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insook KIM

insook KIM, Total Museum of Art


1978, Japan


Installation, Photography



Stacking hours, 2013

2Channel Video, School Desks and Chairs, Variable size

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Seeing the Ordinary Ordinarily

What Does Koreans in Japan Mean to South Koreans?

Responses of South Koreans toward Koreans in Japan are usually divided into two types: indifference and extreme interest.  The latter group generally shows strong interest in Koreans living in Japan, getting involved with social or political issues.  The former group does not.  Of course, it might be impossible to force indifferent South Koreans to be interested in Koreans who live in Japan.  It might also be difficult to expect that biased South Koreans free themselves from prejudices, so that they can see Koreans living in Japan from a different point of view.  Vague images misunderstandings and prejudices about Koreans living in Japan still linger in the minds of South Koreans.  Often the sentiment of the South Korean general public is that Koreans living in Japan sell out their identity in order to make money. 
However, isn't it now the time for South Koreans, Japanese and Koreans in Japan to recognize by themselves the fact that, Koreans in Japan are ordinary people living ordinarily? Isn't it the time for these countries to re-think what Koreans in Japan actually means?

Obviously, there is diversity among Koreans in Japan.  This diversity means that the problems, which each Korean in Japan’s faces are various.  Therefore, each person should be drawn attention to. When we focus on an individual we can see a human being.  However, Koreans in Japan have one thing in common. Like the title of KIM insook's exhibition, between two Koreas and Japan, they exist in Sai (the boundaries in between Japan, North and South Korea).  Both South Koreans and the Japanese do not live in these boundaries, and do not need to live in these boundaries.  However, Koreans in Japan are born and live in these boundaries, regardless of their will. It is just so.   

Fear and Rapture of Being Selected
People, who live in these boundaries and who represent these boundaries, tend to be inclined towards the suffering and the fear about existing in these boundaries.  In the past, from the art even to literature, the representation about a subject matter, Koreans in Japan, is also biased: it is true that outstanding works were sometimes created from such prejudice.  As you already know, social issues related to Koreans in Japan are still unsettled, while many fourth generation Koreans in Japan are being born; such significant changes in this time should come into the spotlight.  A third generation Korean in Japan, insook Kim, has lived in these boundaries, and rather has fully enjoyed from calmness even to pleasure accepting both naturally.  Koreans in Japan were so far the unordinary while they are the ordinary KIM insook. It can be said that her gaze and sense have been developed based on such ordinary.  Obviously, there are feelings surrounding human beings in ordinary life, and such feelings comprise of calm ordinary life getting joined together.  Add to it, we, humans, deserve to live in 

The cult of the ordinary
The work, SAIESO: between two Koreas and Japan represents the figure that Koreans in Japan live ordinarily.  Such calmness can be clearly found in the expression of models. She represents Koreans in Japan through the film in a living room where they share the every day: from an elderly first generation Korean woman in Japan to a third generation Korean woman in Japan of conceiving a fourth generation Korean in Japan, from a great-grandmother and a great-grandson to a couple and their sons and daughters, and from the family picture that takes a photograph of three generations all together to the picture that takes a photograph of a person alone.  This work lets us feel calm and affluent every day and signifies the figure of people who live the everyday life valuably.  First of all, her work is outstanding in the point of catching the ordinary life of Koreans in Japan and its calmness.  Even though she is a Korean in Japan, she is free from the misunderstanding, preconception and ideology surrounding Koreans in Japan. Probably, that is because she is an artist.  Also, that might be because the artist see the world without prejudice and people say that the artist is a person who is open-hearted toward the world which they see.
Actually, it is true that Sai(the boundary) exists there: between a generation and a generation and between the Korean Peninsula and the archipelago of Japan.  Sai(the boundary) exists in all things such as from the clothes which are wearing, the space of so-called room, the furniture and household stuffs even to miscellaneous articles.  It is the very motif of KIM insook's work. So to speak, naive ordinary life of contemporary Koreans in Japan, which is caught by her, is based on Sai(the boundary). However, as already their life is not the unordinary but the ordinary, Sai(the boundary) is merged into their life so that its meaning is changing. Such phenomenon also or rather might be the motif of KIM insook’s work.

Unchanged thing

Can't we say this? - Koreans in Japan finally became ordinary due to the emergence of the generation whom KIM insook speaks for.  And by doing this, this generation does not have to return to previous images and stereotypes of Koreans in Japan. 
However, at the same time, we need to say it- the ordinary of contemporary Koreans in Japan is possible only by the experience of the unordinary of first and second generation Koreans in Japan.  And, these two are also connected through Sai(the boundary).

Changeable thing

Identifying the features of South Korean, Japanese and Korean in Japan is almost impossible even to me, a specialist in South Korea.  The looks of Koreans in Japan and Japanese are almost similar.  The work of KIM insook demonstrates it again.  It is natural that Koreans in Japan have been assimilated into Japanese culture over generations.  For example, Japanese immigrants in Brazil might be difficult to have similar features with Brazilians: on the other hand, getting similar between Koreans in Japan and Japanese might be easier because Korea has frequently associated with Japan since old times.  And, in the near future, it might be impossible to identify Koreans in Japan and Japanese through the looks.  Long time ago, some people in the Korean peninsula immigrated into and settled in Osaka, Yamato, Yamasiro, Tango, Oumi and etc of Japan, and they had been assimilated into Japanese.  In fact, we cannot say that their case is identical with that of contemporary Koreans in Japan because the meaning of Sai(the boundary) is different in them and contemporary Koreans in Japan; but this meaning will be naturally changed if one hundred year or five hundred years pass.  
In the other perspective, normalization of Koreans in Japan also means the beginning of being Japanese of Koreans in Japan. However, nobody knows how they will be transformed.  
 I think that such change was first caught by the work of KIM insook.  The reason why superficially banal her work attracts me is that she represents just beginning of such 'transformation' quietly using a low voice. Truly, monstrous transformation is begun quietly in the every day and without attracting any attention.    

Witten by CHIBA Shigeo(A Critique of Art, Japan), Translated by Mun Heajin, Edited by Kim Johnny Hoon