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"I was creating these works based on the concept of bottari, the Korean word for 'bundle,' and tied fragments of cloth together. For me, these videos were sort of like conceptual 3-D sewing, and myself as a needle, a metaphor for tying people together," she says.
In an area between the two video banks, Kimsooja is also presenting a pair of video works in which she appears alone and communing with nature.
In one, A Needle Woman — Kitakyushu, she lies prostrate atop a rocky mountain in Japan as clouds swirl above her. In the other, A Laundry Woman — Yamuna River, she stands on the bank of a sacred river in India. Unlike the bustling visual din of the 21st-century cities nearby, both of these videos are more meditative in nature.
"I visited the Yamuna River in India next to a cremation place, where the remains of bodies and flower offerings flowed past me," Kimsooja recalls. "The work is about the destiny of humanity and purification, as well as about time and space and our beliefs. Hopefully, I can serve as a medium through which audiences can experience those things we all share together as people."
Sitting next to the black-clad artist as she drinks her tea, while museum workers hurry out the doors to beat rush-hour traffic, one can't help but notice her thoughtful and serene aura. She takes a moment to describe the second version of "A Needle Woman," for which she is currently visiting places she says are in danger of turmoil. Rio, Jerusalem, Yemen, Chad, and Cuba were all recent stops.
"These places have a long history of turmoil, and I am filming my performances there in slow motion to capture their history of conflict, violence, and poverty," she says. "I visited Cuba in 2005, and the people there were very engaging. The men were very curious and would come up right next to me and start dancing. But it was also sad to see their happiness because I know the country's history of struggles."
At MAM, Kimsooja succeeds in inserting herself into the imagination not only as a metaphorical needle weaving a fabric of contrasting cultures into a single tapestry, but also as a compass point encouraging viewers to remain grounded before the ill effects of unchecked globalization.