South Korean artist Minouk Lim’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States, “Heat of Shadows,” felt like an exhumation. The walls were gray and the lights dim, and a sense of haunting was in the air. Lim’s practice, which incorporates performance, video, sculpture and public intervention, critically engages the destruction and redevelopment that has swept through Seoul and along the Han River.
The first work the visitor confronted upon entering the space was the video New Town Ghost (2005), which was projected onto the wall of a freestanding structure resembling a riverside shanty. The video documents a drive through the busy streets of the Yeongdeungpo district of Seoul, where Lim was then living and working. A drummer and a slam poet with a megaphone perform in the bed of a pickup truck. Yeongdeungpo had been slated as a “new town” for redevelopment. Cloaking its actions in the language of the good life, the government tore down existing residences to make way for high-density high-rises and commercial enterprises for leisure and consumption. People in Lim’s neighborhood were effectively displaced from their homes while the landscape they grew up with was torn asunder. “Oh, my complex,” yells the poet, as pedestrians watch from the street. “Oh my housing-commercial complex . . . . I have nowhere to go. I’m a new-town ghost.”
Given this context, the ghoulish materiality of the sculptures on display (all from 2012) appeared symptomatic. Eight of these works dangled from the ceiling on one side of the gallery like the aquatic descendants of an ecological disaster. They were composed of buoys, broken fan blades, braided hair and fishing thread covered with thorns or dabs of hot glue resembling tears. On the other side of the room, past the shanty (which housed another video), Lim presented an additional selection of sculptures, including “wearable” works used in a dance performance on the exhibition’s opening night. These objects, cut from thermally eroded foam and textured with moss, twine and other debris, looked as if they had been dug from the earth or salvaged from the dead.
Looming at the far end of the gallery was a monumental three-channel video installation, S.O.S-Adoptive Dissensus (2009), which documents a site-specific light and sound performance set on the Han River. Like the other works in the exhibition, S.O.S was mounted as a protest against the human consequences of “miracle” building in Seoul. As a tourist boat sails down the river, beaming its lights along the banks, three separate performances unfold for its passengers, staged to memorialize places being lost to capital, on the one hand, and the hushed legacy of state violence, on the other. With one foot in the funereal, Lim’s exhibition was foreboding as a whole. But it was also laudable for the discursive framework it constructed. In the words of Kang Yong Joo, the longtime political prisoner who speaks from the shadows in S.O.S.: “Farewell. Perhaps we will meet again someday when you say ‘No’ to something.”
Photo: Production still from Minouk Lim’s New Town Ghost, 2005, video, approx. 11 minutes; at Walker Art Center.