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Kim Hye-ran_The Cabbage Head,2007


All humans are imperfect beings. At the foundation of such human imperfection lie various emotions of the human consciousness such as insecurity, fear, and horror. The moment humans are given life as living beings on this earth, imperfection becomes part of their fate, something that cannot be controlled by their own will. The moment humans safely snuggle into the wombs of theirs mothers as a living being, as a creation, they begin to prepare for their rendezvous with the imperfect world. In other words, they prepare themselves for their first encounter with pain. What humans initially face when coming into this world is the moment of insecurity and pain; the moment of birth. Of course, there is no need to mention that the mother is feeling apprehension on her part, but the fetus also undergoes pain as it tries to escape the narrow passageway connected to the womb. The face of the fetus becomes contorted as it puts all of its strength into wriggling out of the curved maze. This process is perceived in a positive light, however, in the sense that it enables babies to undergo an early first-hand experience of what will be in store for them throughout their life. That is why many expecting mothers prefer giving natural, vaginal birth. This perhaps is the natural order. However, the world that seems to carry on in a manner that cannot be uninfluenced by the will of mankind begins to test the human will by presenting numerous moments that call for decisions and choices. When realizing their imperfection, many people resort to religion or god, while others end up more heavily relying on their own self, resolutely pushing forth their decisions. Whatever they choose to do, their choice is a result of their own will and humans will indeed encounter numerous moments of choices and decisions throughout their lifetime, making them realize what an imperfect being they are.

Many artists faithfully relive their own personal experiences or emotions in their first work of art or their first attempts as an artist. The first work by Kim Hae-ran in the late 1990s, when not many animation artists had come into the art scene, was an animation that expressed emotions of insecurity and fear. Amid the surreal ambience of, and dreamlike characters in, the artist’s work, we can find the emotions of insecurity deep within the artist. When viewing her representative works, one feels a sense of unease and discomfort rather than tranquility and ease. However, such unease or discomfort can be viewed positively as they are representation of the artist’s candid emotions. Kim Hye-ran is an artist of animation videos. If one is in need of a reference guide to understand the animation of Kim Hye-ran, one should look into the cultural references of animation representing modern art in the late 1990s.

Let’s first take a look at the domestic art scene at the end of 1990s. After the opening of doors to Japanese popular culture under the Kim Dae-jung administration in 1997, open and legal import of Japanese animation (anime) began. This triggered a movement to culturally embrace and experience anime which had been illicitly spreading in Korea. Artists working on, and exhibitions held for, animations increased. Of course, the public’s growing interest in animation, a rather nominal art form, played a role in this new trend. Such increasing attention stemmed from the expansion of Korea’s commercial animation market based on the worldwide success of what we currently call “cultural contents” or “killer contents”: the so-called “cultural industry” composed of the likes of Pokemon which features a wide range of amicable creatures that are in fact monsters.

Kim Hye-ran_Cycling,2008

In that same era, in other words in the late 1990s, the global art scene experiences much change. Takashi Murakami and Mariko Mori, who are currently artists of critical acclaim world-wide, started to gain popularity in the West Coast of the US with their art work incorporating Japanese anime, and soon established themselves as the evangelists of Japanese pop art. Takashi Murakami’s year 2000 “Superflat” exhibition, which combined the traditional culture of Japan with anime, was showcased worldwide, throwing the global art scene into frenzy for neo pop art. In particular, Japanese pop art, centered around the young artists of Japan with rather individualist characteristics, received official recognition from the art world. Murakami, a well known anime “otaku,” had confessed that he tries to realize his dream of becoming an animator through his art work. After garnering worldwide attention with his designs for Louis Vuitton bags, he released a 3D animation for theater showings, and with an exuberant personal exhibition, returned back into the LA art scene.

Since 2000, economics have penetrated into the Korean art market, resulting in increasing attempts to discover – or perhaps the more appropriate expression would be to secure an early mover advantage over – young artists who have not yet graduated from art school. Zealous drive and determination to find hidden jewels and foster them into cultural contents of the future drove commercial galleries to carry on their search overseas. With the growing quantity of overseas hunts, there was an increase in the quality of the works as well. Since 2000, buoyed by the development of digital technology, it has become easier for young artists known as the so-called “video culture generation” to create video art. The act of creating life by giving movement to static images, which is the basic ideology of animation, is evolving, becoming less laborious to perform. It is true that animation was a genre rather difficult to dive into as an artist because of the toilsome efforts one had to make. For example, the entire process of a single finger movement had to be drawn on a piece of paper. That is why the advancement of domestic commercial animation was not enough to transform the animation genre into cultural contents comparable to a gold-laying goose. However, there was a blue ocean in this niche market. Animation already had a massive following worldwide and thus, there was no need to educate the public about this new genre. Attempts to transform animation into an art form were carried out within and outside of Korea, as an experiment of new media. Such works of animation could be found in galleries and art museums, and even film festivals. This is where we can find Kim Hye-ran today.

“I want to express the ideas with the characters and motions of animation in my work. Sometimes I create unique features of living creatures especially when the movements of animals which show instinctive and nimble reactions based on their sensitive experiences mingled into my world of consciousness.”

As mentioned earlier, Kim’s work of art features and creates various types of living creatures and one of them is captured in [A Certain Fear] featuring a cat transforming into a quasi-human being. The work was initiated by the feeling of insecurity and fear the artist experienced when she realized a cat seemed like gazing at her, looking into the eyes while watching TV on a sofa. Starting from the work, Kim created the masterpieces such as [Big Heads and Stalking Birds (2006)] and [Cabbage Heads (2007)] and these three works were re-edited into one piece in 2009. [Cycling] was created in 2008. After studying computer animation in the Netherlands 2000, Kim held one private art exhibition and has been participating in various exhibitions. She also has been working as web designer, producer and project planner. Although she has been working on animation for almost 10 years, her work of art has yet to be widely appreciated in the community of art. It may be because she has been more active in participating in audio visual performances rather than holding general exhibitions. There was no record of art exhibitions in the early 2000’s but the case is different since 2006. She has been joining various art exhibitions until recently. In 2006 [Big Heads and Stalking Birds] was aired SK T Tower Como and being encouraged by her personal interest into electronic music, she also participated in the electronic music video performance held at University of California, Berkeley in the same year.

Kim Hye-ran_The Cabbage Head,2007

As an artist, she collects ideas from consciousness from the deep inside of herself or the surroundings around. While explaining how she came to create [Big heads and Stalking Birds (2006)] where a living creature, that looks like one huge cell in the nonlinear shape, is walking with the face in full pains, the artist said one night in her dream she saw the vice was growing out and she walked along with it talking and watching the head of the vice only bloating out to get more and more strengthened. In the work, the existence of vice is multiplied, going through endless process of transformation. The image of brain with convolutions of creases is also featured in [Cycling (2008)]. The image of creased brain cell is captured and a child in the shape of quasi-human beings is transforming itself, repeating the process of multiplication, being inflated and deflated.

The creatures, that the artist is interested in, whether it being vicious creatures or animals, are recreated in her work of art to remind the audience of the feelings of insecurity, dismantlement, fragment, fear and tension. Her drawings also radiate the feelings of insecurity by repeating certain images or taking them into pieces. The image of insecurity drawn from the inner world of the artist keeps multiplying or transforming itself to cross over with each other. Human beings are so sensitively vulnerable to have no choice but to keep felling good or bad. The vicious thoughts create vicious circle to keep haunting the people in their consciousness and sometimes encourage them to express political ambition falling into the illusion that they are perfect.

It seems like a positive approach to candidly and openly show the insecure world of consciousness of human beings but the face of passers-by, living creatures and other characters in her work of art all seem so detached. If the audience feels the same feelings looking at them, would it be enough to share the desire and understand objectives of the work? On the surface, it seems her works are in the same framework of the avant-garde abstract animation in the 1920’s that featured illogical and nonlinear stories and images but they need the new touch of rules. The strength of animation lies in whether it can deliver the story along with the image no matter what the story is linear or not.

Kim Hye-ran_Metacollage

That is why I call Kim Hye-ran as a ‘novice artist.’ She may have been going through the experimental periods that are essential to being matured as an artist. When we wake up from bad dream, we sometimes open our eyes in fear as the dream feel so realistic but soon regain the sense of comfort in the real world as the dream is so nonlinear. I expect a lot from the artist’s future works of art as I heard that she is planning to work on the subject of feminine.

The word of animation was originated from ‘animate’ meaning ‘giving birth.’ The artist utilize animation as a new media, being given new birth in the digital era and we all expect with full of hope and joy to see new animation work of the artist flavored with a little bit of humor and smile as the title ‘Cabbage Heads’ signifies. Living as imperfect human beings in the imperfect world, we ironically feel a scene of comfort to wait for the next animation. Image the joyful moment to encounter with the work… I may not be alone in this happy thinking.

IAN / Art Critic

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Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine


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