South Korean Artist Minouk Lim Talks About Her Creative Practice And Being Part Of Para Site's ‘Curtain’
It seems impossible to define Minouk Lim and her creative practice in just one word. The Korean artist tackles many forms, creating artworks that push the boundaries of different genres and media, never resorting to just one medium.
But her work seems close to her heart: recalling historic losses, ruptures, and repressed trauma. Rather than just replaying these events, she elevates the experiences, memories and feelings through imaging or engaging her own creation as non-human witnesses. Just like her own approach to art, when one looks at her work, it's a mix of emotions that range from anger, resentment to passion.
Lim's lone work, Antigone is part of Para Site's upcoming exhibition on May 15. Titled Curtain, the exhibition features 23 other artists such as Xyza Cruz Bacani and Wu Jiaru. In this exclusive interview with Tatler, Lim talks about her creative practice, identity crisis as an artist and how she was introduced to Hong Kong.
Can you tell us about Antigone, the work you’re presenting at Para Site's Curtain exhibition?
This work asks questions about the coexistence of things that exist on behalf of others in other people’s places. It was previously shown at my solo exhibition, The Promise of If (Plateau, 2015) in Seoul and a partially modified version will be exhibited in Hong Kong for the first time.
The work was inspired by various objects that were shown during the live broadcast of Finding Dispersed Families on KBS (Korea Broadcasting System) in South Korea in 1983. At that time, family members who were eager to find their lost loved ones created signs and gathered representative objects to show on television. Countless people gathered at the broadcasting studio to find their family members lost involuntarily during the war, and it was hoped these items would help identify both the missing and the family members who searched for them.
It’s interesting how you take inspiration from a significant time in Korea’s history but also get the name from Greek mythology, was this a conscious decision to merge the two?
They say one of the meanings behind the name, "Antigone", is "one who walks against." Just like when I collect material for the work, I try not to realize and recreate the images in my head. At that moment, I'm influenced by certain linguistic structures that have paradoxical relationships and the titles also reflect that process. I believe that in Korea, the act of giving a title to something forms people's thoughts and culture, which reveals a kind of temporal space shaped by the country’s dramatically rapid modernization.
For example, the name of the apartment building where I live now is "Lotte Castle Arte". I think it means that "Lotte", from [the novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe], The Sorrows of Young Werther lives in a castle, and that is art. Rather than simply accepting this jumbled world before me, I want to separate, fragment and retell it through my work.
On the other hand, I wonder, "is this composite view the only creative alternative against being dominated by things determined by others"? The Korean War, Greek mythology, storefront mannequins, and pain—which feature non-equivalence and non-interactive material—all of which have influenced me in different ways and to different degrees. With the title, I wanted to show how these various elements relate to me in their own ways.
Your creative practice has always been influenced by the past and merging that into the future, why do you choose to bridge the two?
It's to contemplate the things I feel, explore what is absent and resist being forgotten. Although at times, one must forget in order to live. This is why artificial intelligence today is accelerating the age of automation by encouraging us to forget for the sake of convenience. However, this new digital culture ironically seems to politicise everything and enforce ethical scrutiny.
During these uncertain times, where illogical decisions and disasters have become everyday occurrences, I want to search for new directions in technological development and contemplate the significance of collective time as a way to move forward with my work. This means not being limited by my own experiences and understanding but instead achieving a broader view, rather than relying only on the experience and my own perspective.
Are there artworks where you’ve explored the present?
I have been creating works that displace objects on the boundaries and escape the genre and narrative of Western art history. My work focuses on archiving and collecting as many examples as possible, in order to deconstruct images and their expected function.
Among the ongoing series, Portable Keeper and O Tannenbaum are good examples. They involve performances that take place in vanishing, disappearing places or non-places. Those series examine how one can participate in the crippled present by experimenting with media and deconstructing genres. At the same time, they examine the conditions of today's failures to search for ways to address and make sense of coincidences.
Talking about the past, did you always want to be an artist? How did you get into art?
For me, it’s more important to focus on how I can continue to live as an artist than wanting to be an artist. If becoming an artist is like going against gravity, one must understand what gravity is. However, the boundaries of neoliberalism seem to confirm that I am not an artist because I want to but rather it is determined by context and structure.
I believe that those who want to become an artist need to develop the strength to counter such negative influences, such as being gaslighted by the media and public image.
You also often mix your work with various elements instead of focusing on just one medium, how do you decide which medium to go with for a specific artwork?
It mostly depends on how I imagine the site of the material. Materials are objects that function as diverse actors and I feel as though they are phantoms, uncertain of what will become of them in the future. Therefore, my work focuses more on creating circumstances of "becoming" heterogeneous, rather than expressing my intent.
You describe that your work stems from “contaminated feelings”, as if a double spy suffering an identity crisis, have there been times that you as an artist, feel this identity crisis and how did you overcome it?
I have been suffering from this feeling of a looming collapse ever since I returned to Korea from Paris. Due to the conflict between Korean education and the French way of life, I had to send my daughter to live in Guadeloupe, on the other side of the world from Korea. This period was the most painful time in my life.
When I visited Guadeloupe for a month, I felt as though the palm trees were not just swaying in the wind but as though they were weeping. The loud chorus of frogs at night sounded like the fast-revolving door of reincarnation and the stars streaming across the sky over my head seemed like the whipping of a past that has eventually arrived. I was torn in despair between my identity as a mother and survival as an artist.
I could see why many female artists have no choice but to stop working after having children. However, something became very clear to me as I continued to work as an artist. I realized I gained more courage when I create works for those that I long for, rather than trying to define any meaning in my work.
Based on the title of this exhibition, what curtain (either a social or political issue) do you want to pull and let more people know about?
The age of globalization is now confronted with the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, warning us that humans have been reading the "curtain" in a one-sided perspective. Were you an elderly man in the past and are you a child in the future? The past was already the future. I believe that art is something that allows us to examine the existence overlooked by politics and technology. I hope to confront what hides, and is hidden, behind the curtain and trace a way.
How do you feel about your work coming to Hong Kong, especially amidst the pandemic when you can't travel?
I don't travel much except for exhibitions so I have never been to Hong Kong yet. I was introduced to Hong Kong through the films I saw as a student in Paris and have always wanted to visit. I'm so excited and grateful that I will get to meet with the audience in Hong Kong through my work.
I believe this age of the pandemic is a time to give up certain things in our lives for the sake of others, in order for all of us to live together. I'd like to express my sincere respect to the citizens of Hong Kong, who have sacrificed and come together for those overlooked in the margins.
"Curtain" opens from May 14, 2021 at Para Site's venue in Quarry Bay and on May 15, 2021 at the institution’s temporary venue in 22/F, Soho House Hong Kong, 33 Des Voeux Rd West, Sheung Wan.