I See, Therefore I Am

Video artist Shin-il Kim finds wisdom in contemplation

Korean artist Shin-il Kim's intellectually rewarding solo show at Saltworks Gallery is not the kind of exhibition you see very often in Atlanta. This is the second Saltworks exhibition of the New York-based artist's work, and it's composed of just three video works.

Video is not exactly an easily marketed commodity. Art patrons probably won't be set to salivating; instead, they'll wonder just where in their mansions they could possibly display Kim's video "Thinker," a 13-second looped animation of Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker."

Shin-il Kim's exhibition focuses on the hidden aspects of the art experience. Not just about making art, the exhibit also explores another rarely discussed labor: looking at art. For what would art be without an audience?

Kim's engrossing three-minute video "In Between," which is set to loop endlessly, takes on a meditative quality informed by the artist's Buddhism. Its central "drama" is a loop of eternal, infinite looking.

In Kim's video, an older man wearing a backpack stands in a stark white gallery, looking at a framed artwork on the wall.

The "artwork" is a video of another older man, dressed more formally in a long trench coat. The man, who stands in an identical stark white gallery, also looks at an artwork, as he moves about maniacally, squatting down on his haunches or moving in closer to the art to get a better look. Looking becomes a physical act. The object of his contemplation is unseen, residing in the "in between" space of looking that defines the two men.

"In Between" is the space between the object surveyed and the surveyor, the conceptual space where thought occurs and ideas buzz.

And, of course, the third observer in what could be an infinite round robin of looking is us. As the audience, we are made suddenly and self-consciously aware of our place in artistic creation.

The interest in quiet contemplation as an essential, nonrepresentational aspect of the art experience continues in "Painter." The animation is made from a videotape of a man copying an oil painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is then turned into hundreds (753 to be exact) of "drawings" in which Kim has embossed a silhouette of the painter's movements onto sheets of plain white paper and then videotaped those gestures.

The work is an eloquent, subtle commentary on the true nature of art-making. In the movies, art-making is depicted as a tortured, bombastic act, in which artists paint with furious sallies at the canvas.

But the actions of Shin-Il Kim's "Painter" are minute, reflective and delicate. In the one-minute video loop, the man appears to pivot slightly to look out at us, and then he turns again to contemplate the painting he is copying in the distance. He makes several minute dabs with his brush at his canvas. The animations, despite representing only the outlines of the figure, are incredibly telling, revealing great gobs of information about the man in minimalist detail.

The ideas of contemplation and creation are echoed in "Thinker," in which Rodin's famous bronze is shown on a two-sided screen mounted on a large spot-lit pedestal. A pressed line animation, "Thinker" spins endlessly, allowing us a "complete" 360-degree view of that iconic contemplative man.

"Thinker" takes on some of the same world-inside-a-world dimensions of Kim's other pieces, where a gesture of tormented reflection seems to go on infinitely, rotating endlessly like the mental puzzle Rodin's figure is mulling.

Kim's video highlights the quiet, contemplative dimensions of art. The work is also about a certain opacity of art. Endless studying and contemplation of an artwork can get you close, but there is always something unattainable - a gap between the head space of Rodin's "The Thinker" and you.

Kim emphasizes that gap by showing two flat, animated views of the statue that promise to reveal and analyze its dimensions. But like every artwork, they only struggle with the representation of the real.

The fragile beauty of Kim's work comes from the relentless human desire to understand, to keep coming back. The show is like watching the ripples of displaced water on the surface of a pond. You ponder the effect again and again, and the pondering itself becomes meditative and beneficial.

Kim's video works are supplemented by a small section of works in the Saltworks back rooms that also tackle minimalist effects and the profundity contained in small, simple gestures. These include Mimi Moncier's expanding ripples of color in her watercolor "Florida Sunsets," and Christopher McNulty's meditative drawing of infinity, where the beginning and end of the artist's mark are impossible to detect.

Delicacy and simplicity yield enormous rewards in such works. These artists illustrate a shared process of understanding for both audience and artists, struggling with their eyes or minds, paintbrush or pencil, to better understand.


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