Sejin Kim at SongEun ArtSpace, Seoul

Sejin Kim, Mosaic Transition, 2019, two-channel looped video, four-channel sound, 5 min 34 sec. Courtesy SongEun ArtSpace, Seoul

Andy St. Louis is confronted by a history of land demarcation and the hegemony of dominant power structures

Sejin Kim’s two-channel video installation Messenger(s) (all works 2019) centres on an unlikely protagonist: Laika the space dog, whose foray into Earth-orbit aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957 was predestined to end in fatality. As a subdued tribute to the countless living beings that have been sacrificed throughout history for the sake of ‘progress’, this work functions as a prologue to the exhibition. And by framing a tale of Soviet heroism in the context of a dog’s inability to give consent, Kim implicates authority figures throughout history whose desires to enact a ‘greater good’ were used to justify the slaughter of innocents.

From there, Walk in the Sun invokes conditions of powerlessness and speculative claims to territory in real and virtual worlds across multiple timelines, probing inhumane assessments of ‘acceptable’ loss of life, systemic marginalisation and exploitation, and the prospect of global conflict in the not-so-distant future.

Kim’s attention to the tenuous agency of society’s most vulnerable resonates in To the North for Nonexistence, which unfolds a first-person account of territorial dispossession experienced by the Sámi people, an indigenous minority who inhabit the Arctic territory of Sámi that stretches from Norway to Russia. Over the course of five visually distinct chapters, this single-channel video juxtaposes encyclopaedic information related to the history and culture of the Sámi and their ancestral homeland, along with reference photos and infographics. A nonlinear narrative component of the work situates the forced displacement of a contemporary Sámi woman by Swedish authorities within a larger trajectory of colonial encroachment and involuntary assimilation.

Concluding the exhibition is a work that demonstrates Kim’s hybrid approach to storytelling by combining documentary-style production and speculative fictionalisation. 2048 considers the projected future for a virtual territory that serves as a not-so-subtle representation of Antarctica; CGI renderings of Antarctic landscapes, along with actual footage captured by Kim during her recent residency at South Korea’s Antarctic King Sejong Research Station, background a dystopian vision of the geopolitical outlook for our planet’s largest deterritorialised landmass. Set 30 years in the future, this three-channel video installation describes a geopolitical scramble for territory and resources among the world’s great powers after the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement prohibiting military and commercial activities on the continent. Kim’s use of an archival documentary mode of presentation – a forecast as historical fact – contends that such an uncertain future could have been prevented, if only a consensus had been reached to place peace and preservation before self-interest and greed.

A deft integration of reality, fiction, archive and anecdote in Kim’s video oeuvre generates whys and wherefores that are inconclusive yet visceral; shifting notions of causality and temporality underscore a consistent call to action in defiance of traditional power structures. Regardless of nationality, viewers find themselves compelled to solemnly recognise the existential instability imposed upon large segments of society throughout history, and to reconsider the shared fate of all humanity in an increasingly hostile world.

Sejin Kim: Walk in the Sun, SongEun ArtSpace, Seoul, 23 October – 30 November 2019

From the Spring 2020 issue of ArtReview Asia

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