ART News
25th May 2022 | Guest Writer: Rachele Rosina
Guest writer Rachele Rosina explores the art of Kimsooja's Bottari, which represents travel and collects memories through traditional bundles of cloth.
Kimsooja (Kim Soo-Ja), born in 1957 in South Korea, is a contemporary female artist whose practice incorporates performance, site-specific installations, film, and photography. Since the beginning of her artistic career in 1980, Kimsooja focused her attention on the relation between the thread and the needle as a metaphor for connecting memories and places, such as in the early bi-dimensional and wall-confined collages Portrait of Yourself, where the artist sewed pieces of clothing belonged to her grandmother.

"Portrait of Yourself", Kimsooja, 1985. Thread ink, crayon and acrylic on cloth. Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.

However, in 1992-1993, during her self-inflicted exile in the US as a guest artist at PS1: MOMA, Kimsooja starts thinking of a new tridimensional concept: "bottari." Traditionally, a bottari is a multicoloured cloth used as a container for household objects such as tablecloths or linens. Both a storage solution and a safe way to move items between places, bottari is an object of intimacy and everyday life, made with simple materials that follow us from birth to death. The primary colours used in bottari, or "obangsaek", are also related to the cardinal directions in traditional Korean culture, further highlighting the idea of displacement. Used as a metaphor of universal travelling, protecting memories and stories of the art, in the artist's hands bottari becomes a self-containing world, with a body of their own.

"Bottari", Kimsooja, 2005, Used Korean bedcover, used clothing. Photo courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.

Upon her return to Korea in 1994, leaving the unwrapped bundles on the floor becomes an act of reappropriating her space while also symbolising her readiness to leave again - the necessity to continue travelling, typical of those who already left once.

Travel has a central role in Kimsooja's artistic research, as she has been deeply affected by the constant moving of her family, dictated by her father's military career. In 1997, she began a journey of eleven days across the Country riding a truck, visiting places close to her memories: a personal ritual in homage to her past. A few years later, in 1999, Kimsooja brought the artwork Bottari Truck right in the centre of the Venice Biennale. Accompanied by a video installation, Cities on the Move - 2727 kilometres, the truck becomes a monument of her journey done only two years earlier. In the video, the roles of the traveller and the surrounding are inverted: the artist is immobile giving her back, with the landscape moving around her as the camera follows the truck from a distance.

"Cities on the Move: 2727 kilometres", Kimsooja, 1997, video. 7:03 loop, silent. Photo courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.

In Bottari Truck, the idea of movement and departure, intrinsic to Kimsooja's bottari, becomes reality. The bottari-filled truck overcomes the concept of privacy and family, reaching the public in a collective dimension. The Bottari Truck touches on people's experiences and personal histories. By combining the intimacy of the cloth bundle with the public quality of the international art exhibition, her work acquired universal connotations. In a moment when the international press was particularly sensitive to subjects such as forced exiles of populations, the artist states that the bundle became "the anonymous victims of heroism, hierarchy, penury, rigid ideas, discrimination, ignorance and untruth in our society."[1]

"Bottari Truck - Migrateurs", Kimsooja, 2007-2009, video, 10:00 loop, silent. Still from video. Mixed Media: Duraclear Photographic Print in Light-Box,124 × 87 × 16.8 cm. Photo courtesy of Kimsooja Studio.

With the same spirit, one of Kimsooja most recent works Bottari 1990-2019 exhibited in Poitiers, brings together personal and collective experiences of dislocation. The artwork facing the cathedral of Saint-Pierre was a shipping container coloured with obangsaek colours and contains the objects accumulated by the artist in her New York apartment for over 20 years - a more "contemporary" version of the bottari.

It was accompanied by the performance video and installation Bottari Truck-Migrateurs in the Chapelle Saint-Louis, recalling the struggles of the sans-papiere immigrants that occupied the Eglise Saint-Bernard in 1996 for recognition of their rights and were then evicted with brutal force by the police. Planted Names, in the sacristy, was a condemnation of slavery at the Drayton Hall Plantation in South Carolina.

"Bottari 1999-2019", Kimsooja, 2019. Courtesy of Bovis, Traversées Kimsooja - City of Poitiers, Kimsooja Studio. Photo courtesy of Sébastien Laval, City of Poitiers.

With such artworks, the artist showed how travel can have different (even negative) connotations. However, although it can differ from person to person, the experience can also be used to unify and draw attention to our era's significant issues. Kimsooja's work portrays progressive globalisation that "proclaims and denies the local spirit."[2]

For the self-exiled artist, bottari keeps representing the promising future that every person, moving from place to place, is looking for, while it is also an inevitable reminder of the wound caused by leaving one's own family, home and Country.

[1] Extract from the article, "The concept of Bottari", Dr Annett Reckert, 2001. Courtesy of the artist's website.
[2] In the article: "An Incantation to Presence: the Body is the most Complicated Bundle", Julian Zugazagoitia, 2003. Courtesy of the artist's website.
About the Writer
Rachele Rosina specialises in Art of China, Japan and Korea.

After graduating from Beijing in Chinese Language and Culture, Rachele moved to London in 2018 to complete her MA in History of Art and Archaeology of East Asia at SOAS University of London.
Fascinated by the city’s restless art scene, she now works in the art industry.

With a focus on contemporary art and cultural studies, she is interested in the stories behind the artworks and wonders a lot about the future of art.


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