BILDUNGSROMAN by KIM HANKYUL at NITJA [from 20230114 to 20230219]

[Photos: Kunstdok/Tor S. Ulstein]

Nitja’s opening exhibition in 2023 is a solo presentation by the young award- winning artist Kim Hankyul, who occupies the exhibition space with a comprehensive and encompassing installation. Visitors are welcome to step into a sober, aesthetic, and well-composed landscape – a soft space made of a lavish color palette, floor-carpeting, and textiles that frame the installation.

At the center of the work is a machine-like construction, which may resemble a deformed vessel or a fragmented body. Made of textile, air is blown into this sculptural body that is held up by a framework, itself connected to countless wires spreading out to speakers emitting sounds in cycles. The abstracted soundscape consists of both acoustic and electronic sounds and is programmed to activate the room through an overall atmosphere. In addition to moving elements that might surprise by their sudden rhythms, spread across the exhibition floor are tiny body-like figures in clay, enhancing the experience of the installation by shifting the visitor’s perspective of size.

For this exhibition, Kim Hankyul has been inspired by reflections on the human body and its diverse manifestations in shapes and formats. By doing so, he also casts a critical eye on what causes something to be characterized as correct or within the norm – in opposition to what is regarded as non-conform or defined as a monster.

Visual arts, literature and film can play a role in this categorization. Artistic expressions can introduce alternative thoughts and feelings, contributing to expand the understanding of what is unknown. At the same time, one must bear in mind that culture can also comply with conformity, further limiting categorizations instead of expanding them.

Kim Hankyul’s exhibition Bildungsroman is built upon the queer affinities observed in characters of traditional “coming of age” literature. ‘Bildungsroman’ (from German ‘Bildung’: education / forming, and ‘Roman’: novel) is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood, in which character change is important. In the installation are leather cut-outs with ornamental extracts from iconic books: Sarrasine (1930) by Honoré de Balzac, The Member of the Wedding (1946) by Carson McCullers, This Young Monster (2017) by Charlie Fox, and Drag (2019) written by Simon Doonan.

What these books have in common is that – although in different ways – they all deal with love, longing, and an exploration of gender identity. At the same time they also describe limiting approaches to diversity and of what is perceived as normal, in comparison to more contemporary experiences. An example is the short story Sarrasine, in which the male protagonist (Sarrasine, a sculptor) falls in love with a beautiful woman who turns out to be a male castrato singer. In anger and despair, Sarrasine refers to the singer as a monster and a harpy – a mythical beast from Greek mythology, depicted as half-human and half-bird with the face of a woman and the body of a vulture. These female-monsters were seen as a symbol of madness and attributed with violent qualities. How can a body sway in a second from arousal to disgust, and why?

Bildungsroman’s installation is accompanied by a soundtrack that can produce associations with bodily sounds, in the attempt to gain the potential to recognize something human in this machine-like construction. Hankyul uses this as a means of humanizing what we may experience from a distance as unknown or unpleasant.

Kim Hankyul (b. 1990 Busan, South Korea) lives and works in Oslo. He holds a bachelor in Aesthetics from Seoul National University and a master from The Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen. Hankyul was awarded the Kistefos Prize at The Autumn Exhibition in 2021, and the 2022 Sparebankstiftelsen DNB’s grant for his work AV Buddha, exhibited at Oslo Kunstforening.

[Text: Nitja]

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