using “sound”, “light”, “bed sheets”, and her works focus on ‘people’. “Cloth” is the medium she chose to connect with people. Through the action of sewing with traditional sewing materials such as needle, thread, cloth, the artist concentrates on looking atherself and exploring issues about others, finally focuses on “self-consciousness.”
Born in 1957, Daegu, Korea, KIMSOOJA now works in Seoul, New York and Paris. She participated in the ‘Venice Biennale 2013’, ‘Whitney Biennale’ and has had many exhibitions including the exhibitions held at the Centre Pompidou, France, Miami Art Museum, MoMA PS1, New York, Vancouver Art Gallery. In 2016, she was the artist for the ‘MMCA Hyundai Motor Series’ and held a solo exhibition at the MMCA(National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea); <MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2016: KIMSOOJA – Archive of Mind>.

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