The interior of Milan’s Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio (a popular pilgrimage stop en route to Rome presumed to have been founded in the fourth-century by Eustorgius I, a bishop to whom the then emperor of Constantinople donated the relics of the Three Magi) has been transformed – atmospherically at least – by the latest instalment of Kimsooja’s series of work To Breathe (2006–).The New York-based Korean artist is best known for her early performance and videowork for which she used her own body as a conduit for questioning the role of the individual within society, as well as site-specific installations and sculptures made from fabrics – namely her ongoing series Bottari (the Korean term for bundles used to carry family possessions to new settlements), which are made from brightly coloured bedcovers and clothes and allude to the forced migrations of Koreans during the country’s various social and political upheavals.
Since the early 2000s Kimsooja has been working with the more ephemeral format of lighting. At the Basilica in Milan, she uses a translucent diffraction film (a material that she has employed at other site-specific installations including the Centre Pompidou in 2015, the Korean Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale and at Madrid’s Palacio de Cristal in 2006), pasted onto the windows and oculi of the Portinari and Solariane chapels which diffuses natural sunlight and casts the interior of the space with a refraction of colours that change as the sun shifts throughout the day, altering the visitor’s perception of the Basilica’s architecture and the fifteenth-century frescos that adorn the walls and ceiling. In this space, located near the Darsena water basin, Kimsooja’s long interest in religious spirituality – including that of Korean Shamanism, Buddhism, Zen, Confucianism and Christianity – which transcends everyday reality, seems to have found a fitting, if temporary, home.
On the other side of the city (an hour’s walk northeast of the Basilica), Galleria Raffaella Cortese presents To Breathe – The Flags (2012) at its Via Stradella 4 site. There, visitors will find a video that overlays and crossfades 246 semitransparent flags from the countries that participated in the 2012 London Olympics to create a sense of ‘transnationalism’, breaking down the boundaries between different countries. Across the road at Via Stradella 1, the overlays and combinations are printed onto translucent nylon to create an installation of 12 actual flags, encouraging viewers to move between the hanging sheets of merged national identities and, alongside the videowork, invites one to question the symbolic nature and power of national flags as well as concepts of ‘nationhood’, state sovereignty and peaceful coexistence.
Online exclusive published on 13 April 2018